Can Fiction Writers Stem the Tide of Barbarism?
The barbarians are no longer at the gates, but inside them – and I’m not talking about invaders from other cultures, but homegrown barbarians who are either ignorant of the glories of Western culture, or actually despise it and want to destroy it. Anyone who supports cancel culture, for a start, which may mean the majority of the people you know, if you’re an educated person in the liberal professions – is a barbarian, someone with a medieval mindset who not only believes in strict orthodoxy, but wants to enforce it through ostracization. And the publishing industry is peopled almost entirely by these latter-day Goths, Vandals, and Huns.
This is all obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. The problem is that most writers have not been paying attention. Let’s face it, by nature we are an introspective breed, a dreamy, impractical breed. We prefer to ignore politics. We just want to be left alone to do our work, mostly, and as long as we are, we will pay little attention to what’s going on in the world, especially the corrupt, filthy world of power politics. However, we are no longer being left alone. We are being censored, and censured, not so much by politicians as by self-appointed guardians of the culture – not usually writers themselves (and if they are, they are bad ones), but academics, journalists, celebrities and other talking heads who make a good living from appealing to the tribal instincts of the mostly misinformed masses, and whipping them into a kind of hysteria of indignation, outrage, and self-righteousness. How is this different from the Inquisition inciting believers in the past to persecute people of other faiths? Except that they aren’t burning people yet, it isn’t. It isn’t.
The writers I know who are aware that highbrow culture has been hijacked by people with an ideological agenda, in fact a doctrine, a dogma, are generally paralysed with horror. This is unfortunate. Because if there is no resistance, no diversity of opinion (what an irony that the watchword of the czars of our culture is ‘diversity’, which they abhor), then the indoctrination continues unchecked. Literature is collapsing before our eyes. The theatre has already gone. But can writers do anything at all, or is it hopeless?
I believe writers can, and must, write – and publish. They should ‘speak truth to power’ – another irony, because power as it was understood when that phrase was coined was corporate power, which is still nefarious, but now, in cultural terms, power is in the hands of people who claim (often hypocritically) to be anti-capitalist, yet wield an equally oligarchic, equally undemocratic, equally repressive control. Now more than ever, writers need to be brave, and few of them have been. In fact the handful who have dared to question the prevailing orthodoxy have been rich, famous writers who are above cancellation, like J.K. Rowling. But we must speak out, not only to condemn the increasingly illiberal discourse of public life, but simply to make the art we want – not the art that corporations disguised as social activist organisations want us to make, because it makes them look virtuous and rewards them handsomely. Will you get published? I know, it’s hard, harder than ever. But if you can’t find a traditional publisher, self-publish. Or form a co-operative. Or set up your own press. Befriend and promote other writers who believe in freedom, who believe in Enlightenment values. If you don’t, your work will perish – and so will civilization. We are the conscience of our countries, not priests, who in most western countries are irrelevant. Dickens proved this in the nineteenth century. Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak did so in the twentieth.
We can do so now. If we fail to speak out, what good are we?
Garry Craig Powell
Garry Craig Powell, until 2017 professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas, was educated at the universities of Cambridge, Durham, and Arizona. Living in the Persian Gulf and teaching on the women’s campus of the National University of the United Arab Emirates inspired him to write his story collection, Stoning the Devil (Skylight Press, 2012), which was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2009, McSweeney’s, Nimrod, New Orleans Review, and other literary magazines. Powell lives in northern Portugal and writes full-time. His novel, Our Parent Who Art in Heaven, was published by Flame Books in 2022, and is available from their website, Amazon, and all good bookshops.
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