RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: April 2006

The Possibilities of “Political Fiction”

Posted on

“A response to Richard’s post at The Existence Machine:   

“Chomsky himself is not extolling the virtues of political fiction [in his remarks about literature giving great insight into the human condition]…. In fact, on several other occasions it has become clear that he keeps his reading of literature separate from his political reading.”

Quite true. However, I refer to Chomsky’s remarks about literature giving great insight into the human condition because, among other reasons, they are concise and powerful, in my view, in pointing to the great potential insight to be gained from fiction/literature. That’s surely reason enough to cite them when one wants to underline this capacity of fiction. I don’t cite them to “extoll the virtues of political fiction” but to point out the potential power of insight of literature. 

And although Chomsky has strongly cautioned about not mistaking fiction for fact, he has also noted that fiction/art has great powers to heighten people’s perceptions about the world around them and that it has a great influence on people in many ways. He has noted repeatedly the racist stereotypes coming out of the culture industry, Hollywood (and elsewhere), of Arabs and others, and how much damage this does. It surely follows that if racist art can have such a damaging influence, then progressive, even revolutionary art can have a liberating and otherwise constructive influence. Again, Chomsky has repeatedly pointed this out.

There’s nothing unusual about using fiction, poetry, cartoons, film, art generally to attempt to effect change, or to maintain the status quo. It’s done all the time, by the establishment, as well as by progressives, and others, and by the greatest of artists throughout history, for that matter. 

There’s nothing odd about denials of this either, since a lot of effort is expended trying to cover up or distort or ignore these basic facts. 

When you say Chomsky “keeps his reading of literature separate from his political reading” you may be thinking of the following comments of his:

“I’ve been always resistant consciously to allowing literature to influence my beliefs and attitudes with regard to society and history.” “There are things I resonate to when I read, but I have a feeling that my feelings and attitudes were largely formed prior to reading literature.” “Look, there’s no question that as a child, when I read about China, this influenced my attitudes–-Rickshaw Boy, for example. That had a powerful effect when I read it. It was so long ago I don’t remember a thing about it, except the impact. And I don’t doubt that, for me, personally, like anybody, lots of my perceptions were heightened and attitudes changed by literature over a broad range–Hebrew Literature, Russian literature, and so on. But ultimately, you have to face the world as it is on the basis of other sources of evidence that you can evaluate.” “If I want to understand the nature of China and its revolution, I ought to be cautious about literary renditions.” “Literature can heighten your imagination and insight and understanding, but it surely doesn’t provide the evidence that you need to draw conclusions and substantiate conclusions.” “I can think of things I read that had a powerful effect on me, but whether they changed my attitudes and understanding in any striking or crucial way, I can’t really say.” “People certainly differ, as they should, in what kinds of things make their minds work.” “I don’t really feel that I can draw any tight connections [personally].” 

Be “cautious,” he sensibly notes, about the social and historical impressions you get from fiction, because it’s necessary to turn to “evidence that you can evaluate,” facts not least. That’s why I so value heavily fact-based fiction, well researched.

Also, I’m no more writing for Chomsky than I am for Dan Green. Chomsky says he “can’t say” whether or not literature “changed my attitudes and understanding in any striking or crucial way,” but he also notes, “People certainly differ, as they should, in what kinds of things make their minds work.” I’m writing mainly for some of those people who differ in that way, not necessarily for Chomsky or Green, while trying to do the sort of work that Chomsky and others do in nonfiction, as I note. Fiction had a big impact on me in regard to public and private issues both, as it does on others. (After all, the “personal” – fiction’s strength – is composed of the “private” and the “public” both.)

