Politicians as purveyors of short fiction.

A new interview is up at TMN this morning – Robert Birnbaum talking to David Mitchell. Here’s an excerpt:

DM: In a way, dominant novelists are actually political—politicians.
RB: Give me an example.
DM: I wasn’t clear enough. I mean, novelists are in the business of creating fictional narratives. Politicians also are in the business of creating narratives and then convincing the largest group of people that these narratives—not the other guy’s—are true.
RB: The difference, I think, is that the novelist strives for coherence and plausibility in storytelling. Politicians and political zealots and other hucksters construct a series of informational bits and images—a montage that may not or does not depend on a logical sequence to be convincing.
DM: Quite true.
RB: You wouldn’t normally mistake them as functioning narratives, except perhaps as the internal ramblings of an insane mind.
DM: [laughs] The story has to work when you read it—if you take them week by week by week they don’t have to be consistent over a long period of time.

Obama: a writers’ new deal?

Mark Pinsky writes himself into a job with the Obama administration, arguing for WPA 2.0 to include a little love for our country’s hapless writers.  The likelihood of this happening is about the same as the chance we’ll see a black president in our lifetime.  What’s that you say?

The Federal Writers Project operated from 1935-1939 under the leadership of Henry Alsberg, a journalist and theater director. In addition to providing employment to more than 6,000 out-of-work reporters, photographers, editors, critics, writers, and creative craftsmen and -women, the FWP produced some lasting contributions to American history, culture, and literature…

Gifted FWP alumni who went on to distinguished literary careers in literature include John Steinbeck, John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, and African Americans Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. The recent death of Studs Terkel– a FWP veteran who went on to use the skills he developed in the program to chronicle the working- and middle-classes on his long-running radio show and in his Pulitzer Prize-winning books–is a reminder of how valuable this kind of experience can be…

This time, the FWP could begin by documenting the ground-level impact of the Great Recession; chronicling the transition to a green economy; or capturing the experiences of the thousands of immigrants who are changing the American complexion. Like the original FWP, the new version would focus in particular on those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media. At the same time, the multimedia fruits of this research would be open-sourced to all media, as well as to academics. As an example, oral history as a discipline has made great strides in the past 70 years, and with the development of video techniques, the forum of the Internet could make these multi-media interviews widely available to schools and scholars, as well as to average Americans.


That giant sucking sound you hear is the sound that’s made when a terrible feeling of shame – being ashamed of your country, for eight long years – is suddenly, throughly removed.  I’d forgotten what this was like.

The hard work begins now.

Or tomorrow.  Right now I’m just going to feel good for a while.

Break soil in case of emergency.

I’m glad it’s gorgeous weather here today.  Because if it was raining, I’d be glued to the computer, looking for signs of which way the election is going to go.  Instead, I’m channeling my nervousness into putting the garden to bed for the year.


Nothing like a pitchfork to distract one from momentous elections.  Think of me tonight when I am stuck inside a tax seminar for small business owners, cut off from election results.  Meanwhile, the next distraction: the dishwasher.



Authors on the election.

George Saunders, Junot Diaz, Amy Tan and others weigh in on next week’s election.

If literary culture can be said to include the stories people tell one another about America, this blurring of private and public narratives – and the hullaballoo over this election – is not a new thing. “It is difficult to describe the place political concerns occupy in the life of an American,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1840. “To have a hand in the government of society, and to talk about it, is the most important business, and so to speak, the only pleasure an American knows.”

Well, that and sweet, delicious pudding.  (With apologies to Carolyn, to whom I promise I am not a Kozy Shack shill.)

In the article, Diaz takes the Champion viewpoint about our prospects-at-best:

“The horrific violence of our current economic system, which kills more people daily than our wars,” says Díaz, who won a Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, “will not change one jot under an Obama administration. Right now these elections are all about who plays the music at the party. Doesn’t change the fact that there’s a massacre going on. No US election is going to change that. And any writer worth a damn might be in the party but what he’s really listening to, bearing witness to, in small ways, in elliptical ways or flat-out head on, is the violence and terror and inhumanity that reign beyond the party’s walls.”

If not an election, then what?  I don’t want to get all starry-eyed about the chances of sweeping reform and change should Obama win, but at the same time, I don’t want to bury my head in the sands of pessimism, because if enough people do that, then nothing will change.  We all need to change our thinking about politics, about responsibility, about citizenship.  Wendell Berry:

Minick: I was re-reading “A Native Hill,” and this one sentence struck me. You’re talking about coming back, and you write, “Here, now that I’m both native and citizen, there’s no immunity to what is wrong.” The “citizen” part jumped out at me on this reading. What is the connection between “native” and “citizen”?

Berry: That essay “A Native Hill” is an early one, written a long time ago, partly in the exhilaration of rediscovering my own part of the world, of seeing it with the change of vision that came with the feeling that I was going to live here, that I was here for life. It was an exhilaration sobered by the understanding that we had made historical blunders here that would have to be corrected. To live here responsibly meant that you had to accept responsibility for those blunders and errors and find, if you could, suitable remedies and corrections. So the word “citizen” occurs in that sentence because of its implication of responsibility. You can be a native without consciously assuming responsibility. A citizen consciously assumes responsibilities that belong to the place, responding to the problems of the place.

This process doesn’t end on Tuesday.  If we want change, Tuesday is only the beginning.  Again, Mr. Berry:

OR A NATION TO BE, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens must love their land with a knowing, intelligent, sustaining, and protective love. They must not, for any price, destroy its health, its beauty, or its productivity. And they must not allow their patriotism to be degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials.