Monday, May 25, 2009

The American Novel and American Politics II

Apropos of my last posting (and accompanying comments), is this from Susan Sontag, writing in 1968 in her "Preface" to the English translation of Roland Barthes' 1953 Writing Degree Zero, translated from the French by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang). Wrote Sontag:

"Barthes book is a late contribution to that vigorous debate that has engaged the European literary community since the decade before the war on the relation between politics and literature. No debate of similar quality on that topic ever took place here [the U.S.]. Despite all rumors that there once existed a generation of politically radical writers in England and America , the question of the political-ethical responsibility of writers was never posed here in anything better than an embryonic, intellectually crude form -- a lone exception being the brilliant books published in the late 1930's by the young Christopher Caudwell." (pp. ix-x)

Why this debate has not happened; why American writers rejected the political and chose instead to fasten on the alienated individual, the family, the neighborhood, or on absurdism, will be subjects for future discussion.

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