“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where Are All of the Novels about Last Weekend’s Election?

Many thoughtful commentators and lovers of literature have recently pointed out how writers – particularly those ivory-towered intellectuals who have attended creative writing programs – have failed readers by ignoring important, contemporary social and political issues. I couldn’t agree more, and the events of last weekend have only proven that contemporary writers are little more than aesthetes and narcissists with no concern for anything beyond themselves.
            Saturday’s Federal Election has resulted in an unprecedented political situation: Australia has a hung parliament, and it remains unclear which of the two parties will be able to form a coalition with independents in order to rule as a minority government. Indeed, should no such coalition be formed, it’s possible that the Governor General may send Australians back to the polls by calling for a double dissolution of Parliament (which is basically the same situation that almost lead to the dissolution of George Clinton’s Parliament in the 1980s).
            In a time of such political strife, it’s clear what the nation needs: a politically engaged novel. Personally, I am tired of getting my news from broadsheets, the radio, television and the internet. Sure, those sources are filled with ‘facts’ and offer interviews and up-to-date reporting on events, but what would really clarify the situation for me is a ficitonalised narrative populated with imaginary characters. Let’s face it: in terms of political insight, hard-news reporting will never be able to compete with the totally made-up shit written by novelists.
            And yet, here we are almost 48 hours after the close of Saturday’s polls, and not even one novel has been published recording Australia’s most important political event since a Prime Minister went for an ill-advised swim. The fact is that contemporary novelists are either unable or unwilling to write about politics, and Australian culture is suffering as a result. Who will chronicle the battle for Bennelong so that our future generations may understand the rise and fall of Maxine McKew? What bard will sing of the heroic triumph of Adam Bandt and his band of moderately left-wing reformists promising mild social changes that are unlikely to eventuate in the near future? What novel will tell the harrowing tale of a Liberal leader who was able to overcome the inhibitions of a repressive, religious upbringing to bare both his policy and his body in a pair of speedos? Was there ever material more fit for novelisation?
            Clearly, however, authors aren’t solely responsible for the apolitical nature of the contemporary novel. Much of the blame lies with Professors of Literature, who teach so-called ‘postmodernism’ and French literary theory. I even contacted a Professor of French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris to solicit a comment for this essay, but I ultimately couldn’t understand a word that came out of his haughty frog yapper. It was as if he were speaking an entirely different language (indeed, I suspect it was French, but, being monolingual, I can’t be certain). How can we expect authors to write an Australian political novel, if our teachers of literature won’t even converse in plain English?
            Yes, I can imagine the pathetic rationalisations that most authors would offer in response to my claims (that it is unfeasible to write a successful novel in two days, that Dickens wrote his chronicle of the French Revolution 70 years after the event itself, or that Tolstoy’s War and Peace recorded the French invasion of Russia more than 50 years after it occurred, while still others may claim that it’s completely absurd to suggest that novels should be reduced to journalistic reportage of contemporary events), but we cannot allow writers to explain away their moral impoverishment through recourse to logical argument and sound reasoning. Writers have an ethical obligation to write about social issues, even if they don’t know anything about them, aren’t interested in them, and their efforts result in works of absolutely no aesthetic merit whatsoever.
In fact, it’s not enough for novelists to write about current events; the truly great novel should predict the future. I want the novel of tomorrow today. I want the novel of three months from now last Thursday.
            I, for one, am tired of the incessant whingeing of these morally bankrupt dandies pretending to be authors. And that is why I have worked non-stop during the last several days to complete my gripping 90,000-word saga, Moving Forward, about Australia’s electoral process. Without any braggadocio, I can confidently claim that never have the poetic flows of interweaving lower-house preferences or the knuckle-whitening complexity of below-the-line senate voting been rendered with such lyrical precision, resulting in a timely, unputdownable, emotional roller coaster that is haunting, fully realised, and a rollicking good read.
I just want to end by noting that I have not written this book for any personal gain whatsoever, but rather out of a sense of moral obligation – out of an ethical commitment to write about political material that readers will understand. Due to my altruistic motivations, I have even instructed my agent that I am willing to settle for a modest five-figure advance when the book goes to auction. Interested publishers can contact me by email.

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