An interview with Homi Bhaba in The Hindu. It has a nice discussion of writers and their connection with history and politics, and where it all leaves the creative person. Here is an excerpt:
Q: Are you saying that politics and ideologies have become more important to literature and criticism, along with language and genre?
A: No. I’m saying that there are certain genres where politics and ideology are very important. In late 19th Century France, Balzac and Zola revealed their world’s angst, to use a word with which you started. To Zola, naturalism was a way of showing inequalities; he was also committed to the ideology of the form.
The Soviet realist novel hoped to transform society according to certain ideals. Bertolt Brecht produced plays to expose fascism. Some have always privileged the ideological and the political. The worst are just ideologues; the best have transformed aesthetic and ethical forms even when they were most political and historical.
Q: Don’t we often judge Third World writers on such meta-literary considerations?
Third world literature was once supposed to do the work of anthropology or history, (Khushwant Singh and Mulk Raj Anand did it very well) particularly when critiqued by the West. A Caribbean writer describing everyday reality was praised but if he dealt with more symbolic realism he was an obscurantist for the West, and condemned by compatriots for class treachery. This tension between form and politics, is quite interesting in this exchange, the common sensical idea is that politics is quite divorced from form, that is, if a book is a work of “Art” it must be somehow free of politics. In screenwriting classes, I had running battles with some of the professors, because I found that it was impossible to tell certain stories when they were stuffed into the three act structure and when characterizations depended on certain assumptions about human psychology and motivations. The other burdens on the Third World writer are a whole other discussion, so I’ll leave it at that.