From Counter Craft:
In the 18th-century, a specter was haunting Europe—the specter of “Werther Fever.” Goethe’s 1774 epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was so popular that it catapulted the young Goethe into international fame and set off a trend of young men wearing yellow trousers and electric blue jackets… and also, allegedly, thousands of imitation suicides.
Goethe was an unknown 24 year old when he wrote the book, and he certainly didn’t set out to popularize garish fashion or suicide. The novel is an example of both art’s cultural power and also the unpredictability of its influence. There’s no better example of that than overtly political works. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was written to expose the poor working conditions of meat packers and inspire a socialist movement, but readers focused on gross meat industry health violations so instead of socialism we got the 1906 Meat Inspection Act. Even works as blatantly left wing and anti-capitalist as Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels and Star Trek can be turned into inspiration for rabid capitalists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Etc.
You simply cannot choose what people will take from art. Nor can you overestimate the recuperative powers of modern capitalism, where even the most pointed artistic critique can be turned into just another product. Just yesterday Netflix announced it is creating a game show based on Squid Game, the anti-capitalist Korean series about a fictional dystopian game show that became an unexpected Netflix hit.
All this brings me to the latest discourse about The State of Literary Fiction, which was kicked off by British Journalist Ben Judah declaring that “we live in an extremely sick society”—hard to argue—and that what this sick society needs to address its massive, systemic, and global problems is… better literary fiction?
. . . .
[I]s Jane Austen not a novelist of interiority? But mostly what’s notable is how commonplace the central claim is. Sometimes it feels like every week someone argues political literature is dead or decries the failure of fiction, especially literary fiction, to cure our ailing society by… well it’s not exactly clear. Helping to “rock the vote”? Inspiring a resurgence of left wing politics? Igniting an armed revolution?
. . . .
Another issue is, well, look. How did that work out before? When was the point in which novelists, bourgeois mimetic or otherwise, saved society? As much as, say, Tolstoy was a genius—and he was—did his novels fix the ills of Tsarist Russia?
Link to the rest at Counter Craft
PG realized that he is including too many OPs about nothing today. He’ll be better tomorrow.