AN EXCERPT FROM PROGRESSIVE POLITICAL FICTION:
At Mainstay Press, we publish works of progressive political fiction that are invigorating, urgent, and vital – politically, aesthetically, and otherwise.
Frank Norris, The Responsibilities of the Novelist (1903):
[The novel] may be a great force…fearlessly proving that power is abused, that the strong grind the faces of the weak…..
Upton Sinclair, Mammonart (1924):
…mankind is today under the spell of utterly false conceptions of what art is and should be; of utterly vicious and perverted standards of beauty and dignity. We list six great art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will discuss…
Morris Edmund Speare, The Political Novel: Its Development in England and in America (1924): The political novel…is the most embracing in its material of all other novel types…[and] must be dominated, more often than not, by ideas rather than by emotions…
W.E.B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926):
…all art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists.
V. F. Calverton, The Liberation of American Literature (1932):
Most of the literature of the world has been propagandistic in one way or another…. In a word, the revolutionary critic does not believe that we can have art without craftsmanship; what he does believe is that, granted the craftsmanship, our aim should be to make art serve man as a thing of action and not man serve art as a thing of escape.
John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934):
A particular work of art may have a definite effect upon a particular person or upon a number of persons. The social effect of the novels of Dickens or of Sinclair Lewis is far from negligible….
Joseph Freeman, Proletarian Literature in the United States (1935):
To characterize an essay or a book as a political pamphlet is neither to praise nor to condemn it…. In the case of the liberal critic, however, we have a political pamphlet which pretends to be something else. We have an attack on the theory of art as a political weapon which turns out to be itself a political weapon….
James T. Farrell, A Note on Literary Criticism (1936):
Literature must be viewed both as a branch of the fine arts and as an instrument of social influence…. I suggest that…the formula ‘All art is propaganda’ be replaced by another: ‘Literature is an instrument of social influence.…’. [Literature] can be propaganda…and it can sometimes perform an objective social function that approaches agitation.
Bernard Smith, Forces in American Criticism (1939):
‘Propaganda’ is…used [here] to describe works consciously written to have an immediate and direct effect upon their readers’ opinions and actions, as distinguished from works that are not consciously written for that purpose or which are written to have a remote and indirect effect. It is possible that conventional critics have learned by now that to call a literary work ‘propaganda’ is to say nothing about its quality as literature. By now enough critics have pointed out that some of the world’s classics were originally ‘propaganda’ for something.
Roger Dataller, The Plain Man and the Novel (1940):
That Charles Dickens assisted the reform of the Poor Law, and Charles Reade that of the Victorian prison system, is undeniable…. Such novels influence.
Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941):
The contemporary emphasis must be placed largely upon propaganda, rather than upon ‘pure’ art…. Since pure art makes for acceptance, it tends to become a social menace in so far as it assists us in tolerating the intolerable.
George Orwell, “The Freedom of the Press” (1943) (Excerpt from the suppressed preface to Animal Farm):
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban…. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trouser in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
*[After the end of Jennifer Howard’s recent article “The Fragmentation of Literary Theory,” notice the gap in the timeline of works of literary “theory” that occurs roughly between the two world wars: That gap comprises much of easily one of the most vital periods of US literary criticism, as partly indicated above, a time that Bernard Smith overviews and analyzes in the last two chapters of Forces in American Criticism (1939). It seems to me that there should be more discussion among political artists and others of the sort arising, both figuratively and literally, from that gap in the timeline – discussions that relate the creation of art and literature today to the urgent concerns of today.]
Somewhat more recently, Roland Barthes observes: “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?”
Pakistan, for one, has made overt its understanding of the cultural potentcy of fiction, as I’ve noted elsewhere, having banned all imports of fiction from India but not all non-fiction. The state of Pakistan apparently fears that the power and influence of fiction will undermine its control. In this case, fiction is even more feared than nonfiction. And why shouldn’t it be, given its very influential history and nature, in public and private realms both?
The remarkable fact about literary censorship in America is that it is largely voluntary (to play off of Orwell’s comment about England). It is carried out knowingly in some cases and unwittingly by others, in ways that happen to serve the interests of power – in the sense it is commonly understood, that is, economic power, command and control authority – who gets to make decisions – a corporate-state elite, or the people at large.