Political Fiction?

Some suggest fiction can sway politics. Others think not. Two well-known writers slug it out over this question in the New York Times “Bookends.”

The line between fiction and nonfiction is more blurry than many people like to admit. Sometimes, political writing that claims to be nonfiction is actually fiction. The political power of such fiction-as-nonfiction is undeniable: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” stoked the fires of European anti-Semitism in the decades before the Holocaust; American news coverage of the Gulf of Tonkin incident facilitated the escalation of American military involvement in Vietnam; supposedly true accounts about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction contributed to the disastrous invasion of that country 12 years ago.

For Mohsin Hamid, its: Fiction can say publicly what might otherwise appear unsayable. Conversely, for Francine Prose, its: Perhaps the clearest case of literature effecting political change is Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” So who is right? What do you believe vis-à-vis fiction’s impact on politics?

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