Furthermore, Chomsky himself has tried to employ Swiftian satire to do his work. He wrote a Modest Proposal type satire before the US invasion of Iraq, in which he argued that Iran should be the state to invade Iraq because if the US invades, especially to democratize Iraq, as it claimed, then naturally the majority population in Iraq, the Shia, would want to ally with the Shia of Iran, which would be real democracy in action. So why not let Iran do the work? This is a basis for potentially great satire and it’s a very informative piece of writing. Unfortunately, totally unlike Swift’s Modest Proposal, Chomsky’s piece turns out to be a lousy piece of satire from an aesthetic viewpoint. Chomsky has acknowledged that he has no talent for such satire. But Swift’s masterpiece provides evidence that fictive satire can be informative, effective, and aesthetic (among numerous other such works of art even in the dominant media – e.g., see the best editorial cartoons). And Chomsky has asked, “Jonathan Swift, where are you now?” He has noted further:

“Caricature can be very well done. Swift is marvelous, for example. Animal Farm is pretty good, in my opinion…. Caricature is an art, and not an easy one. But when well done, a very important one. As for dealing with Orwell’s problem, I try to do it in the ways I know how to pursue; 1000s of pages by now. No doubt there are other ways, maybe better ways. But others will have to find what works for them.”

See the weblist of articles and excerpts at my political novel site for some articles on quality art that is politically engaged, accomplished, and effective (scroll down to Views by Art: Society and Politics) .

“Second, the remarks strike me as highly unlikely to persuade anyone. Certainly not Dan Green, whose position on the matter is clear.”

It should be obvious that I’m not trying to persuade Dan Green of my views anymore than two debaters try to persuade the other of their views, as opposed to some audience, in this case the public. I’m entering a public discussion about matters of some importance in a public arena, for the sake of explaining my views and understanding in public, to whatever public there might be. 

“…it strikes me more than a little odd that one would continue to cite Chomsky (or for that matter, Howard Zinn, as he has also) in this context. It amounts to little more than an appeal to authority, and it does not further the debate.

I’ve cited a variety of thinkers at Dan’s blog, let alone elsewhere, and I purposefully often cite figures like Zinn and Chomsky because they are widely known as progressive workers. This helps further understanding, in a concise or shorthand way, of what I mean by progressive art. So in this way, citing these figures especially when they speak of art is highly useful, and quite appropriate, for purposes of clarity and brevity not least. 

Here’s more of what Chomsky has to say about Orwell’s fiction and the importance of culturally critical novels (with some key passages that I put in bold):

“About Orwell’s 1984, I thought, frankly, it was one of his worst books. Could barely finish it. Some parts (e.g., about Newspeak) were clever. But most of it seemed to me–well, trivial. The problem is not a very interesting one; the modes of thought control and repression in totalitarian societies are fairly transparent. In fact, they often tend to be rather lax. Franco Spain, for example, didn’t care much what people thought and said: the screams from the torture chamber in downtown Madrid were enough to keep the lid on. It’s not too well known, but the Soviet Union was also pretty lax, particularly in the Brezhnev era. According to US government-Russian Research Center studies, Russians apparently had considerably wider access to a broad range of opinion and to dissident literature than Americans do, not because it is denied them but because propaganda is so much more effective here. Orwell was well aware of these issues. His (suppressed) introduction to Animal Farm, for example, deals explicitly with ‘literary censorship in England.’ To write [in a novel…] about that topic would have been important, hard, and serious–and would have earned him the obloquy that attends departure from the rules….

“If Orwell, instead of writing 1984–which was actually, in my opinion, his worst book, a kind of trivial caricature of the most totalitarian society in the world, which made him famous and everybody loved him, because it was the official enemy–if instead of doing that easy and relatively unimportant thing, he had done the hard and important thing, namely talk about Orwell’s Problem* [as pertains to England and western states], he would not have been famous and honored: he would have been hated and reviled and marginalized.

“Caricature can be very well done. Swift is marvelous, for example. Animal Farm is pretty good, in my opinion. But 1984 I thought was a serious decline from his best work. Caricature is an art, and not an easy one. But when well done, a very important one. As for dealing with Orwell’s problem, I try to do it in the ways I know how to pursue; 1000s of pages by now. No doubt there are other ways, maybe better ways. But others will have to find what works for them.”

