Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 6 - The transposition of presidents (excerpts)



f) Art/Literature

If we were to conceive of the president as the omniscient or even personal narrator of a novel, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the personality and actions of the authorial figure. Perhaps this sounds complicated, but it is actually absurdly simple: a Russian narrator telling a story with Russian protagonists in Russia will relate information shaped by their Russian context and relevant to their subjects. This is essentially a mirror to the socio-temporal surroundings. Even if the author were to introduce comparative observations from other contexts, much the way we see in reports or white papers, although rare to non-existent in contemporary literary fiction, these comments (as they would not be narration) would simply serve to sharpen the reader’s understanding of the Russian context.
 
The president of a country, like the narrator, sticks to their context. And like the context of a novel, they are shaped by the surroundings. As some larger portion of the population elects them, they have demonstrated some sort of relationship to the people. As leader, they will be unlikely to suddenly break this bond. Even if a president breaks many of their campaign promises, their style, their means of speech, their demeanor, their form will be retained. The substance, too, will at least pertain to the American context. Just as Henry James’s  narrator in The Bostonians does not suddenly shift to commenting or narrating on Russians, although they may jump from Basil to Olive to Verena’s perspective, neither will the American president suddenly begin to speak largely to Russians and their concerns. They are not relevant to Americans.
 
Presidents also perform another act similar to the narrator in philosophical literary fiction. In such fiction, the narrator, since the nineteenth century, has attempted to portray all their divergent characters without preference for one type or class. Although there is plenty of fiction that does show favoritism, it simply ceases to be philosophical and sacrifices its chance to become a classic. Like the narrator attempting to fairly represent the poetry or lack thereof in a range of types, the president tries to speak to widely disparate groups in the population. As the narrator will favor a few characters and give them more attention, so too will the president give more attention to certain constituents. In each case, and also depending on the country, these relationship will differ. An example in literature is the frequency of monks, peasants and the proletariat in Russian 19th century literature, as I discussed above, and their near absence from English, American or German literary fiction. It is no different with presidents: Obama’s spends more time with the business community than Putin, whereas the latter spends more time with the security services and the military than the former. The conditions in their respective countries dictate their actions.
 
A work of literary fiction consists of discourse and narration. The protagonists speak, the narrator may comment or also speak (especially if it is told in the first person) and all this discourse is usually framed by narration. At any time in the history of a country, there is dialogue taking place between various members of society. Politicians scan over the current discourse and take up certain subjects. These topics also then appear in the media, providing perspective, history and additional facts. The constellation of politics and the media becomes the narration with participants from society (op-ed writers, critics, academics, readers, bloggers) engaging in discourse on the topic. The narrator or president/politician may try to guide the discourse by framing the events in certain narration aimed at advancing their perspective, but like many a narrator they may not be able to control the discourse. Furthermore, the discourse may eventually force the narrator or president to adapt, much the way we see in Andrey Dmitriev’s novella Turn in the River: When the narrator shifts from the doctor to the boy to the boy’s father, he adopts the language of the character influencing him. Hardly different is it when the anger of the populace is adopted by politicians who can hardly themselves be angry with the immense success they must have had alone to become leading politicians: the environment or context is exercising its influence on the person attempting to ostensibly mold the disparate elements into a cohesive picture.
 
If philosophical literary fiction were to incorporate images not as illustrations of the text, but rather as an integral element of the work, the relationship between the composer of such a work and the president would take on an additional element: the virtual staging of the material for target audiences. As we noted before in the published photographs of Putin on horseback or fishing with his shirt off or descending in a submarine vessel or Obama on a golf course or in a meeting or on vacation in Hawaii, presidents project a certain image through the media. The author/narrator can do the same by curating a selection of photographs for a work of art. Like Obama or Putin, the author will not select random photos, but rather specific ones intended to have a certain impact on the electorate. As such these photos are not chosen to represent Obama/Putin, but rather the present as an office; the same applies to the author who ceases to become a person and turns into the narrator in their selection of the photo. These visual representations embedded in each narrative attempt likewise to influence the audience, but, like the dynamic between the narrator and character, may also be subverted by the audience or interpreted completely differently by it. A classic example of this is the American left’s reading (and interpretation) of Dostoevsky. There is perhaps hardly anything in the literary sphere more remarkable than American individualists trapped in their own ego and overvaluing individuality avidly reading perhaps the most overt critic of individualism, an author who views the first person form alone (See Notes from the Underground or original version of Crime and Punishment [written in the first person before being switched to the third]) as a symptom of illness and clearly depicts in no uncertain terms  the consequences of excessive individualism  - insanity, murder, alcoholism, psychosis. 
 
The preferred medium for conveying their respective “story” is text in the case of the narrator and word (usually speech) in the case of the president. It remains fairly uncommon for authors to integrate images and presidents (or their office) to use images to advance their policies, but these images would also serve as an alternative to the words whenever they appear. In the case of public office, they almost operate like an advertisement. If we are too tired to read the words, we can look at the pictures. In literature, of course, advertising is inconceivable to authors, but orientation could be offered by pictures. Such images would largely function like stage-setting and narration, where a scene, constellation or landscape is described, but visually instead of verbally. For the visual depiction of a psychological state, an author could consider a symbol, metaphor or extrapolate from the given state.
 
Government also has the ability to introduce sound and motion picture to its presentations of policy. Were literature to do this, which is increasingly plausible with digital etexts, the actual work would probably approach a movie. Motion picture, however, tends to exhibit one significant difference from literature in terms of the medium’s relation to life: the speed of literature is slower. Naturally, there is not one speed to literature. It can be said that the pace of narration in Marcel Proust’s En recherché du temps perdu mirrored fin de siècle France. But whether we are speaking of Proust or an author like Tolstoy, the pace of literature resembles life more closely than feature films do. Relative to these mediums of art, although politics is only a small fragment of life, it can also not be said that policy is adopted or passed quickly. As such we could say that it resembles literature to a greater degree than other forms of art.


Text by Yuri Smirnov
Photos by (1) Mayakovsky in Moscow (Ukrphoto), (2) Walt Whitman in Moscow (Mosprofs)



Further reading


Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 3 - So?! (excerpt). November 2016
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 2 - So?! (excerpt). November 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 1 - So?! (excerpt). February 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 6 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). September 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 5 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). August 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 4 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov. Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 3 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 2 - The transposition of presidents. Part 2 (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - the transposition of presidents. Part 1 (excerpt). June 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 8 - the exalted place Russian can occupy in the future world order. Part 4. April 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: The exalted place that Russia can occupy in the future world order. Part 3. March 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What does life look like with just food and shelter (part two)? February 2016.
Smirnov. Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What does life look like with just food and shelter? (excerpt). January 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What happens when you do not sacrifice the mind to the body Excerpt. November 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists. Feb. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 1 - What Do You Have That We Don't? (excerpt). Mar. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 6 - Are We Really That Different? - Security (excerpt). Mar. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri: Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 2 - What's The Point of Living? (excerpt) Apr. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 1 - What Do you Have That We Don't (excerpt)? May 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - The issue of balance. June 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 2 - What's the point of living (excerpt). June 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 5 - What if America is the best? (excerpt). July 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order (excerpt). August 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order (excerpt). August 2015.
Post a Comment