Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Literature and politics
From a book by Philip Roth:
“Politics is the great generalizer,” Leo told me, “and literature the great particularizer, and not only are they in an inverse relationship to each other – they are also in an antagonistic relationship. To politics, literature is decadent, soft, irrelevant, boring, wrongheaded, dull, something that makes no sense and that really oughtn’t to be. Why? Because the particularizing impulse is literature. How can you be a politician and allow the nuance? As an artist the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, a la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow the chaos. To let it in. You must let it in. Otherwise you produce propaganda, if not for a political party, a political movement, then stupid propaganda for life itself — for life as it might itself prefer to be publicized.”


Let's make a clear distinction:
1/ Literature is always political. A person's political view may not be expressed in design, sculpture, architecture, not always in paintings, music... but a writer cannot separate their political view from their writings. That's impossible. Literature is always political.

2/ In spite of this, I develop a 'theory' after reading "Invisible man" (Ralph Ellison) that novelists make bad politicians and vice versa.
a, novelists are concerned with individuals, their complexities and contradictions, emotions, longings, nuances, light and shade, personalities, peculiarities, manners, voices, gestures, relationships, interactions... whereas politicians look at everything and everyone as a whole or divide people into groups, have priorities, sometimes have to make compromises, sometimes have to sacrifice something for something else or for the general interests, place the interests of themselves or their parties above the individual problems...
(On the 1 hand, novelists have greater ability to see life from another person's point of view and understand this person's actions, hence, have more understanding and empathy, whereas politicians usually put themselves in someone else's shoes for the mere purpose of adjusting their own behaviour, changing their strategies and protecting their own public image. On the other hand, novelists easily become idealists, or complicate problems in unnecessary ways).
b, novelists, as I imagine, tend to be introspective (though not necessarily unsocial), quiet, thoughtful, sensitive, observant, sharp, deep, imaginative, insightful, self-questioning..., whereas politicians tend to be extroverted, energetic, confident, talkative, charismatic, bold, daring, sociable, good at speaking and influencing people, realistic, pragmatic, flexible (and sometimes have to be hypocritical, cunning and ruthless)...
(Though it should be added that I do not wish to paint a very ugly picture of politicians in order to praise novelists. Novelists might very well be accused, at least once in a while, of being idealistic, unrealistic, delusional, self-indulgent, indifferent and oblivious to the real world, demanding, critical, not really doing anything for society...)

All in all, that's how I think about this topic now. Who knows, I may find some exceptions, some counterexamples. Or I may change my mind.

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