Partisan Fiction

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.

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