Moorish Girl's guest blogger, Randa Jarrar, recently asserted the following:
However, some writers have a responsibility, and a burden, to write politically. Someone black, or gay, or Arab, or handicapped, or HIV-positive, or Jewish, or raising a child alone, or Latina, or living on a reservation, may write a book that is not political. That book may be read as such anyway; this is true. But chances are that someone who fits those descriptions is going to have something political to say when they write fiction. Someone black, or gay, or Arab, or handicapped, or HIV-positive, or Jewish, or raising a child alone, or Latina, or living on a reservation, may write a book that is not political. -- and not only because everything they write or say is automatically, in the world we live in, considered political, but because they actually want to write activist fiction.
Now it is certainly true that some people want to write "activist fiction." They have every right to do so, and what they produce may even have some beneficial and appropriately "activist" consequences. (I am, however, rather hard pressed to think of much fiction that has had such consequences. The sort of folks on whose behalf such fiction is written themselves don't usually read it, and for those who are receptive to activist gestures--the already convinced--reading fiction is probably among the least efficacious sources of social change one can think of.)
And not only is it true that "Someone black, or gay, or Arab, or handicapped, or HIV-positive, or Jewish, or raising a child alone, or Latina, or living on a reservation, may write a book that is not political," many, many writers who could be assigned to one of these categories have indeed written non-political books. (Although looking over this list, it wouldn't seem to leave too many people who might be allowed to write non-politically: Heterosexual white men? Christian married women?) Why is it assumed that a writer "fitting these descriptions" who nevertheless wants to write a book, fiction or nonfiction, that doesn't "intervene" politically is unusual, even an aberration?
Is it really the case that "chances are" writers who can be pigeonholed into one of these categories "is going to have something political to say when they write fiction"? I understand that this a fundamental assumption of identity politics, but hasn't it really become an unexamined assumption that desperately needs to be examined? Isn't it ulimately an exclusive, not an an inclusive, view of what members of these identified groups can bring to the writing of fiction? What if someone who, given the terms of this imposed contract, ought to want to write political fiction really doesn't? Is the fiction this writer might produce then to be dismissed because it doesn't fulfill the expectations such a writer did not accept as valid in the first place? Writers like this aren't allowed to follow their bliss and write fiction blissfully free of politics?
I certainly hope it isn't true that "some writers have a responsibility, and a burden, to write politically." Or that whatever they write "may be read as such anyway." I really can't see why anyone, regardless of identity or affiliation, should be burdened with a preconceived notion of what or how he/she should write. Doesn't this make the writer into a victim of the cause, a drudge? Perhaps some writers do feel compelled to write politically some of the time, but always? Shouldn't someone who feels the compulsion to do nothing but write politically decide not to write fiction at all but instead take up "activist" nonfiction, even just become an activist? And if writers are stereotyped as political writers simply because of their perceived identity group, this is the reader's problem, not the writer's. Presumably the writer still gets satisfaction from the act of writing, from accomplishing the task at hand, despite whatever misunderstanding may ensue because of "politics." The reader who insists on misreading, on regarding everything as political even when it isn't, has only deprived himself of whatever other pleasures he might well have enjoyed.