In my last post I drifted from my usual focus on literature and writing to a journalistic concern having to do with “right wing” versus “left wing” concepts in the local newspaper. Discovering that these two “opposites” of the political spectrum did not actually have universally held definitions, I went on an internet search to educate myself and was rewarded with a website that led me back to books.
I found a site that discussed the “ultimate” right wing and left wing novels. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was acclaimed as the ideal representation of the right, but many contributors to the site struggled to agree on the perfect left wing novel.
Let me add here that “fiction” in this concept should not be confused with the current concept of “fake news” or propaganda. A true political novel of either genre is an attempt to search for some “truth” through the framework of fiction, through human stories. The novelist of the political right, such as in Atlas Shrugged, sets out a set of strict principles and layers a story around it. The novel of the political left generally identifies a social problem, such as Sinclair’s meat packers in The Jungle, and either simply describes human suffering or presents a solution.
Nominations for the greatest left wing novel included anything by Vonnegut or Dickens, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and even the first five books of the Christian New Testament. To my delight, the discussion introduced me to a work I did not know, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. This 1888 utopian novel was set in the American economic recessions of the late 1800s, the story of a man who woke up after a century of suspended animation and found all the world’s economic and social problems solved by what we would now call socialism.
Another contributor believed Atlas Shrugged is not right wing at all, that in the way it deconstructs itself it should be considered left.
One result of my rewarding romp through these books and these concepts, the current US political situation aside, is that I believe “right” and “left” are losing whatever clarity they may once have had. Instead of laying out these concepts on a straight line, one might best bend the line into a circle and find that left and right ultimately lead to the other and back again.
The website I reference is found at http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/03/what-is-the-ultimate-left-wing-novel.html