 

Furthermore, you might see my ZNet essay Orwell’s Problem and Partisan Fiction for further elaboration. Also you might see my other ZNet essays, Progressive Political Fiction and A Few Notes on the Literary Establishment and additionally my other essays on the topic here. The essays would help show how you’ve misinterpreted and/or misunderstood my various blog comments.

“I should reiterate that I agree that the aesthetic experience of art is what is of foremost importance, by far.”

That’s fine if that is your preference, but it’s certainly not everybody’s, especially not in every case, every situation, all the time. Far from it. Many church services are works of art, intentionally and elaborately constructed, yet what is of “foremost importance” to the designers and other participants is usually not the “aesthetic experience.” This is commonly understood.

In a different vein, Kenneth Burke for one (along with many others) has done some interesting work on how tightly intertwined are aesthetic and moral qualities, which might make you reconsider your qualifier “by far” at least. See in particular Burke’s brilliant and important book, The Philosophy of Literary Form, excerpted at my sites and in some essays.

“I agree that attempts by artists to intentionally send political messages with their art most often fail to succeed as art.”

It could just as easily be said that attempts at art with no intentional political “messages” by artists more often fail to succeed as art, and that they fail more often than intentionally political attempts because the artists are not fully aware of the political messages their work inevitably sends.

Or, what your statement might indicate is an indirect acknowledgement that intentionally political art is more difficult than other sorts of art, maybe simply because more is intended, more is attempted, there is more to deal with. If so, it’s an imbalanced playing field for evaluation. It could also be an indication that successful intentionally political art is a greater — because more complex, at least — accomplishment than non-intentionally political art, or so-called apolitical art. 

“I wouldn’t try to convince someone, Dan Green in particular, by quoting vague remarks from Noam Chomsky.” 

Again, neither would I, nor do I. Chomsky’s remarks that I quote are brief, not vague.

“I think that when a writer’s primary goal for creating a work of fiction is to “debunk harmful propaganda and taboos” and “help energize, motivate, and inspire” then that work of fiction is highly unlikely to succeed as art.”

Again, of course you give no evidence for this, because it’s scarcely possible. Or even likely, as I suggest above. Quality editorial cartoons and plenty of quality films and corporate-broadcast songs, etc, that take care not to upset too many apple carts are clear indications that the social and political intentions and effects of art can be quite carefully crafted and controlled, as they are on a regular basis.

“(Note, also, that here again Chomsky is anyway not talking about fiction himself.)”

Nor do I remotely claim or imply that he is. Clearly and explicitly, on the main page of my Imaginative Literature and Social Change site I explain that what I work at via fiction is similar to what Chomsky and others work at via nonfiction. My site reads: “In its own way, fiction can accomplish something similar to what Noam Chomsky and many other progressive workers try to accomplish through nonfiction: the creation of works that clarify and better the world socially, politically, culturally….”

“Unfortunately, it appears that Tony Christini does subscribe to Dan Green’s definition of political fiction, as demonstrated, for example, in his same comment to Dan’s clarifying December post (where, again, the words of an authority [Michael Hanne] are provided):[…]“

Richard, I appreciate your patient analysis of my thoughts (unfortunately only drawn from blog comments apparently), but this remark is especially bizarre, I’m afraid. I don’t “subscribe to Dan Green’s definition of political fiction,” or any definition of political fiction, whatsoever. Such a concept is impossible to define because in certain ways everything and anything is political. See, for example, my response to the first question of this interview with Mickey Z.

Also, what is the problem, again, with referring to the research and thoughts of knowledgeable and relevant figures?

“…this passage does nothing to further the argument that fiction can be both politically motivated and literary.”

Not only fiction but many types of art are both “politically motivated and literary.” Not least a lot of art that is designed and crafted to reinforce the status quo, whether unconsciously or consciously motivated.

