Writing against one's own inclinations
May 27, 2011 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me towards examples of authors (or other artists) who have produced work with a theme that runs contrary to their own established political or social views?

Kind of springboarding off this thread over here, and I seem to be in the presence of Google Kryptonite because I'm not finding what I want.

I've been thinking about this "art vs artist" topic for a while, especially as I'll be teaching Ender's Game to a class pretty soon. I'm also working on a podcast episode on this topic, and I got to wondering if there were any good examples of an artist deliberately creating work that was dissonant to their own views?

This would be like Orson Scott Card writing a book about a stable gay couple who lived an ordinary married life; Robert Heinlein writing a story about the fundamental immorality of military service; Philip K. Dick writing about someone who was secure in his identity and had well-placed and justified faith in society and its institutions. [1] And while I haven't read Left Behind, another example might be Tim LaHaye writing a book about an atheist who leads a good life that is supported by a logically derived system of morality.

You get what I mean.

There may be some obvious examples out there, but I'm coming up with nothing.

Many thanks!


[1] I seem to be showing my influences here....
posted by MShades to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
For a popular one anyone would be familiar with, Stephen Colbert? I'm sure there are a lot of these types of things that exist as not-so-thinly-veiled satire. Not sure if that counts based on what you're looking for.
posted by halseyaa at 8:02 PM on May 27, 2011

(you might want to explain the contradictions for those of us who don't know anything about the personal lives of those authors).
posted by moxiedoll at 8:02 PM on May 27, 2011

Heinlein went back and forth over the course of his books and life, but that was a result of his changing political beliefs.
posted by stratastar at 8:13 PM on May 27, 2011

Response by poster: @halseyaa - Hmmm... Didn't count on satire for some dumb reason. That opens up a whole set of questions, one of which is "What kind of beliefs are open to self-satire, and which ones actively resist it?" For right now, I'm leaning more towards artists who contradict themselves earnestly, either as an intellectual exercise or a genuine attempt to break out of their own heads.

@moxiedoll - This is where assumptions get me....
- Card: Actively campaigns against gay marriage rights in the US.
- Heinlein: unabashedly pro-military in his personal philosophy and many of his novels.
- Dick: wrote many stories about identity issues and institutional conspiracies. Very popular among moviemakers. See "Blade Runner," "Paycheck," "Total Recall," "Minority Report" for examples.
- LeHaye's series is based on a fundamentalist Christian theology and is set in the time after the Rapture.
posted by MShades at 8:15 PM on May 27, 2011

Balzac was a reactionary, a defender of the monarchy, of the ancient rights of the landed gentry, and all that happy shit.

His fiction is not consistent with these political views. To a man, to a woman, his aristocratic characters are some of the most loathsome scumbags you'll ever meet.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:18 PM on May 27, 2011

Best answer: John Milton was a devout, if heterodox, Christian, but inadvertantly wrote an epic with Satan as its hero, leading William Blake to admiringly claim that he was "of the Devil's party without knowing it".
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:26 PM on May 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

Maybe Firefly and Serenity? I'm not sure that I think the show and movie exactly endorse Mal's libertarian views, but that's certainly one reading. (In fact, most libertarian fans seem totally flabbergasted to find out that Whedon is a mainstream Democrat and not a libertarian.) And I think Whedon has said that the villain in Serenity has more in common with him politically than the heroes do. The Operative is basically the liberal impulse run amok: he's so intent on improving the world that he ends up committing atrocities.

On the other hand, I think that Tim Minear, who executive produced Firefly, is a libertarian, so maybe it's a mistake to talk about it as if it's just the product of Joss Whedon.
posted by craichead at 8:31 PM on May 27, 2011

If you are looking for an example of a writer expressing a contradiction of their personal views, but not in an ironic or satirical voice, then this is essentially a conundrum.
posted by ovvl at 8:39 PM on May 27, 2011

Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series? He won a bunch of Libertarian awards for them despite himself being some sort of Trotskyist.
posted by Justinian at 8:43 PM on May 27, 2011

Heinlein's Stranger in a Stranger goes against the grain of most of his other works. In his juvenile novels and Moon, ST, Friday, Farnham's Freehold, the emphasis is mostly on such conservative values as self-reliance, pragmatism, rationality, science, expertise, 'stiff upper lip', family values (e.g. in The Moon the hero derives much of his self-identity and support from his multi-family). In fact Heinlein felt that new wave of SF (stuff like Harlan Ellison) - is something of a travesty - I don't have the quotes but I remember he expressed his displeasure in a few interviews. There are some passages in his books, one of them written after Stranger, that take aim at Religion and Mysticism.

