The Politics of My Novels

The Politics of My Novels

The following comment by the Italian writer was made in response to a critical article written about his work in a French magazine. Mr. Silone has been kind enough to send it to DISSENT for American publication.

How can a writer discuss decently an aesthetic appraisal of his own works? All he can do is draw the critic’s attention to some aspect of these works which he feels has been neglected.

1) There exists a certain crisis of national literary autarchies which has social origins, because it is a crisis of the dominant educated class, and of its language, formed in the 19th century. It seems to me that not enough attention has been given to one of the factors of this crisis, namely, to the importance which people of the South have assumed in various countries. The South is not merely a geographical but a social and historical notion as well, almost everywhere antagonistic toward the North. Almost everywhere it is poorer than the North and predominantly agricultural, whereas the North is industrialized.

2) The almost simultaneous appearance in literatures of many countries of poor peasants from the South constitutes a political coincidence on a world scale of particular facts and situations which, in the past, contributed only to dialect and folkloristic literature. It is a phenomenon which has not yet been sufficiently investigated. Contrary to the Marxist scheme, the poor peasant has become a more international personage than the factory worker. As has been said, this makes for a certain inconvenience for national literary autarchies, and for the disorientation of critics educated in the literary tradition.

3) In Italy, we have already had the “case” of the great novelist Giovanni Verga, who, for some time, was neglected and little appreciated by critics because of the coarseness of his language and the simplicity of his syntax. Then there have been other “cases” of the same origin. But it is possible that posterity will reverse the decision and speak of the “case” of Italian criticism of today. It is certain that linguistic purity, as elaborated by tradition, is no longer a sure measure of judgment for works having a new social inspiration. This could also explain why such works have less to lose than others when they are translated into different languages. This may be due to their poetic quality, which is bound more to the situations and modality of the literary representation than to their linguistic garb (without which quality there would be no literary translations, anyway) .

4) But books, the apologists of tradition tells us, are like trees: they are not born from nothing. Agreed. Yet they do not bloom necessarily from other books. In fact, nothing is more false than a merely bookish concept of tradition. Tradition is not only literary, and no literary tradition has ever developed like a homogeneous chain whose links wo...

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