In these elegant essays, many of them originally written for
The New Republic and Harper's, Robert Boyers
examines the role of the political imagination in shaping the works
of such important contemporary writers as W. G. Sebald and Philip
Roth, Nadine Gordimer and Mario Vargas Llosa, Natalia Ginzburg and
Pat Barker, J. M. Coetzee and John Updike, V. S. Naipaul and Anita
Desai. Occasionally he finds that politics actually figures very
little in works that only pretend to be interested in politics.
Elsewhere he discovers that certain writers are not equal to the
political issues they take on or that their work is fatally
compromised by complacency or wishful thinking.
In the main, though, Boyers writes as a lover of great
literature who wishes to understand how the best writers do justice
to their own political obsessions without suggesting that
everything is reducible to politics. Resisting the notion that
novels can be effectively translated into ideas or positions, he
resists as well the notion that art and politics must be held
apart, lest works of fiction somehow be contaminated by their
association with "real life" or public issues. The essays offer a
combination of close reading, argument, and assessment.
What, Boyers asks, is the relationship between form and
substance in a work whose formal properties are particularly
striking? Is it reasonable to think of a particular writer as
"reactionary" merely because he presents an unflattering portrait
of revolutionary activists or because he is less than optimistic
about the future of newly independent societies? What is the status
of private life in works set in politically tumultuous times? Can
the novelist be "responsible" if he consistently refuses to engage
the conditions that affect even the intimate lives of his
Such questions inform these essays, which strive to be true to
the essential spirit of the works they discuss and to interrogate,
as sympathetically as possible, the imagination of writers who
negotiate the unstable relationships between society and the
individual, art and ideas.
Subjects: Language & Literature
Table of Contents
You are viewing the table of contents
You do not have access to this
on JSTOR. Try logging in through your institution for access.