Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fiction: Subversive Literature on Steroids

It is a truth recognized with some regularity that the novel is subversive, this recognition shared by readers, writers, and critics. An additional truth reveals how some writers of novels, their readers, and their critics wish to have nothing to do with subversive activity in the novel.

These individuals want instead some variation on the theme of a happy ending in which none of the major characters are pushed beyond their established boundaries, and culture, regardless of its place on the spectrum of human behavior, congratulates established conventions rather than extending them.

However subversive Jane Austen may have been with her encouragement of the democratic marriage, in which classes are free to marry above or below their status, she pays dearly for the advocacy by implying that marriage is without future conflict. 

For all his inspired moments of satire, Dickens was also promoting a form of smug certainty in the notion that marriage, hard work, and thrifty habits were virtuous ends in themselves. 

To no one's surprise, Dickens' significant popularity led an American counterpart in theme if not dramatic talent to an enormous, non-subversive success. That writer was Horatio Alger,(1832-99), whose name became synonymous with his theme, rags to riches.

You've been involved in the publication of a number of novels that were non-subversive in their narrative intend, their goals to feed a need for a narrative from which the reader comes away feeling that improbable outcomes such as living happily ever after and of virtue  being rewarded, and of nice persons finishing first were easier come by than they were in actuality.

Without wishing to enter the arena of judging or defending such novels, you recognize your dealings with them and others where your only participation was as a reader, was a part of a learning process, both editorial on the professional side of the ledger and instructive on the personal side. You in fact wrote and published a few such novels as well, all part of a process you intended to be lifelong.

Such associations led you to admire and spend more time with so-called noir fiction. Here, the characters were of greater depth and vulnerability, without you, at first, realizing this fact. Then, as you did see and sympathize, your sympathies for such individuals began to lead you down paths blazed by the quintessential Marxist, Karl Marx, himself. 

From his lead, you found a number of men and women writers of fiction whose narratives led you to believe they were aware of Marxist themes relating to commodities, the labor necessary to produce and earn money to buy such commodities, and the the things individuals would be willing to do in order to, as your father put it, "be able to smoke five-dollar cigars with no concern for bank balance or conscience."

You'd turned thirty when you found a novel that had a profound effect on your life then and has continued to help shape your vision of how a novel could be used as a subversive element. You first read a review of Joseph Heller's magisterial Catch-22 in one of the then splendid left-leaning magazines, The Nation, to which you'd subscribed for many years, until, one day as you were reading in it, you discerned that with one exception, all its writers sounded the same, wrote with the same, punchy, pseudo-hectoring tone of nag and complaint. The one exception, Alexander Cockburn, had a voice that you'd recognize some years later in another subversive writer, Christopher Hitchens.

Much as you admired the visions of Cockburn and Hitchens and their incessant subversive writing, you're in this for fiction, where the subversion of Catch-22 shook you by your thirty-year-old shoulders, and told you, "Fuck yeah."

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