Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Politics of Concept, the Concept of Politics

concept-driven story, the--a dramatic narrative focused on theme; a novel or story whose plot appears to emphasize a particular subject such as revenge, redemption, or poverty while still providing dramatic structure.

Novels such as Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle may be seen as examples of the concept-driven story, and although equally at home in the categories of speculative fiction and cautionary fiction, so too are Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, George Orwell's 1984, and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Each of these deals with burning political and/or social issues to the point where they have become more than snapshots of a particular era but rather have assumed the status of museum-quality prints, hung in galleries.

Unless a concept-driven story has more to it than the potent dramatization of theme, it runs great risk (as many fictional protagonists do) of being caught in the bog of disaster, which is to say it forgets its debt to story. Alissa Rosenbaum, she who became Ayn Rand, is an unfortunate example of this forgetfulness, beginning her career with The Fountainhead, which took on the theme of art for art's sake to great popularity and, to many critics, to great extreme. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, a thirteen-hundred-page-plus novel, articulated her Objectivist philosophy in extraordinary detail, allowing her to express anti-communism, anti-fascism, and anti-welfare-state views in unbridled gallop, reaching a full, Libertarian crescendo in which she deplored any kind of state at all.

In this regard, Rand may be regarded as the right of Upton Sinclair's left. Although they were roughly contemporaries, Rand is probably the better--and more favorably--known, but the reputation comes from her philosophy and argumentative skills rather than her dramatic skills.

The point here is that story is the freighting device for the message. For the concept-driven story to have an audience in the first place, it must eventually have characters who become memorable not because of the smirks they produce but because of the heart tugs. Compare, for instance, George and Lenny with Howard and Domenique or, for that matter, John Gault.

See plot-driven story
See Character-driven story

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