This essay contends that the most canonical realist novelists refused both close and distant reading. The realist novel seems to go out of its way to avoid statistics, but at the same time it insists that we must move beyond attending to a few exceptional examples. The problem with too few cases is that we will miss the suffering that happens on a vast scale. But the problem with numbers is that they actually condense and compress affective experience. Thus the realist novel demands that we recognize the impossibility of knowing large numbers in any adequate way while still taking up the ethical and sometimes the political responsibility to try to cognize experience at a massive scale. The solution the realist novel develops is a discursive strategy that this essay calls the “enormity effect.”

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