Robert Boyers - Politics and the Novel.pdf - Columbia University Press Chapter Title POLITICS AND THE NOVEL Book Title The Fate of Ideas Book Subtitle

Robert Boyers - Politics and the Novel.pdf - Columbia...

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Columbia University Press Chapter Title: POLITICS AND THE NOVEL Book Title: The Fate of Ideas Book Subtitle: Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals Book Author(s): ROBERT BOYERS Published by: Columbia University Press. (2015) Stable URL: JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at Columbia University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Fate of Ideas This content downloaded from on Thu, 16 Aug 2018 23:41:16 UTC All use subject to
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. . . the political awareness that is not aware, the social consciousness which hates full consciousness, the moral earnestness which is moral luxury. —LIONEL TRILLING A t a public interview I conducted with Nadine Gordimer more than thirty years ago, she bristled at my use of the epithet “political novel” to describe her masterwork. Burger s Daughter was not, Gordimer argued, written to promote an agenda. It did not subscribe to a particular idea or ideology. To call it a political novel was to suggest that it had—as Henry James once put it—“designs” on us, that its author wished to ban- ish incorrect opinions and to install in their place clearly more beneficial views of politics and society. At their best, Gordimer contended, novels were not useful. If I admired her novel as much as I said I did, I would do better to regard it as a free work of the imagination, an inquiry with no purpose that involved providing answers to the difficult questions it posed. Of course I had no intention of reducing Gordimer’s book to a species of blunt propaganda, and I thought of the epithet sim- ply as a shorthand for “a novel invested in politics as a way of thinking about the fate of society at a particular place and time.” There was a great tradition of political fiction that included classic works like Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma , Dostoyevsky’s [ 7  ] POLITICS AND THE NOVEL This content downloaded from on Thu, 16 Aug 2018 23:41:16 UTC All use subject to
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[ 144 ] POLITICS AND THE NOVEL The Possessed , Conrad’s Nostromo , and James’s The Princess Casam- assima . Such novels defined the tradition and suggested that there was really a special kind of work whose interest in politics exceeded any- thing to be found in other novels. But these classic works were also, I thought, so entirely not works of coarse propaganda, so clearly not com- posed with obvious designs upon their reader, that no one would object to the words “political novel” as Gordimer had done. In the years since my encounter with Gordimer—one of many I have
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