. . .Sometimes the reader has a responsibility — and in the case of the political, that responsibility includes not screaming "didactic!" any time a writer raises important issues in his or her work. Readers who care about writing need to recognize that sometimes the entertainment value of a piece must be weighed against the depth of what is being said, that sometimes a story may need a certain slow pace in a section, may need to build, and may even need to, yes, lecture, to achieve its full effect. . . .
While I am indeed the sort of reader who is very quick to scream "didactic!" when fiction begins to deal in "issues," in my opinion the real problem with Jeff's analysis here is the overly reductive way in which he's separated fiction's appeal into its "entertainment value" and "the depth of what is being said." This doesn't leave much room for writers who aren't interested either in "entertainment" for its own sake or in "saying something," much less in using fiction as a podium from which to deliver lectures.
I think the whole idea that what makes fiction "serious" is the extent to which it allows a writer to "say something" is misguided, but the implicit suggestion that making political observations and providing political critique is the most serious use of the fiction writer's time is even more objectionable. Why politics rather than some other sphere of life? Is it really true, as Jeff maintains, that "all people are political in some way, even those who seem apathetic, because politics is about gender, society, and culture"? Isnt' this defining "politics" so broadly as to almost drain it of it meaning? Can't almost any activity ultimately be construed to involve "gender, society and culture"? It seems to me that to say a writer is concerned with such activities is finally to say only that he/she is writing about human beings and the various things they do. And are the most pressing questions we face ones like "How do ruling elites come into being?" or "How do they stay in power"? I don't myself find these questions entirely uninteresting, but are they really the preeminently "serious" kinds of questions a writer of fiction can pursue?
Beyond whatever "content" a work of fiction may have to offer, what about those works in which the writer's serious effort has clearly gone into meeting particular aesthetic goals, into extending the formal or stylistic possibilities of fiction? Is such a writer to be consigned to the category of "entertainer," albeit an entertainer of some sophistication? To be fair, Jeff elsewhere in his essay does affirm that fiction has no obligation to be "relevant," that "The instinctual idea I had as a teen and young adult about Art for Art’s sake, the idea that character and situation are paramount, that some truths transcend politics — that’s all valid." But even here, the assumptions seem to be that the alternative to a focus on content is a focus on "character and situation" and that the writer of fiction is ultimately seeking to embody "truth," even if it isn't necessarily political truth. What of the writer who seeks to discover whether fiction as a form has aesthetic potential beyond rendering character and situation through conventional narrative? Is this not in itself a "serious" undertaking? And what if the "truth" a writer's work reveals is that fiction does have this potential and that the human imagination has yet to find its limits? I guess it could be said that this is a message of some "depth," although such a writer has not attempted to "say" anything. Indeed, the value to be found in such work originates in the effort to avoid saying anything at all.