Stranger throws all of these themes away and instead focuses on all sorts of hippy-like topics, there's free love, mysticism, religion, drugs (iirc?), martians with a mysterious civilization of almost limitless power (and nothing like a star-trek style projection of our technical/democratic civilization).

Strictly speaking it's not against his previous works in a straightforward way, you might say that it transcends (or tries to) all the themes that were dear to his heart before.. , suddenly all the answers that he put forward as all-important (in dozens of books, no less!) are pushed aside. One might wonder if martians of 'Stranger ..' would even tolerate determined military-minded society of ST.
posted by rainy at 8:48 PM on May 27, 2011

Heinlein's views don't neatly fall into a conservative/liberal paradigm. I'm not sure I'd put him forward here. Even leaving that aside, it's not as though Stranger is a novel that runs contrary to his beliefs; it's just a novel that explores different beliefs than he had displayed earlier. But that's not surprising. It's only his second major non-juvenile. He wasn't exactly going to write all that stuff about free love in a juvenile.
posted by Justinian at 8:53 PM on May 27, 2011

The article cited in this post on the blue disagrees, but from my perspective Hubert Selby's novels seem to always invoke a Christian worldview that he can't possibly espouse himself. I say "can't possibly" partly because many of the seedy characters and situations from his novels are, by some accounts, echoes of his own life, and partly because despite the Christian moral framework that informs his novels, he seems to revel in depravity in his writing in ways I just can't picture a true-blue Christian doing.

The article I mention above chalks this contradiction up to Selby's attempting to be ironic, but I don't see it that way. In my non-student-of-literature opinion, I see it more of an acknowledgment that the world is more complex than LOLXIANS, that there is some functionality to Christian morals even if they ultimately fail as a credible system of belief. It's almost like he posits Christian morality as a force of its own, another massive problem to pile on his characters' other massive problems-- "I already deal with the misery of being a teenaged prostitute, and now I'm being gang-raped because, as it turns out, the notion of 'sin is always punished' is true!"
posted by Rykey at 9:21 PM on May 27, 2011

I was thinking about Heinlein, too, but mainly about Podkayne of Mars, in which Heinlein creates an appealing adolescent girl who is the main character and narrator of most of the novel. She gets hurt near the end, but she's going to be OK.

In the manuscript as submitted to the publisher, she's killed, but the publisher insisted he rewrite it. Reading it as a kid, I would have been profoundly upset at the original ending and felt betrayed, though now it would only have deepened my contempt of Heinlein for his raging misogyny, which was in full cry in that book (and with which the original ending would have been more consistent) and most of his subsequent ones.

Gloria Steinem's very first published book was something called The Beach Book, and was devoted to helping you have a good time and look good at the beach. The dust jacket was aluminized so you could hold it under your chin as a tanning aid. It was quite well written, as I recall.

I once heard a fascinating radio program about some lesbians in the fifties who got their starts writing conventional romance novels, but I can't remember much detail.

Robert E Howard (creator of Conan) was a confirmed bachelor who killed himself at 30 in the parking lot of the medical facility where his mother was in a terminal coma from tuberculosis.
posted by jamjam at 9:52 PM on May 27, 2011

Best answer: Ted Chiang is (as far as I can tell) an atheist, but has written several fascinating stories in which religious phenomena were assumed to be real, including "Hell is the Absence of God" (where heaven, hell, God, and angels are accepted scientific fact), "Seventy-Two Letters" (where life follows the now-obsolete theory of preformationism) and "Tower of Babylon" (where the universe is modeled on the cosmology of ancient Judaism). Lots more here.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:55 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Terry Pratchett is an atheist who writes worlds stuffed with religion, has a keen interest in science and writes about magic, and an egalatarian who nontheless wites novels which are rather admiring of government-by-tyrant.
posted by rodgerd at 1:43 AM on May 28, 2011

I know "sciency" people who try so hard to be sciency. They named their kid "newton". Little do they know that even though that dude spent a lot of his life writing science...he spent even more time and effort writing about esoteric religious things and ALCHEMY!
posted by hal_c_on at 4:35 AM on May 28, 2011

Best answer: 1. John Rutter is an incredibly prolific, accomplished, and respected choral composer/arranger of religious music, but he's an atheist.

