Some roundup comments on establishment and liberatory fiction – The Kindly Ones, 2666, Les Miserables, Wizard of the Crow…
From discussion at The Valve:
“I don’t mean the question of whether the character is sincere or not, I mean that it’s authorially insincere.”
That’s sort of the open secret, is it not? Or the white elephant in the room, among critics and publishers? It appears that Littell and perhaps his publishers [of The Kindly Ones] are Sokaling their way to the bank, not necessarily consciously. Not that it can quite be considered a hoax of a sort in publishing, no matter Littell’s intentions, because, from all descriptions, it’s too much the sort of thing that gets published regularly, with roots that trace far back. (It is a fiction, not factual analysis, so if anyone wants to say the novel is a mock rendering of much insipid, insincere, or false lit, they are certainly free to, and free to make what they want of it. I don’t recall any such claims.)
There’s something more going on in addition, which I touch on in a meta interview, while writing mostly about Bolaño in a related different vein:
“Once more to the liberal cesspool. Once more to the conservative craphouse. As widely reported and discussed, Littell’s prize-winning mammoth novel, The Kindly Ones, which publishers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the rights to publish (and market), tells the fictive story of a “former Nazi SS officer, who in addition to taking part in the mass extermination of the Jews, commits incest with his sister, sodomizes himself with a sausage and most likely kills his mother and stepfather.” It’s a novel about atrocity featuring a sociopathic psychopath conveniently far removed from the sociopathic atrocities being perpetrated today by the respectable, by the more or less normal individuals and officials of the sociopathic corporate-state.”
Where’s the great novel with the title about the official Respectable Ones – The George Bushes, the Condi Rices, the Donald Rumsfelds, the Colin Powells, the Dick Cheneys, the CNNs, NBCs, NYTs, etc? Of course, the Obama administration is continuing the central elements of their policies. Obama has made some limited liberal change in domestic budgeting but in his Republican-lite handling of the financial implosion he is (as with foreign policy) setting himself up for continued ridicule and extensive outrage. The brilliance of the Republicans for the existence of the overall system is to be even worse than the Democrats. Littell and Bolano seem to have a somewhat similar or analogous relationship. They come across as pre 9/11 works in a post invasion of Oila and economically challenged world. The current stars of the literary world. The open secret of Littell’s The Kindly Ones.
I don’t see Les Miserables as “a novel of revolutionary hope.” What I see in Les Miserables is a lot more exploration of progressive and revolutionary social vision, example, and ideals than one gets any sense of existing in The Wire in these critical discussions and comments, including those of The Wire’s writers.
Unlike The Iron Heel and Wizard of the Crow, Les Miserables does not (as I recall) incorporate speculative elements into its realism and “naturalism” to explore its progressive vision and drama. However, the novel does include broad based socio-political progressive drama and analysis from the reformist socialist to the revolutionary. (See, for one example, Chapter X – The Bishop in the Presence of an Unknown Light, which helps to disprove [the] claim that “In the end, the novel confirms…that individual change is the only resolution for social crisis.”) Hugo stays true to what happened historically in France of the time thus he cannot portray realized revolution (except the private, or the personal, and some social reform), but the novel often takes up the topic and possibility in relation to a variety of social institutions, including wholesale revolution. There are of course some counter currents and many complimentary currents as well.
These novels may not work as models or blueprints for future liberatory novels, at least not in their entirety, because they are quite specific to time and place, situation (and as such, novel), even to some degree when speculative. But we can learn plenty from them, and in liberatory regard, The Wire sounds crimped compared to these works. At least the show is discussed that way, including by its creators.
Obviously I think it vital to focus on what is lacking and what there is too much of in art and other cultural productions, particularly from a liberatory perspective.