Socialit

I  M  A  G  I  N  A  T  I  V  E
LITERATURE and SOCIAL CHANGE

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Bibliography – 1800s to 2003
Critical Excerpts – 1800s to 2003
Quick Views
Social and Political Novel
Social and Political Literature

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IMAGINATIVE LITERATURE and SOCIAL CHANGE

Imaginative writing can be both literary and political simultaneously, and inevitably is, to varying degrees. In its own way, fiction can accomplish something similar to what Noam Chomsky and many other progressive workers try to accomplish through nonfiction: the creation of works that clarify and better the world socially, politically, culturally….

Fiction can be used to address what Chomsky calls “Orwell’s Problem”: How is it that oppressive ideological systems are able to “instill beliefs that are firmly held and widely accepted although they are completely without foundation and often plainly at variance with the obvious facts about the world around us?” In other words, how is it that people are persuaded to act against their own best interests and against values that they otherwise hold dear? Fiction can debunk harmful propaganda and taboos; it can help energize, motivate, inspire while maintaining vital literary and popular quality by staying focused in part on fiction’s core strengths. Such fiction may be both intensely personal, social, and political in exploring the private and the public. This accounts for much of the aim of my fiction and this site.

-Tony Christini [contact]

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CRITICAL VIEWS on LITERATURE and SOCIAL CHANGE:

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.

That the attempt to be above the battle is evidence of a defense mechanism can scarcely be doubted. Only those who belong to the ruling class, in other words, only those who had already won the battle and acquired the spoils, could afford to be above the battle. Fiction which was propagandistic, that is, fiction which continued to participate in the battle, it naturally cultivated a distaste for, and eschewed. Fiction which was above the battle, that is fiction which concerned only the so-called absolutes and eternals, with the ultimate emotions and the perennial tragedies, but which offered no solutions, no panaceas – it was such fiction that won its adoration.

– V. F. Calverton, The Liberation of American Literature, 1932

I think that literature must be viewed both as a branch of the fine arts and as an instrument of social influence…. I suggest that in the field of literature the formula ‘All art is propaganda’ be replaced by another: ‘Literature is an instrument of social influence’…. [Literature] can be propaganda – in the more limited sense of my definition of propaganda; and it can sometimes perform an objective social function that approaches agitation. However, it often performs neither of these functions and yet does perform an objective social function….

– James T. Farrell, “Literature and Propaganda,” A Note on Literary Criticism, 1936

‘Propaganda’ is not used here as an invidious term. It is used 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.

– Bernard Smith, Forces in Literary Criticism, 1939

Art cannot safely confine itself to merely using the values which arise out of a given social texture and integrating their conflicts, as the soundest, ‘purest’ art will do. It must have a definite hortatory function, an educational element of suasion or inducement; it must be partially forensic. Such a quality we consider to be the essential work of propaganda.

– Kenneth Burke, “The Nature of Art Under Capitalism,”
The Philosophy of Literary Form, 1941

“If you want to learn about people’s personalities and intentions, you would probably do better reading novels than reading psychology books. Maybe that’s the best way to come to an understanding of human beings and the way they act and feel, but that’s not science. Science isn’t the only thing in the world, it is what it is…science is not the only way to come to an understanding of things.” “If I am interested in learning about people, I’ll read novels rather than psychology.” “I think the Victorian novel tells us more about people than science ever will…and we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology.” “We learn from literature as we learn from life; no one knows how, but it surely happens. In fact, most of what we know about things that matter comes from such sources, surely not from considered rational inquiry (science), which sometimes reaches unparalleled depths of profundity, but has a rather narrow scope.” “It is almost certain that literature will forever give far deeper insight into what is sometimes called ‘the full human person’ than any modes of scientific inquiry may hope to do.

[However] I’ve been always resistant consciously to allowing literature to influence my beliefs and attitudes with regard to society and history.” “There are things I resonate to when I read, but I have a feeling that my feelings and attitudes were largely formed prior to reading literature.” “Look, there’s no question that as a child, when I read about China, this influenced my attitudes – Rickshaw Boy, for example. That had a powerful effect when I read it. It was so long ago I don’t remember a thing about it, except the impact. And I don’t doubt that, for me, personally, like anybody, lots of my perceptions were heightened and attitudes changed by literature over a broad range – Hebrew Literature, Russian literature, and so on. But ultimately, you have to face the world as it is on the basis of other sources of evidence that you can evaluate.” “If I want to understand the nature of China and its revolution, I ought to be cautious about literary renditions.” “Literature can heighten your imagination and insight and understanding, but it surely doesn’t provide the evidence that you need to draw conclusions and substantiate conclusions.” “I can think of things I read that had a powerful effect on me, but whether they changed my attitudes and understanding in any striking or crucial way, I can’t really say.” “People certainly differ, as they should, in what kinds of things make their minds work.” “I don’t really feel that I can draw any tight connections [personally].”

– Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, biographies, etc…

I suggest that the role of the artist is to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media…. It is the job of the artist to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare to say things that no one else will say…. It is absolutely patriotic to point a finger at the government to say that it is not doing what it should be doing to safeguard the right of citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…. We must be able to look at ourselves, to look at our country honestly and clearly. And just as we can examine the awful things that people do elsewhere, we have to be willing to examine the awful things that are done here by our government.

– Howard Zinn, Artists in Times of War, 2003

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