Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fiction & Politics, with a dash of poetry

What I have learned from and since writing a post about the current election:

1. People may hate politics but they can't seem to stop talking about it; this is not like the case with poetry, for example. What would the world be like if people talked about poetry as much as they talk about politics? What would the world be like if we had a poetry these days that was deserving that kind of talk and interest? When will we again have a poetry that is again deserving of our fervor? When will we have a poet who is able to tie the shoes of W. B. Yeats or Blake or Shakespeare? Now there's a Messiah complex! Yes, I am fleeing the topic.

2. The reason I fly the topic is that I continue to have a great distaste for politics, which I regard as an inevitably-corrupting enterprise with little “place for the genuine,” beginning as it so often does with lawyers (caveat: I do know several honorable ones) and going on from there. I would never write a novel about politicians because the pen would fall from my fingers in boredom, despite the importance of their shenanigans. Just talking about the whole subject bothers me . . .

Now I am re-considering that boredom and contemplating how the current runners might appear in fiction and find that I have underrated them all--there is no one who, dwelt on with sufficient curiosity, will not begin to show possibilities as a fictional person. Palin, who has enormous vim (a highly desirable trait in a paper person) and is peppered with contradictions, might bag a major role, while Biden would make an excellent malaprop-style minor figure in a comic tale--his acts leavened with and undercut by humor. Obama: I’d go straight to the instant when his wife finally found something to be proud of in America, and I’d explore that two-edged Messiah impulse. McCain: I’d bee-line to those dogged, determined, sweaty years of survival in Vietnam.

3. Alas, I still have huge reservations about the current election plots and various unreliable narrators among the media. That means I am still unsure about the story circling around my own party's candidate. He is certainly attractive in his manner and appearance, and I hope his inner self proves worthy of the outer one.

4. "Have something that matters to you more" (credit: Annie) is wise, and I suppose is the way I have generally behaved—often averting my eyes from debacle. No doubt I will go on doing so.

5. I still don't imagine that what I think matters a whit, but I write it down to thank those of you who left a note to suggest that it might, even though it doesn't! On the other hand, those who left a few words probably couldn't help it because of the pressing logic of “People may hate politics but can’t help talking about it.”

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Credit: Thanks to photographer Lauren Burbank and sxc.hu for the patriotic barn.

8 comments:

  1. Isn't it all a fiction?
    Won't the truth only break free some time down the road, much later, when the characters are no longer afraid of what it will do to them and their chances...or...some one, with very good vision and a great deal of objectivity and understanding of history and human nature looks at the whole drama/comedy/tragedy and describes it for us?

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  2. No doubt. I just wrote the bio note for a book: such things feel particularly unreal.

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  3. Marly,
    I have been teaching Frederick Douglass to my students in my slavery/rhetoric class. It would be informative for you to read his famous speech, "What to the Slave is The Fourth of July?" which will singe your eyebrows and make you think again about Wright's "Anti-American" sermon. Actually, that sermon is firmly in the tradition of the black church, started by abolitionists like Douglass. It is difficult for white folk like us to appreciate that.
    And I don't buy the "messiah complex" stuff people are trying to palm off about Obama. Maybe he is a bit fond of himself, but wouldn't it be difficult to allow any of this to go to one's head?
    As for politics, I still believe the personal is political. There's no getting away from the stuff!

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  4. I have read and very much like Frederick Douglass, for whatever that's worth. Also, I've read his autobiography many times. It is one of the great American documents. So I feel quite well informed about Frederick Douglass, and I am a fan of his.

    Oh, I agree; politicians are probably all cheerfully big-headed, some more than others, some more in line with their accomplishments than others.

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  7. Yikes, lawyers are bad, politicians are all crooks----this is not what I look forward to reading about when I come to the palace. But that's just me and you will, of course, write what you want to write! As you know, I'm a big palace fan otherwise.
    Still, on the subject of voting, I vote for a negative stereotype-free zone---is it too much to hope for?

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  8. I don't object to many lawyers, don't even object to all politicians. Hmm, I hoped this was lighter, but maybe not!

    No stereotypes? Is it possible to get all the encrustation off?

    What about the baby? Must go see!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.