Also, if you’re serious about critiquing my views of political fiction, then it’s appropriate to critique the formal essays I’ve written on the subject, rather than turning to brief blog comments and quick excerpted references to the work of others that, in any event, you are taking far out of context. My book of criticism, The Novel and the Public, will be out later this year. In the meantime, a number of my formal critical articles and chapters are available here.

“I don’t think Tony’s comments, in the vein quoted above, further the discussion either, or indicate that he’s been paying attention to what Dan and others say.”

On the contrary, as I’ve again demonstrated above, I’ve dissected what Dan and others say in detail, even on the blogs, and more so in my formal articles and essays.

“It would be more interesting to read an actual demonstration of the political elements of a novel enhancing its aesthetics or not hindering them.”

I’ve done this in extensive detail in my formal writing. Again, I refer you to what’s available online and to my forthcoming book of criticism. Also, for such theory/analysis underlying potential critique of specific novels, there’s no shortage of criticism available historically. Again, I document and excerpt much of this at my sites. 

(To that end, I’m interested in taking a look at his own explicitly political novels, which are available through Mainstay Press, which he co-founded.) 

That would be great. Also, you might see some of my short explicitly political fictions online at my weblog A Practical Policy and elsewhere. 

(One note of possible confusion: I see at the Mainstay Homefront Trilogy page that the types of works are not indicated, unlike on the main page, which probably should be corrected. That is, as regards the trilogy: Homefront is a novel. Glory is a novella. And Washburn is essentially a long two part story.) 

 

Fiction and the University

Posted on

Societies that subsidize things like missile research and not novel publishing are headed off the deep end. In my view, universities have a duty to encourage, solicit, and produce (culturally critical) novels and other types of work on matters of war and other cultural issues of gravest concern, not least. To my knowledge, not only have no such novels been published (about the Iraq War), none has been solicited….

The above is a modified excerpt from the comment I left at Michael Allen’s Grumpy Old Bookman weblog, following up on a post and comments he and others have made in regard to my post here, The University Press and Original Fiction.

Partisan Fiction

Posted on

New Orleans resident displaced by hurricane Katrina, author Tom Piazza notes that after the hurricane, he wrote his partisan non-fiction book “Why New Orleans Matters in five weeks – too quickly to think about it.” He adds that: “If I was lucky, maybe its style is some kind of amalgam of the nonfiction stuff I have found most compelling, most of which was written by fiction writers – Orwell, Didion, Mailer, and Hemingway, especially. I wish more fiction writers would tithe a certain amount of their energies to writing about politics and current events. If they are good they have tremendous evocative power at their disposal. I admire Denis Johnson and ZZ Packer for doing it. Sometimes, of course, it can go wrong. But fiction writers, because of the primacy they give to voice and point of view, tend to have more power available than your average reporter – more leverage on the objective events about which they report.”

Apparently outside the realm of thought is that “fiction writers should tithe” or otherwise devote “a certain amount of their energies to writing about politics and current events” in their fiction itself, as partisan fiction that might have substantial effect in the world, including issue-based socio-political effect. In doing so, authors would run the risk of producing works that might virtually ensure their immortality, works such as Aristophanes’ anti-war play Lysistrata, Jonathan Swift’s anti-economic-exploitation story A Modest Proposal, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-chattel-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a risk it seems most authors would, otherwise, consider taking. [An article on The Lysistrata Project: A Theatrical Act of Dissent - another here.]

Roland Barthes: “Then comes the modern question: why is there not today (or at least so it seems to me), why is there no longer an art of intellectual persuasion, or imagination? Why are we so slow, so indifferent about mobilizing narrative and the image? Can’t we see that it is, after all, works of fiction, no matter how mediocre they may be artistically, that best arouse political passion?” Not that Lysistrata and A Modest proposal are mediocre artistically. Nor are significant parts of Uncle Tom’s Cabin – especially, interestingly enough, some of the most overtly topical and political passages.

