Cheap Shots Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-04-10 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Some time back I wrote that there seemed to be two conditions for how political opinions and creative work could be intermixed successfully:

  1. The politics had to be used to enrich the work in question, not the other way around.
  2. The politics in question ought not to be revanchist, triumphalist, or mean-spirited.

Of the two, I think the second point is the slightly more important one, in big part because a good piece of creative work shouldn't have those attributes in general. If the only way you can make your case for your work is by making some specific group out as losers, there's a good chance you don't have much of a case. In other words, if your whole way of adding politics to a story is to take cheap shots at someone or something, you've cheapened both the politics and the story.

The best way politics works to inform a creative work is when it's used illustratively, as a way to make things broader and deeper instead of shallower and narrower. Proletarian hand-wringers can be just as tiresome as Randian me-first tract-making; each is limited and squint-eyed in its own way.

Most of the best work I have read has been not so much apolitical as transpolitical, not ignorant of politics but with that as only one of many elements in a larger world-view. One of the reasons I liked Dostoevsky was the way he gave us characters he clearly would have had nothing to do with in real life, but detailed so thoroughly and sympathetically that it was clear he cared about them despite all that. He looked at a great many people who had repellent, reactionary, or retrograde political opinions, but he never treated them as if they didn't have a reason for taking the views they did, and never felt they were not worth taking seriously. Nobody was a caricature; everyone was a character. Who does this today? Not many. Who sees it as worth it? Even fewer.

It's hard to care about people you've been taught to see as a cipher. This isn't about excusing the things they've done wrong, but about seeing them in context — about seeing the people themselves as products of larger things. I am hard-pressed to think of recent works of fiction with that much charity and wisdom to spare for its characters, but at the same time not soft-headed or sentimental.

If I keep coming back to anything with this, it's about balance and unity of elements. Anyone can take the road of excess to some particular palace of wisdom, but those palaces all seem such narrow and cramped abodes to take up residence in. And dead ends to boot.

No cheap shots in my books — I hope! Check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.

Tags: Fyodor Dostoevsky literature politics writers writing