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Thread: Political literature

  1. #1
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    Default Political literature

    Hi all,
    I'm writing my English literature thesis proposal and I'm trying to decide which texts to focus on.
    I want to write about fictional reflections of political indifference. About how the public declines
    to engage itself politically, and about the potential consequences of this growing disengagement,
    in the form of political corruption, alarming lack of accountability, and so on.


    Would anyone be able to refer me or to recommend any works of fiction dealing with this phenomenon?
    Any suggestions would be welcome.


    Many thanks,
    Kfir

  2. #2

    Default Re: Political literature

    Hi Kfir! Welcome to the boards. I hope you stick around and contribute a bit - it is always nice to have more people with a bit more of an academic background in literature to help give us a bit more perspective than we might otherwise have.

    As for literature that isn't particularly political - well, I'm not sure where to direct you, as I think a great deal of work is political if only through interpretation. It sounds like an interesting topic. A few places to consider, though, things which aren't political explicitly, or which don't directly engage with politics with their characters...

    1. The Outsider by Albert Camus (I would actually suggest pretty much anything I've read by him, to be honest)
    2. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (another case where I would suggest anything by him that I've read)
    3. Age of Iron by JM Coetzee (this is hardly an apolitical writer, but this book has a simply fantastic character who attempts to be indifferent to the world around them, and is also, in and of itself, a masterpiece)

    You might also find some good characters in dystopian literature. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 come to mind, though my recollection isn't strong enough to really say they would be particularly useful. I don't read much work that falls into that category, though I'm intrigued by it at times.

    I'm a historian, kind of a historian-kind of mindset when I imagine literature and analysis as well. Are you interested at all in focusing on a language, a region, a time period, a group of people or writers?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Political literature

    Hi,
    Thanks for your thorough reply
    I'm actually trying to write about a phenomenon which interests me on a personal level, and I'm trying to discover whether and to which extent this phenomenon
    has found its expression, support, dissent or otherwise, in literature, which I consider a mirror of social phenomena. I'm environmentally/politically active in my
    home town, and I'm currently attempting to initiate the removal of several very large oil tanks from the town grounds. These tanks emit dangerous toxic gasses
    and they constitute an immense danger to the lives of nearby residents in case of fire, earthquake, etc. These tanks have been around for decades, and the local
    public has almost ignored the problem completely. No demonstrations, no petitions, no legal action, no public dissent whatsoever has take place in this context
    for as far as I can remember. And now comes me, and tries to awaken the public and engage them in an effort to remove the tanks, and I see, over the past several
    months, that people are mostly indifferent. That as long as the disaster does not come knocking on their door, as long as their child does not of cancer (and even then!!),
    they do nothing. I see that people, even if they engage themselves once or twice in some activity, they very soon despair and move on to more interesting business
    once they realize no quick fixes await. And being the very stubborn, consistent person that I am, this amazes me. I can't see how a person would consistently ignore a
    problem that puts his children at risk. So this is where I'm coming from. I read a little bit of Thoreau, the great advocate of political indifference, and he can certainly
    serve as one of my right-wing example of complete indifference. But through my dissertation I want to explore this issue further and understand why people remain
    politically passive, how literature comes into this picture, does it reflect this passivity, does the lack of political writings indicate a willed uninvolvement, can literature
    serve as an agent of involvement, etc.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Political literature

    Sounds like a good reason to be looking into the topic. In my graduate school we always called that the "rationale", and maybe the "so what" (which was an important question to answer while applying for grants). But it doesn't really explain much about the thing you are going to study other than through sideways glances. I don't say that to be a jerk, but, rather, to try and help. I don't have a very good sense of what your question is, or really want kind of limitations you are placing on the study, or how exactly you would define political action (or inaction, for that matter). Those are things you might want to center yourself into a bit before jumping too deeply into the topic of your study. Not knowing anything about you or what you have read in your studies, I think you could work into some literary theory on the topic of political and non-political literature (there is a mountain of that stuff out there), or just into the topic of political agency generally, be it in philosophy or history or sociology or anthropology or or or (this is a minefield of complex but fascinating literature, a lot of it talking to each other in dialogue, and much of it obtuse to the point that it doesn't make sense individually or in the context of the literature until you've read a good dozen or so books).

    But I'll leave all of that magical foundational stuff to you. I've got some more questions for you about the literature you are looking for. Are you looking for literature which directly talks about being apolitical, or are you thinking more along the lines of literature which is itself not inherently political? And, if this is the case, how exactly are you defining political action? Are you more interested in literature that tackles the ideas of environmental degradation? Are you wanting to work only in the form of the novel?

    Some more books for you to consider:
    1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has one scene (which is only one scene in a book of 600 pages) which is notably apolitical. It also provides some interesting answers as to why. In the broader context of the novel and the character of Ifemelu it is quite an unusual scene, but it also helps highlight one of her growing concerns with America and the people she is getting to know.
    2. Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer. I haven't read this book at all, and it isn't regarded as one of her best (in fact I think it is widely considered one of her worst), but you might find it useful for its discussion of environment and health. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-r...er/get-a-life/ <--- That is the link to the Kirkus Reviews page for the book to help you get a sense of it (Kirkus, to my mind, does a very good job of laying out the ideas behind a book in their "reviews" without divulging too much of an opinion on them).
    3. The short stories of Alice Munro were heavily criticized, upon her reception of the Nobel, for not being political enough. I've never bought that argument myself - and neither have most of her literary critics - but you might be interested in exploring some of her stories even if they don't directly talk about apolitical behaviour. James Joyce's short stories might also be appropriate, as would a great deal of short fiction.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Political literature

    I've never read All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, so I can't give you specifics, but I do know it's considered the quintessential American political novel. It deals with political corruption, primarily.

    Another possibility might be The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, a social protest novel about the meat-packing industry that led to nationwide reforms after its publication.

    Last edited by Stevie B; 08-May-2017 at 18:24.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Political literature

    You may want to take a look at Magic Mountain. In addition, there is Boll's Billiards at Half-Past Nine and, though I haven't re-read it in years, Siegfried Lenz's Heritage.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Political literature

    Are you looking for literature which directly talks about being apolitical, or are you thinking more along the lines of literature which is itself not inherently political? And, if this is the case, how exactly are you defining political action? Are you more interested in literature that tackles the ideas of environmental degradation? Are you wanting to work only in the form of the novel?

    I'm looking for literature, preferably in the novel form, which tells the story of the apolitical dilemma. That is, a text that, through a fictional (or possibly non-fictional) story brings to the surface the problems, conflicts, social significance and general human interaction resolving around political passivity in light of genuine social/economic/environmental crises. Thanks for your suggestions so far, I'll certainly look into them. Any further ideas, if you have them, or comments of any sort, would be most welcome.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Political literature

    I've never read All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, so I can't give you specifics, but I do know it's considered the quintessential American political novel. It deals with political corruption, primarily.


    Another possibility might be The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, a social protest novel about the meat-packing industry that led to nationwide reforms after its publication.

    Thanks! I'll look into them.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Political literature

    You may want to take a look at Magic Mountain. In addition, there is Boll's Billiards at Half-Past Nine and, though I haven't re-read it in years, Siegfried Lenz's Heritage.




    Thanks!

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Political literature

    Not sure if this helps (the novel I have in mind is Italian) but check out Alberto Moravia's The Conformist. It's been some time since I read it, but I think it checks all the boxes.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Political literature

    Would you like to consider works that you read in one or more of the major courses you took?
    We few, we happy few, we band of chipmunks....

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