2. The following is from Isaac Asimov's collection of short stories, "Nightfall and Other Stories." It is (excerpts from) his written introduction to the story "In A Good Cause--"

There is a perennial question among readers as to whether the views contained in a story reflect the views of the author. The answer is, "Not necessarily--" And yet one ought to add another short phrase "--but usually." [...] No matter how I try to be fair, and how I try to present each person's views honestly, I cannot make myself be as convincing in presenting views that don't appeal to me, as in presenting those that do. Besides, the general working out of my story usually proceeds as I want it to; the victory, in one way or another, tends to lie with those characters whom I particularly like. Even if the ending is tragic, the point of the story (I hate to use the word "moral") is usually one that satisfies me. [...] But there are exceptions.

[Once, an anthologist wanted] a "happy ending" story. So I wrote a happy ending, but since I always try to beat the rules out of sheer bravado, I tried to write an unexpected happy ending, one in which the reader doesn't find out till the very end what the happy ending really is. It was only after I had successfully (I think) managed this particular tour de force and had had the story published, that I realized that my interest in technique had for once blinded me to content. Somehow this particular story, "In a Good Cause--," doesn't reflect my own feelings. [A] critic once said that he liked this story, even though he disagreed with its philosophy, and to my embarrassment, I find that that is exactly how I myself feel.

--Isaac Asimov
posted by jef at 5:32 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ayn Rand was not a libertarian and took government aid when it benefited her.
posted by CathyG at 5:54 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Carl Sagan's Contact is an interesting novel about faith from an atheist; I think the movie actually hits this note even harder.
posted by gerryblog at 6:01 AM on May 28, 2011

"Harrison Bergeron" from Kurt Vonnegut also seems somewhat at odds with his political commitments; it was originally published in National Review and has some pretty right-wing readings.
posted by gerryblog at 6:02 AM on May 28, 2011

Thomas More's Utopia - a sophisticated and effective communist island state invented by a flagellating Catholic martyr. And (I would hope) most satirists have convictions that run largely contrary to the behaviours of their characters and narratives.
posted by Hugobaron at 6:19 AM on May 28, 2011

I got to wondering if there were any good examples of an artist deliberately creating work that was dissonant to their own views?

A lot of people are giving you examples of writers who arguably contradicted the political points they made in their books by their own conduct. But this is different from what you're asking for: a writer who deliberately creates a work that argues against what he claims to stand for.

I'm interested in your question because I'm wondering why you think anyone would ever do this. Or, more specifically, why would an artist do this? If the artist doesn't believe what he's writing, if it's basically an intellectual exercise for him, then I would argue that it's not really art -- it's an exercise. What you're asking for is sort of a paradox.

I mean, I'd be interested to see someone come up with an example of this. Just because it's a paradox doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 7:53 AM on May 28, 2011

Aldous Huxley wrote a long essay in which he tried to address the question of whether a patently insincere artist could produce great art.

He said yes, but that there was only one example he knew of (and his knowledge was literally encyclopedic): Wagner.
posted by jamjam at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2011

Best answer: There are innumerous examples of gay songwriters writing perfectly "traditional" boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love songs. Cole Porter is a classic example, not to mention gay performers that became heterosexual sex symbols. Rock Hudson, anyone?

Heck, Robert Reed, Mr. Brady himself, was for a long while everyone's example of a perfect TV dad, and actually the first TV dad shown being physically romantic with his wife. Mike and Carol were even the first to be shown sleeping in the same bed. Scandal! ;-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:29 PM on May 28, 2011

Orson Scott Card may actually be an example. I remember reading an essay on his website a few years ago, where he states that readers often express surprise after learning about his anti-gay views, as he has written at least one sympathetic gay character.

Unfortunately, searching for the keywords 'gay' or 'homosexual' on Orson Scott Card's website is a soul crushing exercise, so I wasn't able to find the essay again. But if you've read a lot of OSC's work, you may know which character he was referring to.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 3:34 PM on May 28, 2011

Dave Sim is infamous for his views on the "feminist-homosexualist axis," yet some of the most complex and sympathetic characters in Cerebus are women (Jaka, especially in Jaka's Story) and gay men (the account of Oscar Wilde's death in Melmoth). I don't think this was a deliberate choice; it's more like Sim's art-making side is more perceptive and sensitive than his ranty right-wing side.

The Leopard is basically a eulogy for the aristocracy, and Burt Lancaster's character in particular is presented as a heroic exemplar of a dying breed. Yet the film's director, Luchino Visconti, was a Marxist (although he did come from an aristocratic family).
posted by twirlip at 7:23 PM on May 28, 2011

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