Politics and Literature
Politics and Literature
Politics have been a fertile source for literature since ancient times. Because the success or failure of any one political ideology depends so heavily on the ability of adherents and detractors to promote or defame it, literary pursuits—both fiction and nonfiction—have frequently coincided with political pursuits. The literature of politics has for hundreds of years taken the explicit form of journals, magazines, and newspapers, in which writers openly engage in propaganda or protest. From the early to mid-twentieth century, proponents of socialism and fascism in Europe, the United States, and the newly formed Soviet Union established newspapers in order to spread information about and gain further support for their causes. African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s found that literary journals with a political orientation allowed them an outlet for both protest and creativity, and the number of black political poets quickly grew. Many writers have taken a less direct approach in their political works, often for fear of social or legal repercussions under repressive governments. Political satire first appeared in Greek theater; by the late seventeenth century it had become a sophisticated tool of protest and discontent, employed with much effect by such writers as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Twentieth-century political satirists like Joseph Heller have often turned to black humor to critique what they consider grossly unjust governmental policies. Writers have also used allegory to voice their dissatisfaction with political regimes and, in Latin American countries in particular, have often added magical realism to their allegorical tales to expose governmental corruption indirectly. The great popularity of novels since the nineteenth century has allowed writers the most versatile medium for promoting their political beliefs. From George Eliot's extended tracts on English law in her novels to the openly racist propaganda of some writers in the American South, novelists have successfully integrated their art and their politics. Nevertheless, writers around the world continue to risk punishment, exile, and even death when they publish their political works, regardless of the literary genre they choose.
A Man of the People (novel) 1966
José María Arguedas
Todas las sangres (novel) 1964
Molloy (novel) 1951
Malone meurt [Malone Dies] (novel) 1951
L'innomable [The Unnamable] (novels) 1953
Jorge Luis Borges
Ficciones (short stories) 1944
El Aleph (short stories) 1949
El hacedor [Dreamtigers] (poetry and prose) 1960
The Public Burning (novel) 1977
Hopscotch (novel) 1966
Libro de Manuel (novel) 1973
Thomas Dixon, Jr.
The Leopard's Spots (novel) 1902
The Clansman (novel) 1905
E. L. Doctorow
The Book of Daniel (novel) 1971
John Dos Passos
U.S.A. (novel) 1936
The Possessed (novel) 1871
Middlemarch (novel) 1871-72
Invisible Man (novel) 1952
(The entire section is 304 words.)
SOURCE: "The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda," in My Country Right or Left: 1940-43, The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. II, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1968, pp. 123-27.
[Orwell was an English essayist, journalist, and novelist whose works—including the novels 1984 and Animal Farm—frequently covered political issues. In the following, which was originally broadcast on the BBC Overseas Service in 1941, he argues that English literature beginning in the 1930s sacrificed aesthetics in favor of political didacticism.]
I am speaking on literary criticism, and in the world in which we are actually living that is almost as unpromising as speaking about peace. This is not a peaceful age, and it is not a critical age. In the Europe of the last ten years literary criticism of the older kind—criticism that is really judicious, scrupulous, fair-minded, treating a work of art as a thing of value in itself—has been next door to impossible.
If we look back at the English literature of the last ten years, not so much at the literature as at the prevailing literary attitude, the thing that strikes us is that it has almost ceased to be aesthetic. Literature has been swamped by propaganda. I do not mean that all the books written during that period have been bad....
(The entire section is 13273 words.)
SOURCE: "The Southern Politician," in The Modern American Political Novel: 1900-1960, University of Texas Press, 1966, pp. 191-33.
[In the following essay, Blotner discusses politics as portrayed in literature of the American South. ]
Proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal, swift to act, often too swift, but signally effective, sometimes terrible, in its action—such was the South at its best. And such at its best it remains today, despite the great falling away in some of its virtues. Violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas, an incapacity for analysis, an inclination to act from feeling rather than from thought, an exaggerated individualism and a too narrow concept of social responsibility, attachment to fictions and false values, above all too great attachment to racial values and a tendency to justify cruelty and injustice in the name of those values, sentimentality and a lack of realism—these have been its characteristic vices in the past. And despite changes for the better, they remain its characteristic vices today.
W. J. Cash
The Mind of the South1
The Southern Politician naturally takes his character and coloration from his region, this most individualistic of American...
(The entire section is 44493 words.)
SOURCE: "Some Political Implications of The Madwoman of Chaillot," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1968, pp. 2210-22.
