Politics & The Writer

From Carolyn Forché:

The word politics presents more serious difficulties, particularly in the literary culture of the United States, where the word is most often applied pejoratively, and where politics is regarded as a contaminant of serious literary work. Our poets, most especially, are relegated to the hermetic sphere of lyric expressivity and linguistic art, where they are expected to remain unsullied by historical, political, and social forces. I speak to you today as a rather contaminated poet, but my understanding of the political is in accord with Hannah Arendt’s: “To be political, to live in a polis [means] that everything [is] decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence. In Greek self-understanding) to force people by violence, to command rather than persuade, were pre-political ways to deal with people characteristic of life outside the polis.” Finally, we are discussing the writer with a politics—and of this I can only say that it would be difficult for me to imagine a writer or intellectual who would profess to be without one. I live and write, however, in the administered world of a Western industrial state, where communicative thought and action are inhibited; where money circulates more fluently than verbal forms; where democracy does not extend beyond the scope of its institutions; where “total communication yields endless debate in stead of change” (Otto Karl Werckmeister); in an economy so deeply dependent on military production that the national consciousness has been colonized by war; where armament and disarmament are simultaneously professed; where intellectuals find themselves “aesthetically oversensitized and politically numbed” (Werckmeister); and where the enlightened powerless occasionally produce works that are serendipitously drawn into debates beyond the literary sphere.

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