Can’t Blame the Weather

Posted on

Part I – Kaufman’s Plant Closing

The top headline in the Sullivan Review [a weekly newspaper in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania] on April 2nd, 1998 reads, “Kaufman Footwear Will Close Dushore Plant: Blame El Niño.”  This misses the main reason for the plant shutdown.  The unseasonably warm weather was not to blame for the plant closing; other, far more human, or inhuman, factors were at work.  The title gets it wrong.  The deteriorating economic conditions cannot be blamed on uncontrollable fate.

While two mild winters back-to-back may have somewhat undermined the immediate need for winter apparel and gear, Kaufman’s manufacturing is more likely a casualty of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which – in its first few years of existence – has had a devastating impact on mid-level manufacturing in the U.S. and Canada and also on agriculture and mid-level industry in Mexico (co-signer of NAFTA with Canada and the U.S.).   

Read the rest of this entry

The Power of Poetry

Posted on

Stephen Burt at Slate writes,

“Is there a Howl for our own time, a cultural creation that explains, excites, antagonizes, and polarizes a wide swath of America? It could not be a poem. Recent poets and poems have become notorious (Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America”), or widely popular (“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”), or critically acclaimed, but no poem has accomplished all three at once, nor blew open its moment, as Howl did. Films and records can still attain succès de scandale—think of Kids, Brokeback Mountain, or Slim Shadybut a poem on a page, or a book of poems, cannot.”

Sounds like a worthy challenge.

The problem with Burt’s assertion is that it is false, as far as anyone knows. That it may also be true as far as anyone knows is irrelevant, since the point is that no one can know, contrary to Burt’s flat assertion.

All it would take would be one lightning-in-a-bottle book of accomplished and resonant, say, antiwar poems to begin to be circulated among US troops in Iraq and then all across the US, and then you just might have it. And any number of scenarios with any variety of focus can be envisioned. (And, at the least, this sort of thing, as Burt notes, is seen to some considerable extent in certain lyric forms today, in rap not least, as well as in other art forms.)

The power of poetry — political, social, cultural, aesthetic.

The Power and Import of Purpose in Fiction

Posted on

The problem with this comment as it is stated and framed is that “thinly veiled satire” — Jonathan Swift anyone? — can be just as effective as “deep, absurdist allegory” or more effective.

This is no comment on Saunders’ story which I’ve not read. In fact, Saunders own comments on “political fiction” are severely wanting as well — in particular, this:

“You would never want to be a political writer if the process was, “I believe X, now I’m trying to prove it through a story.” That’s propaganda, cause fiction doesn’t really work that way.”

Is that a fact? So if say it appears to me that the US government or say the German Nazi government is/was acting criminally by various invasions, and if it appears to me that these criminal governments are getting away with it because people are acting like “Good Germans,” that is, being obedient to authority, etc, then if I as a novelist try to show that this is indeed the case and how profoundly it is the case and how in many ways profoundly immoral such a situation is, realistically or by way of quality caricature, then we are to think, no, that is “propaganda” and therefore bad and mistaken because “fiction just doesn’t work that way,” that is, novelists would be mistaken to think they could “believe [understand] X,” and then “try to prove it through a story.”

Heaven forbid anyone ever attempt to try to show something they actually believe, that is, understand, by way of narrative. Heaven forbid they have a purpose in writing. Don’t we know that no great literature ever had a purpose and no great author ever tried to prove anything in writing? Not George Eliot or Cervantes or Defoe or Swift or the great Russians or, well, obviously any of the greats…shallow and weak minded fools that they were, banishing all strong opinion, understanding, and overall purpose from their midsts, we are relieved to note. Thankfully, they proved nothing.

All story is in some sense tentative, of course, just as all science is in some sense theory. It doesn’t mean nothing is proved.

As Noam Chomsky notes: “It is almost certain that literature will forever give far deeper insight into what is sometimes called ‘the full human person’ than any modes of scientific inquiry may hope to do….”