[In the following essay, Cohen finds that, despite its "whimsical" surface, Hyppolyte-Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot is an existential drama concerning the political nightmare of World War II.]
It may seem overly narrow to speak of The Madwoman of Chaillot as a political play concerning France in the Second World War. The play is full of fancy, a superbly whimsical collection of farce, fantasy, and flippancy which has achieved as great a popular success as any of Giraudoux's plays. Social seriousness, which continually peeks from the interior of Siegfried and The Trojan War Will Not Take Place, and is mixed with bothersome intellectual discursions in Electra, seems at first totally missing from The Madwoman. One American textbook edition even bases its approval of the work on its total removal from the current scene: "For some theatregoers . . . the play seemed too remote from the harsh facts of contemporary history, and many wondered how Giraudoux could write so spirited a comedy during a period of national suffering and despair. Plainly, none of the anguish of the existential drama of the French Occupation is present in Giraudoux's extravaganza. . . . The remoteness of...
(The entire section is 28345 words.)
Gene H. Bell
SOURCE: "Borges—Literature and Politics North and South," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 222, No. 7, February 21, 1976, pp. 213-17.
[In the following essay, Bell discusses Jorge Luis Borges 's literary output during a fifteen-year period of personal and political crisis, and assesses his subsequent influence on North American literary and cultural theory.]
Surveying the sum total of Borges's works, one is struck by a kind of "bulge" at approximately the middle of his career. This bulge constitutes the relatively brief spell—1939 to the middle 1950s—during which the Argentine writer produced the stories gathered in Ficciones and El Aleph, as well as the prose parables in Dreamtigers. Until then, Borges had published many of his strangely provocative essays and some lovely books of verse—but little as yet of universal import. Years later, during the 1960s and 1970s, well after his writing career had reached its peak, he reaped the benefits of his sudden and deserved fame, living the life of a much-esteemed public figure, journeying from podium to podium, prize to prize—and meanwhile issuing the anti-climactic narratives of Doctor Brodie 's Report or playful trifles like The Book of Imaginary Beings. What is noteworthy about those luminous fifteen years—the Ficciones and El Aleph...
(The entire section is 21822 words.)
Africa And The Caribbean
Helen Pyne Timothy
SOURCE: "V. S. Naipaul and Politics: His View of Third World Societies in Africa and the Caribbean," in CLA Journal, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, March, 1985, pp. 247-62.
[In the following essay, Timothy examines V. S. Naipaul's view, as expressed in his fiction, of Third World political attitudes and issues.]
There is a certain sense in which V. S. Naipaul is an anachronism in Third World writing: He is the writerin-exile trained in the metropole and still resident there after thirty years. He is the writer who left the West Indies at a time when the colonial system was well entrenched and who has never returned to his homeland except in fleeting visits. He has never participated in any political movement dedicated to the notion of political independence; rather he has eschewed nationalistic pronouncements. Now a citizen of Britain, he has revealed how sincerely he depends on what he calls the "literate" persuasion of that society. According to him, the Third World environment does not provide this atmosphere.
The Third World writer who has maintained this "observer status" is more usually associated with a pre-1950 era. Yet Naipaul is now regarded internationally as the foremost expositor of Third World political philosophy, attitudes, and movements. This paper attempts to set out what, according to Naipaul, these attitudes might be, what their...
(The entire section is 12280 words.)
Bettman, Elizabeth R. "Joyce Cary and the Problem of Political Morality." Antioch Review XVII, No. 2 (June 1957): 266-72.
Discusses the ways in which Joyce Cary wove political symbolism into his final three novels.
Britt, Theron. "Literature and Politics: Same Difference?" College Literature 23, No. 2 (June 1996): 171-76.
Reviews three works on politics and literature.
Brown, Clarence. "Into the Heart of Darkness: Mandelstam's 'Ode to Stalin'." Slavic Review XXVI, No. 4 (December 1967): 584-604.
Examines the events that led up to Osip Mandelstam's composition of his "Ode to Stalin".
Bryant, Jerry H. "John A. Williams: The Political Use of the Novel." Critique XVI, No. 3 (1975): 81-100.
Surveys political elements in the novels of John A. Williams.
Crick, Bernard. Essays on Politics and Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989, 259 p.
Collection of essays on politics and literature.
Edwards, Jorge. "Chilean Writing after the Coup." Partisan Review 57, No. 3 (Summer 1990): 378-84.
Explores writing in Chile after the military coup of September 1973.
Eliot, T. S. 'The Literature of Politics." In To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings,...
(The entire section is 688 words.)