Anti-Realism and the Crisis of Representation The term Anti-Realism was made popular by Michael Dummett

who introduces it in his paper Realism to re-examine several classical philosophical disputes involving such doctrines as nominalism, conceptual realism, idealism and phenomenalism. Realist thought, understands representation and reception as flawless and impeccable reflection of reality “as it really is”. Representation, in Realist thought, is isomorphic with reality. It is received immaculate and pure with no intervening protocols. The receiver of the representation receives it exquisite and faultless, and nothing intervenes to distort the innocence of fidelity of the representation being depicted. This innocence of mimesis has suffered a collapse due to the insights given by twentieth century literary theory that speaks of disenchantment with mimesis.

Mimesis was an inaugural concept introduced by Aristotle in fourth century B.C. It defines the relation between a work of art and reality, dealing with the equation between representation and reality. Mimesis discusses imitation and representation as a reflection of the world like a mirror. In the vast cornucopia of countless concepts in the terms of literary theory, ‘mimesis’ comes across as a peerless term. In realist thought, the manner of perceiving reality is said to be an immaculate reexperience of what really is, an experience of meaning not contaminated by alien compulsions and imperatives. Realism, that relied on correspondence as a modality of human knowing had incurred suspicion.

This projected innocence of mimesis has suffered a collapse. The emerging anti-realist epistemology asserted that any experience of meaning is influenced by ideological compulsions of some socio-cultural constituency or the other. Both representation and meaning are constructed by social and cultural ideology.

Meaning is experienced through a glass darkly. It is not possible to know a representation on its own terms as we are influenced by the protocols of our own situation. The reception of meaning is ridden with semiotic intervention. The location of the reader, his horizon and semiotic interventions determine his reception of meaning. Semiotic intervention is an anti-realist principle of meaning signifying the intrusion of protocols of social and cultural nature in the reception of meaning. Realist epistemology has been challenged. The illusory understanding of meaning as it prevailed earlier, in accordance with realist perception, refused to acknowledge the presence of social and cultural elements that alloy meaning. The understanding of representation in that sense becomes a faulty understanding as it refuses to take into consideration the compulsions by which mimetic representation loses its meaning. This inadequate epistemology is replaced by the epistemology of Anti-Realism that speaks of the experience of reality as customised by the interventions of the underlying code that informs the narrative. Code is the covert, underlying system, grid of laws the govern forms of meaning.

Referring to the reaction of twentieth century thought to Realism M.A.R. Habib observes: “It also has rejected the “scientific” assumption behind realism that total objectivity is attainable: the line between mental states and external objects is no longer clear.” The tendency of realist philosophy is to aim for the depictions that accurately delineate the world was flawed from the outset. Realism speaks of knowing the world through unmediated, un-intervened innocence. This theoretical position has met with severe devolution, assaults as there has been disenchantment with realism as an epistemology in literary theory. Realist epistemology has been displaced by a constructivist, semiotic, anti-realist epistemology. The 1957 book by Roland Barthes interpreted the theoretical position on the informal narratives in any particular culture.

A seminal thinker in the context of contemporary literary theory has been Roland Barthes who examined the conduct of natural meaning in human experience. Since the publication of his book Mythologies (1957) contemporary literary theory assumed a different scientific temper, taking a radical turn as Barthes formulated the idea of myths. Barthes’ writing was done during the high tide of the generational periodicity of contemporary literary theory. Barthes formulated the idea that any structure of meaning conceals its semiotic determination and invites

acceptance as natural meaning. It conceals the semiotics that caters to particular cultural, social constituency but presents itself as valid for the larger social order. Thus there is an imposed extension of meaning beyond the narrow semiotic ambit as it is applied to all.

The assumption of the totalisation of meaning creates its universalist orientation that it is a structure of meaning which functions to the advantage of one constituency but presents itself as valid for the larger social order. Totalised myths work to the exclusion of ‘other’ identities and voices, hampering aspirations and fulfilment of ‘different’ identities. In addition it proscribes dissent. The Anti-Realist theory and manner of perceiving the world has liberated identities from the monolithic hegemony of natural meaning performing a crucial moral task in the history of human evolution. It has empowered oppressed difference with ‘polyphonic sensitivity’. Referring to the confusion caused by the distortion of meaning and its representation as natural meaning Barthes comments in his Mythologies: “I resented seeing Nature and History confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down, in the decoratic display of what-goes-without saying, the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there.” The construction, retention and absorption of myths tend to inform the ideology that governs the society. The deceitful, beguiling appearance of myths is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Societies and cultures all over the

world are packed with totalised myths. Located within the structuralist discourse, the idea of myths, influence in society and in the construction of narrative is dealt with by the structuralist theorists. The anthropology of Claude Levi- Strauss develops a ‘phonemic’ analysis of myths, rites, and kinship structures. Instead of asking questions about the origins or causes of the prohibitions, myths, rites, the structuralist looks for the system of differences which underlies a particular human practice. The structuralist tries to uncover the ‘syntax’ or ‘phonemic’ pattern of particular human systems of meaning. The liveliest examples of such analyses can be found in the earlier writings of Roland Barthes, especially in Mythologies (1957) and Systeme de la Mode (1967). Raman Selden comments on this theory in his book Contemporary Literary Theory: “The principle —that human performances presuppose a received system of differential relations—is applied by Barthes to virtually all social practices; he interprets them as sign- systems which operate on the model of language. Any actual ‘speech’ (parole) presupposes a system (langue) which is being used.” Anti-Realism has strident passion to demythologise social and cultural myths, thereby exposing the ideological abuses and the narrow interests of myths. The foundational premise of Anti-Realism is the semiotic construction of meaning. The authoritarian power of myths has been challenged with the demytholoiser putting on trial the entire spectrum of the apparatus of the constructed meaning rising out of myths. The government of myths marginalises and oppresses differences in a

beguiling mode. Differences then become small social-cultural enclaves that do not truly benefit from a myth. In bringing several small territories under the umbrella of myth it may thwart the identity of a particular social-cultural enclave. There has been a tendency to unmask myths. AntiRealism contests that myth is authoritarian exerting oppressive power. Joseph Hanburh refers to this in his book Power of Myths.

English theory has performed the moral function of emancipating and liberating that difference. The politics of meaning becomes fascist in its manifestations. The power operation of meaning is always covert as is the coercive dynamics of myth. Anti-Realism counters the power-play of meaning of the myths. There are three factors of the human experience of meaning: reality, representation (of the objects of knowledge) and reception, whereby the knowing subject receives a structure of meaning. Therefore a truthful, objective understanding of the world and its accurate representation through ideology or in narrative becomes problematic due to the intervening factors thereby making Realism a concept that refuses to take into account different facets of reality.

The hegemonic position with regards to myth imprisons differences within an overall structure silencing differing opinion. The liberating phenomenon has caused the differences to organize themselves into entities. These newly liberated identities are apprehensive of being absorbed into larger

identities, an aspect that prevents them from allying with other liberated entities as there remains a lurking fear getting absorbed into the larger conglomerate and being enmeshed in the oppressive mythologies of the dominating system. Thereby these identities find it difficult to communicate with each other given their history of suppression and the psychological complex arising from being held prisoner for so long by the larger myths. The present moral effort is to enable those released identities to understand each other and to negotiate an existence of coexistence and inviolable harmony where the implicit apprehension will give way to understanding and acceptance. The moral effort is to inaugurate an order where differing identities can exist in peace.

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