But what does it mean to say that a novel such as Gilead has "potentially deep implications for the Left"? I'm not sure, and yet I wrote it, so I must have meant something by it. The experience of reading that novel was unlike that of any other, and that experience was a valuable experience in its own right. In trying to describe the novel, I wouldn't think saying much about what I learned from it would be of much interest or value. It's certainly not overtly political, though there is material about John Brown and the abolitionists, and about the Civil Rights era.
Blanchot quotes Malraux, who writes that, "Any art that claims to represent implies a system of reduction" ("The Museum, Art, and Time", Friendship, p.19). Malraux is writing about painting, but the point holds. If the writer tries to write a work that represents a political reality, or any reality, necessarily a system of reduction is involved. Similarly, it seems to me, assigning an interpretation to a work implies reduction as well, a reduction that negates the actual experience of the work. If I say that Gilead was an important reading experience for me, an avowedly leftwing atheist, what does such a claim entail? How can I reduce it for another's satisfaction? The narrator of Gilead is an elderly preacher; the book takes the form of letters written to his very young son. He does not struggle with his faith, but he does struggle with God and with components of that faith, with what a life of faith means in the context of life itself and all its contingencies. He is aware that he is not as fair a man as he ought to be, and he is not always good, according to his lights. I found the book to be a deeply moving experience. And of course I have written here about faith and its absence, and different kinds of faith.
And yet saying all this says finally not much about my experience, does it? And one doesn't want to resort to mystification--my experience is unwritable, unsayable, you just don't get it--though I know some claim Blanchot does just that. This, then, is the struggle. How to write about literary works without reducing them to their messages, to their different elements, to ultimately writing about them instead of the book itself, and its specificity. How also to convey the importance of these experiences? And how they might relate to politics, without the works being political entertainments? (Political entertainments: this is what I think most political novels end up being. Worse, entertainments for an increasingly tiny audience, necessarily muting the value of the political aspect. I will try to expand on this notion later.)
(I am meanwhile apparently trying to perfect the meandering, indeterminate blog post.)