Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Kirby Olson responds to my earlier post about fascism and writing by saying "fascism and communism [are] the same thing." Good writing is equally impossible under both systems because a "one-party system, with penalties for outliers" prevents honesty.

I agree that there is an important connection between honesty and good writing. This was also Hemingway's point: good writing can only be produced by people who "will not lie" and fascism is a system of government that requires people to lie. (It is a lie.)

What Kirby means by "communism" is probably as inimical to honesty as what Hemingway meant by "fascism". I am not entirely sure that these systems of government are inherently more honest than, say, liberal democracy, however. And I am not sure that fascism and communism are "the same thing" when seen from the point of view of historical plausibility, or imminence, let us say.

What I mean is: writers have very little to fear from communism today. It is not likely that the lie they will be required to support in their work is that of communism (leaving open just exactly what that lie might be). I do think, however, that fascism, which is to say, the total and absolute "incorporation" of private and public concerns (regardless of how many "parties" there may be), is a real threat today. Social life is increasingly conditioned by the coordinated activity of big business and big government.

On a more optimistic note (if that it was what it is), let me say that I have begun to think Hemingway was wrong. Good writing can be produced under fascism. The political ontology of Flarf is arguably "fascist" for precisely this reason: it will not allow fascism (come what may) to destroy poetry. In fact, it seems to me that the whole post-avant tendency is a rejection of honesty (at least in the form that fascism can prevent) as a sine qua non of good writing. That doesn't mean it is a rejection of honesty as such, of course.


Kirby Olson said...

Tomas this is your Lutheran side coming to the fore in which honesty really counts!

You would agree that communism is a severe threat in places like North Korea, right?

Is it possible for any kind of honesty at all to prevail in a society like that?

Millions of people have to live under that system.

Thanks for this.

Liberalism, as Madison defined it, INCLUDED the notion of freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry as the PRINCIPLE underpinning of such a society.

The first amendment to the American Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech.

Communism and fascist societies are based on the belief rather that everybody must parrot a party line and that only the leader shall be able to think or write. Everybody else must parrot the leader.

Kirby Olson said...

I should have written "principal" underpinning, and I should have spelled your name correctly, Thomas.

Thomas Basbøll said...

You're right about North Korea. I don't propose to tell Korean writers how to proceed (I don't think Flarf, for example, would work for them), but, yes, communism does seem to be a worry for them.

Freedom of speech and/or inquiry does not (especially under current conditions) guarantee the absence of an intense pressure to lie. Most writers/researchers in liberal democracies are "free" to live in poverty and obscurity with their truth, i.e., their "honest opinion".

Freedom from the pressure to lie implies free access to the media of speech and inquiry, regardless of the use one makes of them: access to forms of expression regardless of content. Access not conditional on what one proposes to say or discover.

This use of content by publishers to select access to form (a literary public) is what today's (Western) writers struggle with.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Italian radio introduced Pound's broadcast with a reference to the right to "the free expression of ideas by those qualified to hold them" (qt. from memory). This is not a universal guarantee of access, but if actually applied (one can have doubts about it here) it may offer better conditions for "qualified" writers than liberal democracies offer all writers by not distinguishing between qualified and unqualified ones.

Again, Flarf seems to play very actively with idea of literary qualification (note Kasey's recent remarks about competence).

Thomas Basbøll said...

Or, rather, ... by not distinguishing FORMALLY between qualified and unqualified writers.