The Politics of Literary Politics

The title of Terrence Rafferty’s article in the New York Times about Carlos Fuentes new novel The Eagles Thrown, “The Political is Ultra Personal,” might lead one to believe that the article will explain that the novel portrays the political ramifications of personal decisions and actions that lead to general illumination and pointed understanding on private and public levels both, along with their relation — overt, implicit, and enigmatic…all. Not so fast.

Would that be asking too much of a novel? Would that be too complex for the novel form to ever dare hope to handle? Would that be beyond the capacity of the authors themselves to create, let alone readers and critics to understand?

For instead the article builds to and closes on this bit of boilerplate ideology:

“Fuentes, no mean aphorist himself, wrote not long ago: ‘Politics can be dogmatic. The novel can only be enigmatic’….”

While it may be that most every novel might do well to be deeply imbued by enigma, surely most any novel can also make as deep and clear a political mark as it would like, as well. The two are not mutually exclusive, far from it. See, for example, some of the best moments in Robert Newman’s comic geopolitical novel The Fountain at the Center of the World or Andre Vltchek’s global novel Point of No Return, and so on….

This is not to say that Fuentes did not write a fine novel, or that Rafferty did not incisively review it, or even that the title of the article is inept. It is to say, again, that Fuentes’ aphorism that Rafferty agrees with is deeply flawed, in a variety of ways, as the progressive tradition of literary criticism has revealed in vital detail over the decades.

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