Surrealpolitik: Politics and the Novel

Author: Irving Howe

Chicago: Ivan R. Dee (2002, first published in 1957)

Quick Summary

The classic work of its type, which looks at not necessarily "the political novel" but the relationship between politics and the novel.


There are 11 quotes currently associated with this book.

"Politics in a work of literature," wrote Stendhal, "is like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, something loud and vulgar, and yet a thing to which it is not possible to refuse one's attention."

The remark is very shrewd, though one wishes that Stendhal, all of whose concerts are interrupted by bursts of gunfire, had troubled to say a little more. Once the pistol is fired, what happens to the music? Can the noise of the interruption ever become part of the performance? When is the interruption welcome and when is it resented? (page 15)
Tags: [Politics & Novels]
The political novel -- I have in mind its "ideal" form -- is peculiarly a work of internal tensions...The conflict is inescapable: the novel tries to confront experience in its immediacy and closeness, while ideology is by its nature general and inclusive. (page 20)
Tags: [Surrealism]
For merely to say that ideology is, in some sense, a burden or an impediment in a novel is not yet to specify its uses -- is not yet to tell us whether the impediment may be valuable in forcing upon the novelist a concentration of those resources that are needed to overcome it. (page 20)
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It would be easy to slip into a mistake here, precisely the mistake that many American novelists make: the notion that abstract ideas invariably contaminate a work of art and should be kept at a safe distance from it. No doubt, when the armored columns of ideology troop in en masse, they do imperil a novel's life and liveliness, but ideas, be they in free isolation or hooped into formal systems, are indispensable to the serious novel. (page 20)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Politics & Art]
For in modern society ideas raise enormous charges of emotion, they involve us in our most feverish commitments and lead us to our most fearful betrayals. The political novelist may therefore have to take greater risks than most others, as must any artist who uses large quantities of "impure" matter; but his potential reward is accordingly all the greater. (page 20)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Politics & Art]
At its best, the political novel generates such intense heat that the ideas it appropriates are melted into its movement and fused with the emotions of its characters. (page 21)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Politics & Art]
To the degree that he is really a novelist, a man seized by the passion to represent and to give order to experience, he must drive the politics of or behind his novel into a complex relation with the kinds of experience that resist reduction to formula -- and this once done, supreme difficulty though it is, transforms his ideas astonishingly. (page 21)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Politics & Art]
But whatever else it does, The Possessed proves nothing of the kind that might be accessible to proof in "a mere pamphlet."...[T]he political novel is engaged in a task of persuasion which is not really its central or distinctive purpose. I find it hard to imagine, say, a serious socialist being dissuaded from his belief by a reading of The Possessed, though I should like equally to think that the quality and nuance of that belief can never be quite as they were before he read The Possessed. (page 22)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Politics & Art, Activism]
Because it exposes the impersonal claims of ideology to the pressures of private emotion, the political novel must always be in a state of internal warfare, always on the verge of becoming something other than itself. (page 22)
Tags: [Politics & Novels]
The criteria for evaluating a political novel must finally be the same as those for any other novel: how much of our life does it illuminate? how ample a moral vision does it suggest? -- but these questions occur to us in a special context, in that atmosphere of political struggle which dominates modern life. (page 24)
Tags: [Politics & Novels]
For both the writer and the reader, the political novel provides a particularly severe test: politics rakes our passions as nothing else, and whatever we may consent to overlook in reading a novel, we react with an almost demonic rapidity to a detested political opinion. For the writer the great test is, how much truth can he force through the sieve of his opinions? For the reader the great test is, how much of that truth can he accept though it jostle his opinions? (page 24)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Activism]