Reading Barry Basden's "Hints of the Blitz here at Fictionaut, seeing the reaction in comments, made me stop and think.
You can read it here: http://www.fictionaut.com/stories/barry-basden/hints-of-the-blitz
Whether or not it was Barry's intent to do so, through application of historical context in his artful sketch of a time and place few Americans living today ever experienced and of which, certainly, decades following, are even aware of, he pushes you to think beyond your personal understanding.
It made me remember books I'd read in the past, novels that, in similar context and presentation, delivered a subtle message. Because they were so artfully drawn, these novels and others like them, made me personally open to what could become and often did become a change of mind, a change of heart.
Some that I can think of are Graham Greene's "The Quiet American," and Tim O'Brien's "The things they carried," specifically, two different perspectives of a single, though, at the time, seemingly endless event, the war in Vietnam.
Here's a question:
What novels have you read that slipped so easily and well into your conscience, that they caused you to seriously consider an event or aspect of your life and life around you, that they nudged you carefully and thoughtfully into an opinion, perhaps even one that you may not have held previously?
James, nice evaluation of Barry's great work, and a nice question.
A couple of books that come to mind that have either changed my perspective or moved me to learn more about something real and actually form a perspective are The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (Argentina's "Dirty War" in the late 70s/early 80s) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Japan's involvement in China during WWII).
i am not sure i understand the hidden part of the message of the piece...which, by the way, i am pleased that you pointed out because otherwise i am not likely to have seen it. it's well done, but i think the idea is more or less on the surface. and this, to be clear, is not in any way a complaint. i was wondering what you meant by hidden when i saw the title of the thread.
there's an argument that fiction is often better history than what historians produce, that it can capture and reprocess textures of social being in a particular time that ex post facto reconstructions cannot hope to get at simply as a function of being ex post facto, of not being there. and there's a correlate to this in the capacity of fiction written after the fact to reach into projective textures (by which i mean the sense of what it might have been like to be-there) in ways that can disrupt or change the projections about a period of the past that are dominant at a given moment after the fact as a function of ideological considerations or what the tunnels of infotainment that are available that effectively stage that period say that period was like to a given population. personally, i think this is one of the main operations that fiction can perform, whether it be with respect to the present or with respect to a constuction of the past that obtains (and so necessarily resonates with aspects of) a particular period. and this is a basic political matter both ways--if you think about the past, there's usually, it seems, a loop that connects how people see the past to how they normalize aspects of where they happen to be and disruptions of that loop can, in principle, disrupt how those normalizations of the present work.
i'm trained as a historian so perhaps this works more intuitively for me than it might for other folk. that's always hard to say. but because of that training, and the subsequent period i spent teaching history in one form or another, this seems to point to a baseline operation, at least at the level of constructing course lists and that whatever ideas about broader political effects one might bring to bear on constructing course lists. because that relation seems to me one of the fundamentals that underpins teaching about the past--it's a way of talking about the present, sometimes more explicitly, sometimes less so.
of course different approaches to history have different ways of construing how that conversation might work and what the relation is between that conversation and the professional role of a given school of generating accounts of the past that's called doing history. and that's fine.
it seems to me that an underlying demonstration that subtends the idea of this conversation, whatever it's content, between notions of the past and situations in the present is the idea that the present could be otherwise. that's why exposing these loops and even holding them up as objects for thinking, without going any further than that, is, in principle anyway, a political action.
w.g. sebald's work is great at this kind of operation. it's about this kind of operation, really. it complicates the relation of artefact to interpretation with its use of photographs as well. but there are lots of works of fiction that so such things in their ways. personally i'm interested in tracking the collapsing of the american empire in part because of how something parallel is done in robert musil's a man without qualities. and one could, i think, learn as much about fascism from berlin alexanderplatz as one would from accounts of the system itself, even as what one might learn from the former is conditioned by what one knows of the latter.
joyce. calvino. perec. robbe-grillet. there are lots of options for parallel kinds of operations depending on what you want to accomplish by the reorientation of perceptions--most of these have to do with the frame-contingent nature of ideology, which seems, when dominant, to present itself with a perverse regularity as necessary and inevitable.
btw there are little technical problems with the sentences above that i'd have fixed were editing an option. mea culpa. i see them but can do nothing.
The "hints" of Basden's title seems to refer to the stories as hint fictions, 25 words or less each.
Christian, both books you cite sound worth looking for. Thanks.
Stephen, I don't know whether academic training provides a more unique point of view, since the academic world is more rigid and contested, based more on a unified theorem than thematic exposition. The novelist who attemptes to write in a historic context beyond his or her personal experience is challenged to portray a backdrop and action within the period that 'seems' rather than 'is' accurate.
I can tell you that my WIP, set primarily in the decade of the 1950's, required a great deal of research. Indeed, though I was 'there' physically, I was a child and an adolescent. As such, my perspective of the period is culturally different than the characters of the novel, most of whom were children of the Depression and veterans of WWII. Even though I had already experienced the culture and read many books that originated in the period leading to and contemporary with that unique decade, in order to gain an honest perspective of the characters involved, I must have read dozens of novels, histories, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries... watched dozens of films and listened to musio from all levels that were relevant.
It was a rich experience and well worth the time, but it involved a kind of immersion and, during the period of composing the first draft of the book, it was necessary to casually, but firmly, deliberately postpone the reading of more contemporary novels so as not to be 'polluted' by a perspective that could not exist in the period of the novel.
I would do it again, but thankfully my next novel is set in more recent times and in the context of a social strata that is founded in a perspective that is universal to all human experience, requiring more from a perspective of place than of time...
Ann, I view Barry's hint fictions as literary snapshots, historically apt, but dramatic in scope... yes, hint fiction, a springboard for the reader's imagination. I was moved by comments that suggested an experience beyond the scope of the readers' personal experience and a valuable tool, at least in the scope of it, for suggestion of a political perspective. I think much of the human experience and a great deal of our literature and art is grounded, if not constructed with political forces... whether by intent or effect.
Thanks for chiming in. Interested in other people's examples of similar, thought changing fiction.