The Political Uses of Literature
Global Perspectives and Theoretical Approaches, 1920–2020
Drawing on a global history of politicized writing, this book explores literature’s utility as a mode of activism and aesthetic engagement with the political challenges of the current moment.
The question of literature’s “uses” has recently become a key topic of academic and public debate. Paradoxically, however, these conversations often tend to bypass the rich history of engagements with literature’s distinctly political uses that form such a powerful current of 20th- and 21st-century artistic production and critical-theoretical reflection.
The Political Uses of Literature reopens discussion of literature’s political and activist genealogies along several interrelated lines: As a foundational moment, it draws attention to the important body of interwar politicized literature and to debates about literature’s ability to intervene in social reality. It then traces the mobilization of related conversations and artistic practices across several historical conjunctures, most notably the committed literature of the 1960s and our own present.
In mapping out these geographically and artistically diverse traditions—including case studies from the Americas, Europe, Africa, India and Russia—contributors advance critical discussions in the field, making questions pertaining to politicized art newly compelling to a broader and more diverse readership. Most importantly, this volume insists on the need to think about literature’s political uses today—at a time when it has become increasingly difficult to imagine any kind of political efficacy for art, even as the need to do so is growing more and more acute. Literature may not proffer easy answers to our political problems, but as this collection suggests, the writing of the 20th century holds out aesthetic resources for a renewed engagement with the dilemmas that face us now.