Is Everything Political?

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From Catherine Belsey’s “Literature, History, Politics”:

“But documents do not merely transcribe experience: to the extent that they inevitably come from a context where power is at stake, they are worth analysis not as access to something beyond them, not as evidence of how it felt, but as themselves locations of power and resistance to power” (431).

For the most part, I liked Belsey’s article or at least could understand where she was coming from.  I find it interesting that she combines all three of these ideas (literature, history, and politics)together.  And I agree with her explanation that documents do not “merely transcribe experience.”  There is certainly a lot more to a text than “how it felt.”  However, I think that we need to be careful about over-focusing on political issues.  It’s not that I think we shouldn’t write papers on the politics and history which created and influence a work; I just think that should not always be the focus.  Belsey seems a little too quick to condemn “what a lot of people said they felt” (431).  She is right that “it is, therefore a history of struggle and, inconsequence a political history” (432), but not everyone in the past was so strongly “struggling.”  I think that there needs to be a balance, some people in the past just lived ordinary lives, going about their day to day basis, trying to get by.  And yes, even these ordinary people would have been affected by the power politics around them; however, I would not say that politics define these people.  I think that “how it felt” to be these people is important and interesting.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a balance between a focus on the political and other things.  Not everything should come back to politics, although some things do, there are other things that don’t so much. 

Read more on Belsey’s article.   


Derek Tickle said:

I also liked how she said that documents do not "merely transcribe experience." This is very true because just think about when we read a novel and then go see the movie. The media between the two is very different. I think that literature, history, politics is occurring in our society right now. There are going to be many books written about the government bailouts and their effects upon a population mass. This will eventually move into some literature which is a form of history relating to the politics of the 21st century. Wow, literature is such a great teaching tool!

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