Politics and Literature (and Terrell Owens)

1. Probably my favorite thing I’ve seen all week: Encyclopedia Brown for District Attorney. Matthew Baldwin, who writes defective yeti (a blog I enjoy), has proposed that this political season, we make election signs for fictional characters. Brilliant, no? So fire up your printers, your cameras, and your creativity — it’s a contest, and should be a lot of fun.

2. Salman Rushdie says that veils suck, meaning, of course, that he thinks that hijab worn by Muslim women is a form of oppression. The argument about this has been going on a long time in feminist circles and probably won’t see a conclusion anytime soon. But I suppose it’s nice that Rushdie — who may perhaps be better known for the fatwa declared against him after the publication of The Satanic Verses than anything else — is still into riling up one of the world’s major religious groups. Or something. In more Rushdie news, the author will be Writer-In-Residence at Emory University starting next semester, and will donate his archives to the school.

3. In other political news, author Jane Smiley bashes Republicans over at the Huffington Post:

“Sometime last week–I think it was right when Condi admitted that she couldn’t remember being explicitly warned that Al Qaeda was about to attack inside the US and then it turned out that she WAS explicitly warned–I made up my mind that more than anything on earth I hope that the Republican party is destroyed beyond resurrection or recognition, that the political career of every Republican, from the “president” down through every consultant (especially them) all the way to your local selectman, is smashed to sub-atomic particles, and that in the future every Republican would shrink from ever disclosing that he or she had once been a Republican. And because they have no ideas and, apparently, no emotions apart from fear and greed, I know for sure that retaining a majority in the Congress is the surest way for the Republicans to get right where I want them to be.

Oh Jane, you had me at “sub-atomic particles.”

4. In even more political-literary news, is Azar Nafisi’s popular memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran a work of neoconservative propaganda? Iranian scholar Hamid Dabashi thinks so. (And here’s something about the book’s cover, which we know is a really important factor in judging a book.) [Links via Arts & Letters Daily, possibly the handiest site on all of the internets.]

5. The finalists for the National Book Award have been announced. On the list for fiction are two books I’m excited about — Jess Walter’s The Zero and Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions — the former because I’m reading it now, and the latter because I’ll be reading it soon. I should’ve been reading Danielewski’s book about a month ago, I suppose, but I guess I’m just not hip enough. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about these books a little later, but for now, I thought the list of nominees deserved a mention.

6. In celebrity-turned-children’s-book-author news, Terrell Owens is writing a series of children’s books with titles like Little T Learns to Share, which is slightly old news, but it amuses the hell out of me, so I can’t let this week go by without writing a sentence about it.

7. Orhan Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize for Literature!

One Response

  1. The Nobel and HistoryOrhan
    The Nobel and History

    Orhan Pamuk is a formidable writer whose books have a historical sweep that lets loose more questions than answers to the issue of identity. His work is awesome.

    While Pamuk confines much of his narrative to the context of historical Turkey, the analogies to culture at large are obvious.

    One is pulled as a reader both left and right (not politically but historically) by a mind that can embrace something Americans in their fetish for the straight, clean lines (and strict catagories) of marketing find difficult to either accept or understand.


    There are a couple of other writers one would not immediatly assume would have any connection, here, but they do.

    The tug of war between Camille Paglia and Michael Foucault pulls both left and right and the issue that serves as the rope they both employ is relativism.

    Pamuk uses fiction to explore the extraordinary complexities of cultural and historical (and sometimes, explosively, religious) relativism that suggests there are deep shadows lurking behind the cultures where “truth” becomes a doctrine when there are only absolute truths. His books scoff at the simplicity of this notion (where marketing is not the focus of life as there are larger questions).

    Paglia and Foucault fight this out philosophically. Foucault is dead but Paglia still rages against that good night. All three of these writers in their own way are speaking to the links and connections between aesthetic and cultural relativism with Pamuk taking it a step further by putting the conflicts in a historical and fictionalized and highly colorful or artistic context.

    Going so far as to employ magic as a construct. May God help him.

    All three of them sneak peaks into the link between pleasure and death. They seem scared at times with this and all three of them run away from it, too.

    Paglia laments the French influence on Foucault but the man is dead and can hardly defend himself.

    The Turks lament the influence of history on Pamuk but the man is very much alive and can defend himself.

    Foucault wrestles with a depressing inevitability where history shapes us and we do not shape it (I am inclined to this view). Paglia as the daughter of Italian immigrants who forged their own history in a new world rejects this view and seem to assert that it is not inevitable that we are the victims of history but we can shape it if there is the will (and understanding).

    Pamuk wanders back and forth among the shadows here and sometimes the light as a writer of fiction should.

    All three of these writers regard contradiction with some suspicion almost as if it were dark matter in the cosmos. We know it’s there; it’s influence is powerful, yet we can’t see it and we have no idea what it is.

    The American reader (if you look at numbers) rejects ALL of this in favor of the literary complexities to be found within a Danielle Steel sitcom.

    The world unfolds (regardless of what the American reader reads) and American readers find “Charles Dickens installments” too verbally obtuse to comprehend. It is a wonder American writers (the real ones) bother to write at all. It’s not unlike knocking on a door where inside the house the family is dead.

    Oh, please, let me in.

    We can’t. We’re dead.

    Such subjects as the relation of power to knowledge perplexes the American reader (that publishing fears). Any real writer may as well be speaking Turkish.

    The next player on this stage will be Fidel Castro. As soon as he’s dead (think marketing) American writers and the American media will attempt to analyze his influence on the culture he played such a dynamic (whether you like or agree with him or not is not the issue nor is Miami) part in shaping. Good or bad.

    I have Cuban friends who are writers. Having spent a big chunk of time living in the Caribbean (I used to sail a ship called the HMS Fantome which sunk in Hurricane Mitch and, no, I was not aboard at the time), I note a tone of real dread in what they’re writing.

    They seem to be afraid.

    Especially the ones in hiding who insist on regarding culture as an animal of some contradiction.

    They are not afraid of Cuba or the death of Fidel. They are afraid of America.

    Who can trust it.

    So I note that many of them are no longer writing political polemic.

    They’re turning to fiction.

    This, too, is an embrace of contradiction.

    Because no one will either read or publish a word of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What we're up to ...

Litkicks is 26 years old! This website has been on a long and wonderful journey since 1994. We’re relaunching the whole site on a new platform in June 2021, and will have more updates soon. We’ve also been busy producing a couple of podcasts – please check them out.

World BEYOND War: A New Podcast
Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera

Explore related articles ...