But don’t hope to give “deep insight,” striving writer, because you just might wind up proving something, like there’s a bunch of “Good Germans” around here, in this way and that way and the other way, which would in any case be utterly useless and unimportant knowledge, since soft heads like Chomsky are surely wrong that:

“We learn from literature as we learn from life…. In fact, most of what we know about things that matter comes from such sources, surely not from considered rational inquiry [science], which sometimes reaches unparalleled depths of profundity, but has a rather narrow scope.”

Such misguided thinking about attempting to prove anything about anyone or any situation in fiction thankfully rules out by definition — whether it’s aware of it or not — parable and allegory and most satire and plenty of other purpose driven fiction, unless we are to understand that authors don’t really understand what they are allegorizing or satirizing, that it might demonstrate the nature of any obvious or unexpected moral and other qualities. But we don’t want to work our heads too much by trying to prove anything that might have any grand heft or utility, so thankfully we can put that aside.

“If I say all red-haired people are evil and I have a story where all the red-haired people do mean things, I haven’t proven anything, cause its all made up.”

Well all the Hitlers of the world can breath a sigh of relief. I guess all the Hitlers are made up. Oh I know he drank tea and wine or whatever and professed to be a Christian and wasn’t he a vegetarian too and so on? So I guess we should focus on that since he was really a human guy. Oh sure he slaughtered the Jews and others, but that doesn’t prove anything does it? Should we really mention that there was anything really terribly evil about such a person? Should we attempt to prove that any “Good German” novelists had anything to do with facilitating and not impeding his rise to power? No, surely that would be too didactic for “right” fiction — fiction that is not wrong. Yes, “Good Germans” are safe from being portrayed by “proper” fiction. That’s not the way fiction “really works.” It doesn’t prove anything. That would be propagandistic.

Apparently then not only is much dystopian writing not proper fiction, neither is much great writing at all.

And all those people with shades of gray hair would appear to be safe from authors who would

“never want to be overtly political in a sense of…propagandistic”

because, hey, we don’t want to ruffle the feathers of those “Good Germans,” you know, wouldn’t want to dramatically reveal and portray the errors, often hideous and contemptible — and quite dramatic and knowable both — of their ways, which is what quality, important fiction would do. It would do that work that is insightful and that especially if done variously and repeatedly also serves an important and invaluable function as propaganda, in the best sense of the word.

“But I think if you look deeply enough into any human action, it’s political. … In a way I think the best fiction is political in the sense that if you take any political thing and shrink it down, it’s one person being frustrated or humiliated or something like that.”

Of course. Or ennobled and humanized and so on.

Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel: “The criteria for evaluation of a political novel must finally be the same as those for any other novel: how much of our life does it illuminate? how ample a moral vision does it suggest?—but these questions occur to us in a special context, in that atmosphere of political struggle which dominates modern life. For both the writer and the reader, the political novel provides a particularly severe test: politics rakes our passions as nothing else, and whatever we may consent to overlook in reading a novel, we react with an almost demonic rapidity to a detested political opinion. For the writer the great test is, how much truth can he force through the sieve of his opinions? For the reader the great test is, how much of that truth can he accept though it jostle his opinions?”

Frank Norris, The Responsibilities of the Novelist: “‘The novel must not preach,’ you hear them say. As though it were possible to write a novel without a purpose, even if it is only the purpose to amuse. One is willing to admit that this savors a little of quibbling, for ‘purpose’ and purpose to amuse are two different purposes. But every novel, even the most frivolous, must have some reason for the writing of it, and in that sense must have a ‘purpose’. Every novel must do one of three things—it must tell something, (2) show something, or (3) prove something. Some novels do all three of these; some do only two; all must do at least one…. The third, and what we hold to be the best class, proves something, draws conclusions from a whole congeries of forces, social tendencies, race impulses, devotes itself not to a study of men but of man. In this class falls the novel with the purpose, such as ‘Les Miserables’. And the reason we decide upon this last as the highest form of the novel is because that, though setting a great purpose before it as its task, it nevertheless includes, and is forced to include, both the other classes…. [The novel] may be a great force, that works together with the pulpit and the universities for the good of the people, fearlessly proving that power is abused, that the strong grind the faces of the weak, that an evil tree is still growing in the midst of the garden, that undoing follows hard upon unrighteousness, that the course of Empire is not yet finished, and that the races of men have yet to work out their destiny in those great and terrible movements that crush and grind and rend asunder the pillars of the houses of the nations.” 

