Some writers obviously feel that they do—that we all do. But what they generally mean, I think, is that one should promote their particular political vision.
But there’s another way of thinking about politics and writing. Go to the Greek root of the word, polis, which refers to a society, in the sense of community rather than state. When writing gives a picture of the community we live in, it’s political. To return to Chekhov—Chekhov was criticized on all sides for not promoting various revolutions, not espousing specific theories and theologies and causes, but the essential humanity of his work, and its lack of interest in orthodoxies of various kinds, enabled him to give a picture of his community that was often highly critical and challenging to its self-conception. That is political writing, isn’t it? Though not generally what is meant by that term.
And the most radical political writing of all is that which makes you aware of the reality of another human being. Self-absorbed as we are, self-imprisoned even, we don’t feel that often enough. Most of the spiritualities we’ve evolved are designed to deliver us from that lockup, and art is another way out. Good stories slip past our defenses—we all want to know what happens next—and then slow time down, and compel our interest and belief in other lives than our own, so that we feel ourselves in another presence. It’s a kind of awakening, a deliverance, it cracks our shell and opens us up to the truth and singularity of others— to their very being. Writers who can make others, even our enemies, real to us have achieved a profound political end, whether or not they would call it that.
When the Paris Review asked Tobias Wolff if writers are obligated to write politically, this is what he said (in this great, great in-depth interview, I could basically make a whole tumblr out of quotes from it).
AND IT IS AWESOME. That last paragraph, especially.
…the most radical political writing of all is that which makes you aware of the reality of another human being. Self-absorbed as we are, self-imprisoned even, we don’t feel that often enough. Most of the spiritualities we’ve evolved are designed to deliver us from that lockup, and art is another way out.
You can leave the Internet for the day now because you aren’t going to see anything else as good as that. Well, maybe some cats playing with fruit.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with resilience. It’s good. It’s an excellent tool that will always be necessary in some way. But it’s a survival trait. So I think the idea is: if I’m still relying on survival traits and having to use them a lot, what’s going on in my life that is requiring so much survival mode stuff? Can I do something about it? What can I do to create conditions inside me and maybe around me that are more conducive to thriving and living, and require fewer survival tools? The ultimate aim is healthy, steady adulthood in which I take full responsibility for myself and my life and peace, know my boundaries and limits, and learn how to take care of myself, and learn what healthy intimacy is and how to have it, and I become an actor rather than reactor, and have some spirituality to my life that helps with all this. That’s the idea.
Here’s a fun little list of what could happen in the long run: http://www.adultchildren.org/lit/Promises.s
A thought I’ve had recently that I’m sure others have had before me. That the more worried or obsessed about The Perfect Way To Eat I become, the more I know or think I know, the more I try to have a Theory of Everything about food and nutrition, the more I try the latest, “cleanest” thing, the more sort of orthorexic symptoms I have - the worse my relationship with food is and the more my compulsive eating and weight goes up.
WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT’S HAPPENING TO OUR COUNTRY AS A WHOLE.
We know more than ever. We have the latest research. We are always debunking and rebunking conventional wisdom. We have superfoods and kale smoothies and crossfit and organic everything. We have weight loss shows and boot camps. We can track our daily steps and calories burned and macro and micronutrients down to the finest detail. But overall we are fatter than the population was back when people ate three squares of real food without angst and thought a good workout was getting onto one of those jiggle machines, or they just went out to play, or were on their feet much of the day preparing aforementioned real food. Not only are we fatter, but we are hella stressed out about it.*
Fuck this shit. You know? Just really fuck it. I don’t want to be a part of an entire country’s eating disorder by bringing all this down on myself, too. How ‘bout some letting go. I want to be a conscientious objector in this war on our bodies and minds or whatever it is. I’m not sure how but I think for me it has to do with living and enjoying my life. That can’t hurt.
(*I know it’s complicated. Foods are more processed, work is more sedentary, there is more sugar everywhere and in everything. Still, fuck it.)