Arthur Miller on the folly of taking literature as ‘just a story’

In 1966, The Paris Review Interviewed my favourite 20th Century Playwright Arthur Miller.

Arthur Miller had the following to say about the myth of apolitical literature and the foolishness of the modern attempts to gloss over the literary subject as divorced from the polis or his/her political existence.

Q:  Yet so much of the theater these last few years has had nothing to do with public life.

Miller:  “Yes, it’s got so we’ve lost the technique of grappling with the world that Homer had, that Aeschylus had, that Euripides had.  And Shakespeare.  How amazing it is that people who adore the Greek drama fail to see that these great works are works of a man confronting his society, the illusions of the society, the faiths of the society.  They’re social documents, not little piddling private conversations.  We just got educated into thinking this is all ‘a story,’ a myth for its own sake.”
-The Paris Review, pg. 25

To borrow the magnificent words of Neo-Gramscian writer Robert Cox, it is necessarily “always for someone and for some purpose’.

To me, Miller’s struggle against apolitical literature dovetails almost perfectly with what I wrote the other week in the context of apolitical non-news stories in the post entitled “How ‘non-news’ news stories reinforce the status quo”.

2 Responses to “Arthur Miller on the folly of taking literature as ‘just a story’”


  1. 1 Ken Furber 26 November, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Oh Paul, what a can of worms you’ve opened. As far as news stories are concerned, the quality is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly media outlets should always be asking themselves “am i doing the job right, is the paper (TV or radio feed) serving its community properly?” My concern is and has been for many years that they don’t ask themselves those questions. Media outlets are often large, multinational corporations, and as such act pretty much as any business. What they ask themselves is are we making as much money as we could be. The quality of their news stories have little to do with their thought processes. The only concern they have with stories is that they keep advertisers happy — for obvious reasons. From my point of view, a newspaper, TV or radio station’s main job is to reflect the community it serves back to itself — warts, cuddly bunnies, cotton candy and all. That allows citizens to at least understand what’s going on and to make a decision whether they like that or not and if that should continue or not. As for reflecting prejudice, well of course they do. Sometimes directly — as in the prejudice of a news subject — or indirectly — the reporter’s or newspaper owners.

  2. 2 Ricardo Nunez 16 January, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    YES! YES! YES! What a great quote! Its interesting that you put that up now when my partner is writing an MA paper using eco-criticism and postcolonialism to interpret Shiva’s “God of Small Things” and Gunesekera’s “Heaven’s Edge.” Being that I have never done literary criticism, I had a little trouble figuring why she was using novels instead of “real world” examples. This definitely gets me half way there!
    Also, I tried to contact Cox when I was writing a paper using his Neo-Gramscian IPE methodology but was unable to track him down! That was the hardest, and most exciting paper, I have written to date!
    One last thing. Why haven’t there been more podcasts?
    Thanks!


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