Thursday 23 June 2011

Literary Blog Hop, June 22-25

Literary Blog Hop
Ooh, it's Literary Blog Hop time again! I have already had my say a little bit in the comments of this week's question, but, you know, I have more than a sentence-worth of thoughts (well, sometimes anyway). So, this weeks question is:

Should Literature have a clear social, political, or any other type of agenda? Does having a clear agenda enhance or detract from its literary value?
I basically have two divergent viewpoints on this, but they both add up to the same thing- literature must be well written above anything else. What I think is this. A bad writer with some kind of political or social chip on her shoulder is probably going to write something that is overwrought with a political message and that treats this as more important than the story itself. This is something that should not be done, and just completely makes the idea of political or social based fiction something that turns people off, and makes them think of badly crafted stories, and of books that should be avoided.

BUT- this is a mistake! I essentially think that the word 'agenda' in the question gives one an immediate reaction to go 'NO! Any prior/hidden/whatever agenda is bad! People should just write what they feel, man.' But the thing is, literature is supposed to reflect, or enhance, or just be related to life, and what is life if not played out against a massive political/social backdrop? So, in a way, I feel that authors of great literature can't really help but put some kind of political and social slant on their writing, more by accident than anything else- there is no way for us to live without the constant political and social aspects to life, and so any literature that deliberately tried to leave out such things would instantly not ring true, and we perhaps would not accept it as good literature. Some sort of political and social awareness, then, is necessary for a good novel.

But that's not really what the question is asking either. The question really is, I suppose, can a work of literature be mostly focused on a political or social issue, or trying to make a point in these areas, and still be good? My answer to this is just (as Connie at The Blue Bookcase pointed out) 1984 (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Animal Farm) by George Orwell. The entire basis and clear agenda behind these books is clearly political, and yet you can't say that these are not great works of literature- I would put them amongst my favourite books, and the reason for that is that they are incredibly political, but they are also incredibly well written, and engaging, and just everything that you could want from a work of literature, in spite of and/or because of the fact that they are incredibly politically motivated.

So, I guess the point is, write well and you can basically write whatever you want. Write badly and just give up and actually become a politician or something. The importance of literature in affecting people's thinking about politics and social issues cannot be overstated, but it can have no effect if handled badly. The moral of this story, really, is don't bother writing anything at all if you can't do it well, and shouldn't that just be a rule for literature anyway? I think so!


  1. "Write well and you can basically write whatever you want" I think this should be the general answer for the question. Not even an opinion, just the correct answer. An overt agenda can be fine so long as the author does a good job with it. If the author's not that talented? Well odds are whether they had a clear agenda or not, the book is probably going to suck.

  2. This is a great response. I think literature works best when, as you say, it is written well but also when it is an accurate reflection of life. I would argue that most of us are explorers in some way, and I think great literature depicts that journey.

  3. Thanks you guys!
    @Red: I love that you think I've found the right answer to a question that isn't supposed to have one! It pleases me greatly :)

  4. Nicely said. Something in me begs writers not to preach at me. Jodi Picoult, for example, strikes me as a person with an agenda. And it doesn't seem like it could be possible that all these agendas are close to her heart.

    Just my two cents.

    Here's my post: "All a Poet Can Do is Warn."

  5. @Deb- I personally think that Jodi Picoult is a terrible writer, in that she literally only has one story, repeated over a number of 'issues'. So I would include her in my 'bad writers should give up' thing. Seriously.

  6. I totally agree with your points. It is all about the writing if a book is going to last. I also like your discussion about the word "agenda." I think that some writers do have a clear agenda, and others are just trying to accurately represent the world they've created. They all have sociological implications.

    Here is my post (and a literary giveaway!)

  7. Great response! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hear hear for George Orwell!

    I love when you said, "Write well and you can basically write whatever you want. Write badly and just give up and actually become a politician or something."

    So true. Another reviewer on our site just reviewed Mrs. Dalloway. I love Virginia Woolf, and this book is a perfect example -- she writes an entire novel based on one pretty ordinary day in a woman's life, and it is still so engaging and brilliant!