Literature Pursued by Politics

By Goytisolo, Juan | The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Literature Pursued by Politics


Goytisolo, Juan, The Review of Contemporary Fiction


In the course of recent international meetings of writers and artists-not only in Leningrad, Edinburgh or Florence, but also in Formentor or Madrid--the relations between politics and literature, the concepts of art for art's sake vs. that of art serving a Cause, have been the obligatory topic of discussion. A growing lack of confidence in the value of literature impels a considerable number of writers to seek a justification of their work based on reasons extrinsic to art. Positions are defended with uncompromising rigidity and the impartial spectator often has the feeling of attending a dispute among deaf men. "Literature and politics are two different things," some say. "Literature, once it is published, is a social fact and, as such, fulfills a political function," others answer. In reality, things are not as clear-cut as they first seem, nor are they as simple. These hastily formulated alternatives, these concepts of art-as-end or art-as-means, are far from resolving the problems we intellectuals confront; rather, they avoid them and, perhaps, complicate them. It's really a matter of superficial definitions that, instead of circumscribing and delimiting the topic, let it slither around and slip away altogether, as well as a matter of apparent dilemmas that, if we examine them more closely, neither contain nor could contain any truth or possibility of truth.

In a recent essay entitled "Literature Pursued by Politics," Alain Robbe-Grillet criticized the politicization of the work of art in these terms: "Writers are not necessarily political brains. And it's no doubt normal for most of them to limit themselves, in this field, to short, vague thoughts. But why do they feel such a need to express them in public at every opportunity? ... I believe, simply, that they're ashamed of being writers and live in perpetual terror they'll be reproached with it, be asked why they write, what good they are, what their role in society is.... The writer suffers, like everyone, over the misfortune of his fellow human beings; it's dishonest to pretend he writes to allay it.... The writer can't know what end he's serving. Literature isn't a means he's to place at the service of some Cause."

The observations of the chief theorist of the nouveau roman are relevant, beyond a doubt, but need some clarifications. To assess them properly, it seems to me necessary, above all, to situate them in their historical context as the concrete expression of the writer's aspirations in a given society. In France, where freedom of thought and speech are a reality, and equality of political rights is no empty formula, the novelist's relation to the public is entirely different, for example, than the one existing in Spain and the Latin American countries. The reason is very simple.

When the social and economic conflicts that constitute the dynamic evolutionary force of a country can be freely aired through the natural outlets for the expression of conflicting interests, the writer's social responsibility to the public is not the same as in those other nations where the interests and aspirations of different pressure groups find no legal outlet for expression. The peculiar status of French society--rid of the anachronism of colonial wars, free of the "danger" of revolution thanks to the prodigious technical transformation brought about by neocapitalism, etc.--favors the growth of a literature that, to use Vittorini's formula, tends to move from the level of consolation, from the level of guiding awareness, to that of probing and seeking, that of fruitful answers, that of knowledge. On the other hand, in those countries either underdeveloped or in the preliminary stages of development--as Spain is today--literature strives to reflect political and social reality, and if this task were abandoned it would bring as an immediate consequence the writing of an imitative literature, a simple rehash of writing in those countries that, like England, Germany and France, have reached a higher political, cultural and economic level, only leaving out innovative literary technique, which leads, logically, to the growth of a literature that, confronting reality with old worn-out formulas, does so with an anachronistic focus, a holdover from our grandfather's naturalism.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Literature Pursued by Politics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?