Excuse me, there appears to be some politics in my fiction – I’d like to lodge a formal complaint!

Ah, politics – love it, or hate it, you can’t ignore it. It’s everywhere, like science making gases, like people sniffing on public transport, or like girls who wear leggings with no skirt or shorts. Yes, just leggings. It’s a fetching look. I am drawn to recall Mr. Bowie’s famous words on the subject: “no, beep-beep, beep-beep, oop bop, do do do do do do do do, fa fa fa fa fashion.”

Where was I?

Ah, politics. That old horse chestnut. Now, I’m no politician, and my understanding of politics is pretty limited. I’m a writer (no sniggering!) and so my interest in politics extends to how politics interacts with fiction. One question that contains a small kernel of interest is the question of whether fiction should address politics explicitly. Should it? [shrugs] Presumably all fiction addresses some aspect of politics subplicitly, or imptextually. I’ve read my own work (as well as having written it) and I see little to no political content. But, just wait till a Marxist gets their hands on it! Then they’ll be prosecuted for breaking and entering, presumably. You see, I was making a joke there about my not having been published, which means that my work is not publicly available. Jokes are always funnier (a) when they need to be explained, and (b) when they don’t need to be explained, but are explained regardless.

Anyway, this has all been playing on my tiny mind this week for two reasons.

The 1st of these is that the General Election is coming up (mark it in your calendars! May the 16th! Isn’t it?) and whilst I was writing a story about two cats who become very close friends despite their opposing views with regard to capital punishment, abortion, and the social benefit system, I realised that I had, without even realising it, named the cats David and Gordon, and that next door there lived a small wood pigeon called Nick. It’s inescapable!

The 2nd reason is that, last week, I was clicking my way quite happily through the Guardian Bookclub pages when I stumbled upon, or rather, actively sought out an article written by a certain Ms. Lorrie Moore, American humorist. In it she mentions a story of hers called ‘Debarking,’ about which she had the following to say:

In “Debarking” I was interested in making two incongruous things intersect, or at least interested in making them sit side by side: post-divorce middle-aged dating and a shocking war beginning on the other side of the globe. All that these two subjects have in common is that they are American and create high levels of anxiety within the protagonist. Making public events coexist with private ones in the consciousness of a fictional character is not usually recommended by anyone (not editors, not teachers, not other writers, not even me). Incongruous subjects, or subjects asymmetrical in proportion, often compete and cancel each other out – and I did anticipate and in fact receive editorial feedback to that effect. “What is the war in Iraq doing in this story?” was the gist. “Well,” I thought, “what is the war in Iraq doing in the world?”

Now, I know that the war in Iraq is far more than just a political issue, but it is, in political terms, a piping hot potato nonetheless. To cut a longish story shortish, I was intrigued, and so I booked a flight to Wisconsin, discovered that Ms. Moore was actually in New York, met her there (see photographic evidence), borrowed a copy of her collected stories off her (note to self: remember to send copy back to Ms. Moore and apologise for having taken it), and proceeded to read the story in question whilst she sat opposite me in a New York deli, silently drinking a flat white coffee.

Lorrie and me. She might not be showing it, but she's just as excited to be meeting me...

The story, which you can read and judge quietly here, is, in my underinformed and underread opinion, very funny and fabulously well written. That’s the norm for a L. Moore story. But it’s also interesting for the way in which the main character’s reactions to the onset of war in Iraq colour certain scenes. I did at times think, “hold on, what is the war doing in this story?” The characters in the story take a definite line when it comes to the war, but aside from indicating the contemporaneity of events depicted, does such commentary add anything to the story of a divorcee dating a woman, also a divorcee, who is rather weirdly obsessed with both statues of naked boys and her own teenage son? The threads of the story are as Moore puts it, incongruous. Incongruity is a theme, or even the mode of the story. It is perhaps a fallacy to think that mentions of the war have no place in ‘Debarking’, that they ought to be edited out. Of course, fiction, or at least, realist fiction (whatever that is! Aggghh!), is life, edited down to a few points of interest. Moore’s story posits that the war in Iraq, in all its horrible magnitude, was and is too big to edit out, even if it serves no purpose in the story’s plot. Politics encroaches!

Although I wouldn’t write an overtly political novel myself, I wouldn’t purposely avoid mentioning politics in my fiction simply because I fear to be branded POLITICAL. Politics is like anything else: it’s there, in your face all the time. It’s like Facebook. Or bodily functions, one’s own and those of others. These things will make it into fiction. And, perhaps, (perhaps!) they have to be there.


What do YOU think?

On a side note, I’m thinking of killing off the two cats in my story.

P. R.


One Response to “Excuse me, there appears to be some politics in my fiction – I’d like to lodge a formal complaint!”

  1. As a graduate of the Language, Power & Ideology school of thought, you are already aware that we are barely able to utter a word (any word, I mean, not a specific one – like “hippo”) without somehow revealing our ideological stance to anyone who is looking hard enough.

    Even supposedly apolitical writing can’t help but have an underlying ideological tenor: in one respect, it rejects the immediate importance of politics, and in another, it will be always be a reflection not only of the writer’s response to the world, and the politics of the time, as s/he sees it, but also of value judgements im-placit-ly (even subcutaneously) made by the author which can be understood explicitly by the reader.

    Because the question is not ‘what is politics?’, but rather ‘what isn’t politics’?

    That said, it’s frustrating for a writer to feel that s/he cannot simply put political issues aside and concentrate, for example, on a psychological or emotional realm, even when the writing in question is disconnected from a setting in either place or time, that every decision made in fiction is indicative of some deeper conviction – be it a response to matters of ideology, gender or religion to name but a few.

    Bearing all this in mind, I take it your post was meant solely to inform the world that you’ll be ticking the Lib Dem box come ‘lection day?


    P.S. As for bodily functions forming an actual plotline (yes, it has been done!), I can heartily recommend reading (or failing that, re-reading) the scatological Feuchtgebiete.

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