Thursday, January 8, 2009
Novels and Social Change
One interesting thing to me about novels and some other art is that while it can be prophetic (Kafka on the rise of bureaucracy and false incrimination under secret-policed states) the prophecies don't manage to stop the crimes they anticipate.
To my mind this is a problem with readers more than it is with novels themselves. In other words, if people more carefully interpreted great works of art, they would find the necessary humanizing wisdom to avoid most catastrophes. My idea, not one limited to me I think, is that where we fail as a species is not in the pursuit of science, but in the pursuit of humanities.
The tough thing of course is that part of the glory of the humanities is they can be interpreted so many ways. And another sobering fact is that if a writer as great as Shakespeare couldn't change human behavior, perhaps no one can. But I don't like that idea.
Better teaching could be the essence of it? There is always Ayn Rand's argument that Shakespeare was an amoral genius. And that books like hers influence behavior because they're trying to do so. Who can deny that hers have influenced behavior? The public ranks Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead as numbers one and two best novels of all time? And Reagan, Greenspan and dozens of neo-cons cite her as a determining influence.
So is it perhaps that novels could influence public opinion if they simply tried harder? I honestly believe they could. I mean, the artists who resisted Communism clearly had something to do with its overthrow. And theoretically, novels with a different message than Rand's and with perhaps more artistic merit could be written that make an impact. Who knows?