VARIOUS RESPONSES TO COMMITMENT IN DIASPORIC LITERATURE
Commitment stands at the opposite pole from compromise. The modern concept of committed literature emerged from the conflict of 20th century ideologies that have reflected the deep social changes of our times - the domination of Nazism and Communism in Europe, the victory of world Capitalism over Communism, and today the clash between market ideology and the rich world on one hand and on the other the growing rebellion of the impoverished, non-developing four-fifths of our planet. Today's social situation obligates the writer to examine his position in the world and his responsibility to other men. I believe it obligates the writer to approach his work in a committed way. To resist the temptation of compromise and conformity the writer must be devoted to the autonomy of literature. The honest writer must stand inside society - not in the shadows of the periphery - and he must tell the truth. I believe that commitment to truth is inherent in the act of good writing. It is a moral absolute. To write is to reveal an aspect of the world in order to change it. In that respect writing is and has always been didactic. One will note that commitment and involvement are closely linked; however, though involvement is inevitable for the writer, his commitment does not come about automatically. Not all writers are even conscious of their involvement; but the committed writer is aware of the world around him and his literature is the result of his attitude toward it. Thus commitment involves the writer's trying to summarize and then reflect through his work a picture of the human condition - which is also social - without however losing sight of the individual. Exponents of committed literature reject the fallacy that art is a thing apart; despite the obstacles politics raises, art, I believe, is part and parcel of the social. It is also a truism that writing is a social act insofar as it derives from the will to communicate with others and from its resolve to change things - in the sense of achieving something or resolving social questions. The artist wants to remake the world. And his passion must be freedom. In France, Bernard-Henri Lévy and other nouveaux philosophers, made careers debunking intellectual commitment. Their message diffused throughout the world after the fall of Communism in East Europe was that one could no longer take socialist ideas seriously. Lévy said: "When intellectuals let themselves believe in a community of men, they are never far away from barbarism." I find this no less than an apology for totalitarianism. Lévy and friends became opportunistic journalists and found easy targets among French committed writers: Sartre had after all flirted with terrorists of the German Baader-Meinhof Gang and Régis Debray trained in guerrilla warfare in Bolivia with Che Guevara. Post-commitment intellectuals in France, as in much of the rich world today, came to find themselves in the blind alley of having to try to justify social injustice. Conformists under the guise of free marketers tell us that rich countries have no responsibility for problems of the Third World - as if we didn't all belong to the same world. Susan Sontag wrote that pleasure has nothing to do with the artistic experience. Certainly literature's ultimate role is not to embellish and provide people a pleasant Saturday evening alternative to a movie or bowling. Literature is not fashion and fad; it is serious business. The belief in art for art's sake, according to the Russian Communist theorist Georgy Plekhanov, "arises when artists and people keenly interested in art are hopelessly out of harmony with their social environment." It has been said that art for art's sake is the attempt to instill ideal life in one who has no real life and is an admission that the human race has outgrown the artist. Instead of the radiant future, committed literature depicts the...
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