Liberation criticism: imaginative literature and the public:
“Its militancy is the most obvious characteristic of American criticism since the war. In the whole of nineteenth century there was only one critic, Poe, who was deliberately and consistently disputatious. No one else made polemics the basis of a critical method. Whitman was a maverick, but he was exclamatory rather than argumentative. Now, however, it is customary for critics to be bellicose, and there are few who have let politeness stand in the way of controversy. The reason is not hard to find. Criticism in our time has been largely a war of traditions—a struggle between irreconcilable ideologies…”
— Bernard Smith, Forces in American Criticism (1939)
Liberation Lit Criticism: The Buried US History
To help ground the weblog, over the next couple weeks I’ll excerpt from some of my articles on fiction and social change. At some point I may serialize an antiwar novel and other partisan fiction.
Speaking of which:
Orwell’s Problem and Partisan Fiction
An Obvious Deficiency — the Lack of Fact-Based Partisan Novels
…what about progressive partisan fiction? How about a great novel of ambition — literary or popular — portraying figures like some of the most ambitious and powerful strivers of our day: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and others? There is a problem. Progressive partisan novels about such figures would have to be in definitive part scathing, well beyond what plenty of literary (and commercial) authors would find acceptable, since they generally support at least some of these figures, and their types, and if they do not, the dominant publishing houses and the dominant media do. This support of the status quo is very similar to what existed in the day of Orwell, with equally troubling implications for literature and the society and world it helps create. As Noam Chomsky notes:
About Orwell’s 1984, I thought, frankly, it was one of his worst books. Could barely finish it. Some parts (e.g., about Newspeak) were clever. But most of it seemed to me–well, trivial. The problem is not a very interesting one; the modes of thought control and repression in totalitarian societies are fairly transparent…
Possibly it is taken for granted-true or not, consciously or not-among the powers that rule that fiction is far more powerful than non-fiction, often far more emotionally compelling and therefore far more energizing, and thus far more threatening to illegitimate (however legalized) power. Given this possibility for the power of fiction, Roland Barthes asked what he considered to be
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?
Continue reading The Social and Political Novel, and Social Change VII: The Future of Imaginative Literature
Most of the greatest works of literature are based on principle and driven by it, whether the principles are humane/political, scientific/technical, or sacred/idealistic. Closely observed details carefully selected and issues of inspiration and energy, style and structure all come in to play but are based on the driving, purpose-giving principles. For populists, these principles are rooted in the values of the people, values such as freedom, justice, loyalty (or solidarity), equality – in other words some of the key values this country was founded on, and key values of democratic movements and struggles the world over – values and principles that are spelled out in much more detail in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which aims to guarantee what we all want: meaningful employment (and leisure), real education and educational opportunities, guaranteed health care, adequate standard of living, personal safety and security, and so on.
These principles go far beyond those laid out in the ULA manifesto, which in its main focus dissents from the style, manner, and general corruption of the literary establishment but does not express much solidarity with the great historic and current populist movements and ideals of humankind. This is a severe limitation of ULA, it seems to me.
Continue reading Great Lit Is Based on Principle: Letter To ULA