The political significance of realism

This useful essay in the Hedgehog review links the contemporary flourishing of realism to the politics of ‘post-truth’, making a change from crass accusations that trump is the fault of postmodernism. While his focus is on speculative, critical and new realism, the point could be generalised to include new materialism, agential realism, ANT and assemblage theory as other forms of realism. It’s not so much that the rise of post-truth politics is encouraging the spread of realism but there’s an important idea to be explored here about the changing political context in which seemingly obscure debates about ontology and epistemology take place:

While postmodern thought can bear only so much blame for a style of politics that destabilizes notions of reality and truth, Vladimir Putin, Silvio Berlusconi, and Donald J. Trump have all profited from the collapse of a broad cultural consensus about what is plausibly true and what is “fake news,” a collapse to which popularized postmodernist suspiciousness has contributed. Having observed Berlusconi’s roughshod abuse of reality during the media mogul’s off-again on-again career as Italian prime minister, Ferraris argues that without the idea that some things are the way they are, no matter what anyone thinks about them, it is unclear how one might resist the claims of the powerful. “Contrary to what many postmodern thinkers believe,” he concludes, “there are reasonable grounds to think, first of all on the basis of the teachings of history, that reality and truth have always constituted the protection of the weak against the oppression of the strong.

From Nedelisky, P. (2019). Reality: A Shopper’s Guide. The Hedgehog Review, 21(2), 57-71.

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