Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Andrew Klavan: What is Conservative Fiction?

All I knew about Andrew Klavan were his PJTV videos like “The Hilarious World of Abortion” and “Does Islam Suck?”: entertaining, sarcastic, and occasionally in questionable taste. So I was surprised to discover his thought-provoking and erudite lecture, “Conservative Fiction in American Literary Culture.”

In the lecture, Mr. Klavan attempts to define what makes fiction conservative. He rejects the notion that a conservative story is necessarily a political one. Rather, he says, “the questions facing artists now in general and writers in particular are bigger questions, very big questions about the whole way in which the West thinks…the conservatives are basically trying to defend the process itself and the left is trying to destroy it.”

That process of thought is what the ads for the Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books series used to call the Great Conversation, the process by which authors since the beginning of Western Civilization listen to and answer their predecessors in order to find Truth. Klavan argues that this search is intertwined with the concept of an ideal man. In the Bible, for example, one finds “a human individual, an ideal human individual, whether you believe it is Jesus or whether you just believe in the idea of it, who by the way he lives, can express the truth.” In American literature, the search for truth concerns itself with discovering meaning in symbols (The Scarlet Letter) and portraying the individual as a “sovereign moral voice” (Huckleberry Finn).

So how does the left interrupt the Great Conversation? “In the post-modern world, the way literature is taught is through theory – feminist theory, black theory, gay theory.” The sovereign individual is subordinate to gender, race, and sexual preference. There is no truth and no meaning. “If you read Hamlet,” says Klavan, “you’ll find in the mad scene, where he’s pretending to be mad, he says everything that our leftist academics are saying now. He says nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so. They ask him what he’s reading, he’s says, ‘I’m reading words’. There’s no meaning. Hamlet is pretending to be insane and the professors are pretending to be sane so that’s the big difference.”

Klavan’s views were interesting to me because I just published what I consider a conservative novel, Full Asylum. When I was writing it, I thought of it as conservative mainly in the narrow political sense: Nanny State comically out of control, stagnant economy due to government interference, SWAT team about to knock down the door. Nevertheless, it does concern an ideal individual (basically James Bond, except I call him Jon Dunn) and there are some truths revealed by the way he lives. It seems there’s some connection between these two versions of conservatism.

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