Turbid Waters: Identity of the Writers -- Identity of the Literature?

Gojkovic, Drinka
Revista Literatures Núm. 3 1999

The North-American writer Martha Nussbaum in her book Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life, addresses a problem which has hitherto been neglected: the relation between literature and the non-literary life. The author demonstrates that a literary education promotes a society which is sensitive to ethical questions. Besides volition, writers were once implicitly bestowed with the capacity to be the moral regulators of society, putting totalitarian states on the right road towards democracy. This conviction fitted in, theoretically, with the abstract and hallowed idea that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Where do the relations between writers and society really converge? The contribution of Serbian writers to nationalism, and, indirectly, to the war in Yugoslavia, had already provoked strong reactions amongst the writers themselves. There was a contradiction inherent in the debate: amongst the writers who did not commit themselves to the nationalist front, there were some who challenged the need for any action against the war. Is there a specific literary identity? A writer´s commitment involves a certain ideal of judgmental neutrality. From Nussbaum's analysis, one may deduce that a literary work is a construct elaborated with the interaction of different visions. To commit the emotions to discerning differences, to make comparisons, establish relationships without preconceived ideas, produces, besides a semantic effect, the aesthetic effect of literature. For this ability, the language in which it originates is not important, as long as the writer has sufficient mastery of it. In public life, it should be irrelevant whether one is a member or not of a particular nation. If the work consists of a single, absolute and hypertrophied nationalist vision, it simply constitutes a failure. But the consequences are much worse when a writer who adopts this position begins to get involved with politics. The balance is re-established the moment he accepts responsibility for the public word.