Politics and literature; Part XXXVVVIII

I have been busy with soccer and work so the posts have not been particularly substantive lately. I have some interviews and book reviews coming soon I promise. In the meantime let me pose another question on this politics and literature thing. How to individual authors relate to partisan politics?

The Orson Scott Card issue made a splash because some who enjoyed his books were appalled by his politics. But what if it was not on such an emotional issue. What if an author was simply a supporter of another party or more conservative or liberal than your tastes? The reason I bring this up is that in many ways I wanted to write about books and literature to put a little distance between me and the daily ranting of the political blogosphere. Obviously when I review non-fiction books on political and historical subject politics can come up, but I assumed I would avoid any flame wars. And I really have to this point. But what is interesting is how often I come across rather vehement opposition to President Bush in literary blogs. I enjoy Robert Birnbaum’s interviews. They are free flowing and often thought provoking. But they also tend to make a regular habit of bashing Bush. An interview with Stephen Elliot included this exchange:

RB: So if we elect Joe Schmoe or Joe Blow, we are not going to get to that fundamental solution. I do agree with you that one group vying for power is really scary and at least the Kerry camp is not scary.
SE: You have Kerry, who wants to be president and will do anything to be president, and that’s a huge improvement over someone who actively hates trees and poor people [laughs]. There’s bad, and then there’s significantly worse. Nobody could have known that in 2000; [or] nobody could have known that then.
RB: Right, no real footprints. George Bush is a creation as Ronald Reagan was a creation despite all this revisionism of insiders glorifying Reagan’s image, saying he was really smart and so forth. George Bush appears to have been a vacuum—

Am I to assume that since there is a [laughs] after it that Mr. Elliot doesn’t really believe that George Bush hates trees and poor people? Granted, Elliot is a political writer as well, but that seems a tad over the top to me.

In an interview with Edwidge Danticat he again goes down the Bush as the fount of all evil road:

RB: I am getting a growing sense that there is a greater anxiety that American voters have about their leadership than I have seen before. There is some impending evil that seems linked with the Bush regime that maybe catalytic for real change, but also there is a fearful anxiety, a dread about what the administration is doing.
ED: People would understand it or would almost accept it more if there was this very different agenda than what we would see, if there was pure ideology behind it. But it is so mired in money and oil – in a non-conspiratorial way – in documented ways with Dick Cheney’s connection to the oil industry and the Bush family’s connection with the Kuwaitis. On some levels, you can also have this feeling that we are being duped, somehow. And that the world is at play for something you would understand more if it were pure ideology. It is a very strange time and also basic things are being taken away. Social Security –

It’s Birnbaum’s interview and he can take it wherever he wants – and I don’t mean to single him out but these were recent examples – but what is someone to make of the regular Bush bashing that infuses his interviews? Should I ignore the politics and focus on the writing? Is it fair to be turned off by the remarks that run counter to your thinking? Maud Newton’s initial reaction to Orson Scott Card was “Orson Scott Card: another sci-fi author I won’t be reading.” She subsequently clarified her thoughts and others weighed in on the subject.

What I am wondering is how tolerant are most bloggers for this sort of thing? In the political blogosphere both side often read each other if only to do battle. Is it fair to say that lit bloggers lean left or are at least anti-Bush? Do lit bloggers read widely against their political leanings or do they get turned off by too much politics? Only politics they don’t agree with?

It seems to me that it is easier to avoid politics, or transcend it, when talking about the past. I can appreciate great novels even though I might not agree with the authors politics. But what about the current day? If someone is a bitter opponent of the President and you are a big fan, or vice-a-versa, are you likely to keep reading?

I am just thinking out loud here so no real deep insights. I just find it interesting that keeping literature and politics separate in a heated election season seems more difficult than one might think.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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2 Comments

  • Kevin: It’s a very fair question. If by “ranting,” you’re referring to me, I’ll confess that today’s post was the result of a liberal being pushed over the edge. (And I hope to clarify the nature of politics in a future post.) I think the rise in anti-Bush vitriol has a lot to do with how politically charged this year is. We have an election on our hands that everybody’s watching. Here in San Francisco, you can probably imagine how intense people get when they start talking politics. (When I suggested the other night at a pub quiz that we name our team “the Young Republicans,” they actually believed for a moment that I had switched political allegiance. Such is the nature of humorlessness which runs down the river, left or right.)

    I will say that you have the right to your informed opinion about politics, and that, much as I expressed myself with the Card thing, it’s foolish for ANYONE to disregard literary merits because they disagree with an author’s personal politics. (And I named Knut Hamsun and Ezra Pound as authors who fit the bill.) Particularly when these things can be skipped over. If, however, politics encroaches upon the quality of literature (through something notably didactic, a major stylistic fallacy no matter where it stands), then the piece can be disregarded. I disliked the excerpt from Tim Robbins’ “Embedded” I read as much as I couldn’t stand getting through the whole of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

  • Kevin: It’s a very fair question. If by “ranting,” you’re referring to me, I’ll confess that today’s post was the result of a liberal being pushed over the edge. (And I hope to clarify the nature of politics in a future post.) I think the rise in anti-Bush vitriol has a lot to do with how politically charged this year is. We have an election on our hands that everybody’s watching. Here in San Francisco, you can probably imagine how intense people get when they start talking politics. (When I suggested the other night at a pub quiz that we name our team “the Young Republicans,” they actually believed for a moment that I had switched political allegiance. Such is the nature of humorlessness which runs down the river, left or right.)

    I will say that you have the right to your informed opinion about politics, and that, much as I expressed myself with the Card thing, it’s foolish for ANYONE to disregard literary merits because they disagree with an author’s personal politics. (And I named Knut Hamsun and Ezra Pound as authors who fit the bill.) Particularly when these things can be skipped over. If, however, politics encroaches upon the quality of literature (through something notably didactic, a major stylistic fallacy no matter where it stands), then the piece can be disregarded. I disliked the excerpt from Tim Robbins’ “Embedded” I read as much as I couldn’t stand getting through the whole of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”