Write a Political Novel?

Or a Political Play?
Play Pushed Underground: Cancelled in New York, the first Toronto reading of My Name Is Corrie is being held at a secret location

Commenting elsewhere: Culturally critical novels necessarily trumped by reality? Hardly.
And a brief comment in response to Christopher Lehmann’s article “Why Americans Can’t Write Political Fiction”:

Write a Political Novel? 

The time is ripe to write a political novel says Christopher Lehmann in his recent article Why Americans Can’t Write Political Fiction.” On the other hand it seems that you would have to be a fool or a masochist to write a political novel in the US, because to write one that bears anything like a close relation to reality, given the US political climate, would be like someone in a fundamentalist church congregation standing up in the middle of a religious service and suggesting that everyone discuss the merits of being a good atheist. You would be lucky if you were merely ignored rather than vilified or worse. Doubtless though, writing a political novel in the US that actually bears serious relation to reality is a hard and important thing to do.The time is ripe to write a political novel, Lehmann claims, if only US political novelists would not be “ultra-earnest” and not engage in “stubborn moralizing” or render “a vision of politics as the squalid self-interested manipulation of events beneath the dignity of any sane moral actor.” That would seem to rule out the incorporation (as crucial context) in a novel of the merest facts about the US invasion of Iraq. Do so, and see how many publishers would be willing to consider accepting your work. As the Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter points out, the US invasion of Iraq is –

“A bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of International Law. An arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public. An act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort (all other justifications having failed to justify themselves) – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands upon thousands of innocent people.”

Lehmann suggests that novelists would do well to follow the lead of author Billy Lee Brammer, who while declaring himself to be “pro-politician” managed to render in fiction, Lehmann claims, a politician like Lyndon Baines Johnson with some real complexity. This sounds plausible in theory, though in practice Lehmann’s ideological distortion is such that he is then led to characterize LBJ as someone who “masterminded both the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts” – in other words, as someone who was both quintessentially a liar and quintessentially a human rights advocate. And this essentially falsifies who LBJ was. For LBJ was a key agent in leading the US slaughter of perhaps 4 million Indo-Chinese, mostly civilians, during the Vietnam War. And so just like Bush and Blair today, LBJ was on the one hand quintessentially a state terrorist mass murderer, as Pinter spells it out, while on the other hand he was whatever else is nice that might be attributed to him.

It takes work to muster the aesthetic skill and other knowledge needed to write a typical novel of quality. If the ability to overcome ideology is added to these basic requirements, then a powerful political novel may be written as well. Lehmann is correct to insist that politics – broadly understood – should be engaged and not fled from, but ideological distortions like his and others must be overcome before real and full engagement can occur. The US political system oftentimes operates in a manner analogous to that of the “mafia“ – a form of power that needs to be put in check from the outside, because there exist no superheroes who might dismantle it from within. Of course figures of “innocence“ – to use Lehmann’s term – will avoid joining a “mafia,“ just as they may appropriately flee it as well however much he may object to such fictive renderings. And even greater figures of “innocence“ will attempt to stop all such forms of illegitimate government and replace them with more democratic structures wherever they find themselves.

Getting such a clear-eyed novel published in the US, given its social and political and corporate climate, is another story altogether.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s