Monday, April 2, 2007

Greetings and "Political" Fiction

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Fringe blog! We’re hoping that this area will allow us to interact a little more with our readers, and to discuss issues and other trivia that we’ve been longing to include in our issues. This forum will be run by a mélange of Fringe editors – you should hear from at least one of us every week.

And now on to today’s blog…

Ficton often gets put down for being “political”. In many of my MFA classes, the word has been used as an insult, typically applied to writing that is considered transparent propaganda, such as fables or satires, but is often applied to any story that endeavors to make a political point. The implication is that true art is timeless, and as such must be above the political concerns of the moment. This makes a certain amount of sense – a work parodying the Bush administration will seem more salient now than in, say, ten years. But at the same time, this viewpoint denies the diversity of political literature and forces writers to create art according to the desires of the white heteropatriarchy.

Many great stories include political perspectives. We only need look to Eudora Welty’s “The Whistle,” Gabrielle Burton’s Heartbreak Hotel, James Alan McPherson’s “A Sense of Story,” Robert Coover’s The Public Burning, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and much of Jamaica Kincaid’s work to see that political messages and high art are not incompatible. These writers managed to insert political messages into their writing that reach beyond parable and into complexity. Political messages do not constitute the entirety of each story’s meaning, but are an undeniable and important part of these works.

In a certain sense, the personal is political and so no work can ever be truly free of political content, but there are degrees, and I consider the ability to write apolitical work a luxury that is not available to many of the world’s writers. My experience of feminism is strong – I view the world through this lens, with all of the rage the word can entail. I imagine there are other writers who feel the same way, whether about their gender, class, race, or sexual orientation. When I write fiction, I necessarily bring my femininst experience to bear on it, and I do not think that feminism could be separated from my writing without destroying it. Because my work is feminist, it is necessarily political – I can’t help it, and I don’t think my work should be considered less valid simply because it reflects my view of the world. Here’s to hoping we can change “political” from an insult to a compliment.

Can you name some other great political works? Do politics come out in your prose or poetry, and if so, why?

5 comments:

Beth said...

Great point, Lizzie. Coming from the nonfiction side of things-- I guess political writing is a lot more obvious to spot. I have to say some of my favorites are still classic writers like Thoreau and Emerson who fully embodied their political "agendas." Perhaps part of the problem is that political work often isn't appreciated until after the movement has had its effect on society? Do you have any current fiction writers in mind that you think might have a great effect once the world is ready to handle them?

Lizzie said...

Sadly, no, but I'm out there looking for these writers -- I think they are often hidden by the prevailing attitudes of hostility toward political work.

Lizzie said...

Hmmm...Nadine Gordimer is an example of an author whose books made an impact -- she was part of the movement to end apartheid in South Africa...

Alex said...

Marquez' "Hundred Years of Solitude" and Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell" tolls cropped up, thanks to an excellent English prof's influence in high school. Tolstoy. Alice Walker. Certainly Toni Morrison. I'm most familiar with the sci-fi canon, however, even if some "serious" literary critics sniff at it (yes, I too am a geek!) , and when you start looking at that body of work, polical fiction abounds from Heinlein, Asimov, Verne, Bear, Bova, and even Tolkein, though he resisted that assertion throughout his lifetime.

Overtly political work? The diccussion really isn't even close to complete without at least noting Ayn Rand, whose objectivist fiction seems to infect every curious 20-something at some point.

Great question -- good luck with this blog!

Lizzie said...

On the one hand, I agree about Ayn Rand, but on the other I don't. Yes, her fiction is often political and the politics are hidden in her plots and characters. On the other hand, she often uses ham-handed dogmatic tactics, like having one of her characters give a hundred page radio address that is really a philosophical treatise (which happens in Atlas Shrugged).

I like the former technique, but feel that the latter gives "political" fiction a bad name. If I want to read a political tract, I'll read one -- I think it breaks the faith between reader and writer to slip one into a novel.