Regular readers of the Fluxus Blog and others familiar with my writing will recognize that I have often stated that "all art is political". In fact, I have frequently made use of that simple statement in my artwork.
In today's edition of The Globe and Mail (a Toronto daily newpaper) here is an interesting editorial article in the "Comments" section by author Noah Richler. In his article Mr. Richler makes the argument that the novel is an inherently political form of literature. He discusses the novel in the context of narrative theories of understanding the world that we live in. He argues that there have historically been three kinds of meta-narative (grand stories) in human history:
- The creation myth: Societies still struggling to survive at the subsistence level have stories that explain the world as it exists for them. These protoreligious narratives place group interests above individual interests, with all members of the tribe subject to forces beyond human control over which they must struggle to survive. There are seldom any human heros in creation myths.
- The epic struggle: Societies that successfully overcome natural adversity eventually come into contact with other similarly successful societies. Often this results in conflict over resources and ideologies. Epic stories ususally tells tales in which special individuals lead their tribe to victory in heroic struggles against thier enemies. Richler says that the heroic figure "is there to rally the group or justify the privileged place of some within it".
- The novel: In 17th century Europe a new narrative form emerged that was called the "novel". Richler says that, "What was novel about it was the expression of liberal democratic secular societies that vindicated the place of the individual in society and regarded certain basic human rights as inalienable".
The novel is a political art form because it demands that the reader place himself into the lives of its characters. It allows its audience to transcend their own existence by imagining life from the perspective of the novel's invented character. Noah Richter describes the politicization inherent in the novel very well:
It is the mechanism of the imaginitave leap that makes all novels, whether Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada or Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment inherently and undeniably political. The novel elevates humans above governments – and gods, which is why it is obnoxious to the epic thinkers who do not subscribe to its more sophisticated values.
Islamists hate novels, while many Western politicians duck their mesage by not reading them. The novel is intensely political – and the narrative cornerstone of developed society. Few in the West recognize its dogma because it is so brilliantly alligned with the higher aims of liberal democracies. But others do.
"But others do." This final short sentence in the excerpt above is loaded with meaning. While the mass audience is oblivious to the political nature of art, artists and political masters are not. Artists struggle daily to express the individual and social narratives that they observe and experience. Political ruling classes struggle daily to suppress those narratives that do not support their agendas while they work to promote those narratives that do support their own agendas. Those of us fortunate enough to be living in Western liberal democracies must remain vigilant to protect our artists. Because our cultural creators are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine – when the canary stops singing disaster is close at hand.