The University Press and Original Fiction

Posted on

Until university press after university press after university press starts to publish original fiction, the burgeoning MFA programs are going to be forced to hire professors who publish a lot of fluff and worse — as demanded by the commercial publishing industry — or work that directly avoids many of the most vital stories of our time; and the fate, impact, power and overall quality of fiction — and the seriousness with which the wider culture regards it — is going to continue to plateau or decline.

For those who think it is difficult to publish serious works of nonfiction — and of course it’s quite competitive — consider how difficult it would be if nearly all university press and most independent press options were taken away and such publication only continued via the commercial market, where in fact a lot of serious nonfiction books are published. Consider what effect that radical change would have on scholarship, on creativity, on vital work. The effect would be devastating. This is the situation faced by the serious novelist today, by serious fiction.

Sure some good work continues to be done but compared to what might well be achieved otherwise, I suppose it might take a great speculative novel to fully prophesize the difference.

Until very many — and why not all? — university presses take fiction seriously by publishing numerous works and series of original imaginative writing the universities will be shirking a great responsibility, for as Noam Chomsky notes:

“We learn from literature as we learn from life…. In fact, most of what we know about things that matter comes from such sources, surely not from considered rational inquiry [science], which sometimes reaches unparalleled depths of profundity, but has a rather narrow scope. It is almost certain that literature will forever give far deeper insight into what is sometimes called ‘the full human person’ than any modes of scientific inquiry may hope to do….”

Such work is too important to leave to institutions driven by a profit motive, but such is the abdication of the universities today in the realm of imaginative literature. The abdication of producing serious imaginative literature is not total. If one can afford it, one can pay to enter contests to have a book considered for publication, and many colleges and universities have a journal that publishes at least some short pieces of imaginative work, but I would like someone to tell me what is more needed…another 100 third or fifth biographies of Jordan Letters, or a single culturally critical Iraq War novel? (Of course, university publishing should not be a zero-sum arena.)

Doesn’t it appear to anyone to be the slightest bit irresponsible for all the university presses combined, several years now into the Iraq War, let alone the prolonged build-up, to not have published even a single (as far as I’m aware) culturally critical novel about the Iraq War? One say that critiques and shines the so richly deserved hellish light on the personal and institutional drives to power that, as I’ve noted before, have built and maintained support for an invasion and occupation that has been judged to be illegal by the head of the U.N. and legal experts across the U.S. and the globe, and has had the predicted effect of increasing the likelihood of attack against the U.S., and was based on fraud as known in advance, and meanwhile has killed thousands of U.S. troops, and wounded or debilitated tens of thousands, and has killed well upwards of 100,000 Iraqis and maimed countless others while destroying their country? Where are the didactic novels, the social protest novels? Where are the lifesaving “muckraking” novels? Corporate America isn’t going to publish them. Are authors going to write them? Where are the thesis novels, the polemic fictions, the novels with a purpose? Or even the realistic novels, the info novels, the governmental novels on the scandalous nature of the ongoing U.S. aggression in Iraq? And the novels on a thousand other neglected and revealing outrages or public stories of inspiration?

Are such tasks for imaginative literature — fiction, drama, poetry — improper, inappropriately propagandistic, nontraditional, impractical? We can find such claims made virtually every day despite their being refuted again and again and again and again — such is the tremendous and perceived vested interest in imaginative literature that essentially serves the status quo, apparently no matter how unjust, even with much writing that appears or is said to be progressive, liberatory. Some of it is. But huge gaps remain, for which university publishing has a responsibility that it has greatly shirked, as has the government in general, let alone other institutions.