“Politics and the Novel” conference

At Stanford – the announcement – more info at press page – includes the familar quote on politics in lit by Stendhal, with discouraging implications  that are belied by the quote continuation, which is virtually never noted  – see below, excerpted from Fiction Gutted – The Establishment and the Novel, Part Four:

Establishment writers are fond of quoting or following the near literal lines of Stendhal’s famed prose in the Red and the Black:


Politics…is a millstone tied to the neck of literature, and drowns it in less than six months. Politics in imaginative work is like a shot in the middle of a concert. The noise is deafening but it imparts no energy. It doesn’t harmonize with the sound of any other instrument. Such political talk mortally offends half of one’s readers – and bores the other half, who, in a different context, in the morning paper, find such things interesting and lively…


Stendhal’s statement succinctly captures a certain literature establishment ideology, an orthodoxy, that typically denies it is ideology/orthodoxy. Stendhal’s words are one famous version of the creed at least. Meanwhile the establishment virtually never quotes Stendhal’s immediate next paragraph, nor makes note of what then follows:


If your characters don’t talk politics, replies the editor, this is no longer France in 1830, and your book is not the mirror you pretend it to be…

The novel then dives into political speech and discussion for the next 9 pages. Surely politics are inherently as fit for story as any other topic. In any case, the mounds of ostensibly nonpolitical topics and fictions can easily come across as just as offensive (politically and otherwise) and white-noise-deafening and as boring as anything labeled political. Stendhal, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola – a powerhouse line of (French) novelists. Flaubert is the least prolific of the five and the least socially engaged, especially in the work for which he is most renowned and especially by longstanding establishment reputation. He is the establishment’s pet and model, and amulet against significant breaching of its control.















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