Ken (ken_schneyer) wrote,
Ken
ken_schneyer

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The Problem of Politics

I
n fiction, the problem with the hot-button topics -- politics, religion, sex -- is that they have a higher resting volume level. The reader will hear what you say about any one of those things much more loudly and clearly than what you say about beauty, sorrow, the exploration of Titan or The Interconnectedness of All Things.

In my own case, the problem is politics. I've had a number of nice character-based ideas that depended on a political backdrop to get them going. In one case, the political dilemma the character faced pushed him into a new romantic relationship; in another, the political situation eventually drove the protagonist to self-destruction. In each case it was the developing relationship or the self-destruction that really interested me, but the political setting gave it the energy; or to be more precise, it was because the character cared so much about the political conflict that the action moved forward.

In both cases, though, various editors (though not all) have referred to the stories as being "political," and a few have even hinted that they were polemical. One editor said that hers wasn't the best market for "slippery-slope conceptual stories." As we know, many markets specifically caution against submitting fiction that is a thinly disguised political argument. But that's not what either of these stories was supposed to be.

At the moment, I'm working on a story that depends on the occurrence of a genocide in the recent past. For the story to work it doesn't especially matter where the genocide takes place or who the victims are, because it's the fact of the event itself, and the characters' memory of it, that are the real center of the conflict. But when I think about using a real genocide (lord knows there are enough of them :( ), I'm certain that the story will be taken as making a political statement about that particular event. And if I make up a new genocide (imagining that Group A wipes out Group B, although they haven't done so in the past) I think the story will be taken as making a political statement about those groups.

Now, of course, in a vulgar Critical Theory sense, all fiction makes political statements, yada yada. But that's not what I mean. Does anyone see a way out of this dilemma? How do you use political conflict as a literary device without appearing to make a statement about the "right" outcome of the conflict?
Tags: fiction, polemics, politics
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