Wednesday, October 12, 2005

An interesting article on "Why Americans Can't Write Political Fiction". I don't agree with everything the author says, but I am delighted that he chose to include this paragraph about my beloved Whitman:

Walt Whitman—a former clerk for the U.S. Department of the Interior—recognized that the true frontier of America was not, in fact, geographic, but political. With the most deadly political failure fresh in the nation's memory, Whitman, in 1871, issued his famous call for a distinctive, politically minded American literature in his essay “Democratic Vistas.” A new national literature, Whitman argued, was the only force adequate to heal a newly sutured American nation. The country's “most fundamental want,” Whitman wrote, was “the clear idea of a class, of native authors, literatures, far different, far higher in grade than any yet known, sacerdotal, modern, fit to cope with our occasions, lands, permeating the whole mass of American mentality, taste, belief, breathing into it a new breath of life, giving it decision, affecting politics far more than the popular superficial suffrage, with results inside and underneath the elections of Presidents or Congresses—radiating, begetting appropriate teachers, schools, manners, and, as its grandest result, accomplishing, (what neither the schools nor the churches and their clergy have hitherto accomplish'd, and without which this nation will no more stand, permanently, soundly, than a house will stand without a substratum,) a religious and moral character beneath the political and productive and intellectual bases of the States.”

I can't say my forthcoming Whitman-themed novel, Self Storage, is an explicitly political novel, and I can't say it lives up to Whitman's ideal of what American literature should offer, but it definitely has political undertones humming beneath the surface; I like to think Whitman would approve.

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