Thursday, July 02, 2009

Repression and Literature

James Wood writes a review in The New Yorker of a novel of an Iranian novelist living in the United States. Wood opens his review with a savvy observation about the relationship between restriction and literary creativity:
Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything.... Nothing constrains us. Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst. Tyranny is the mother of metaphor, and all that.
I've read similar comments about the state of American literature: suburban, minivan ordinariness. I've heard it also said that in the Western hemisphere the most time-worthy novels come out of Latin America. I'm sure it's not so black and white, but I can see the reality alluded to in this quote above.

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