In fiction, power is examined through exhibition; exerting it onto others, having it exerted onto ourselves, account of past exertions, even sexual games. Many of the novels and short stories we read revolve around some type of power discrepancy. It was surely Dickens' theme. This isn't really a mystery because the characters' social surroundings very rarely involve no government, no class, or non-structured ruling body of some type. Even informal groups have pecking orders which power flows through. Since power is current in real life, it can make for a strong bond between reader and writer through fanciful tales and accounts.
Nonfiction has the luxury of speaking directly about power, which can actually be to its detriment, as well. This medium tells truths ranging from comfortable all the way to uncomfortable, as well as tells lies ranging from comfortable to uncomfortable. Just because something is intended toward nonfiction doesn't mean it's real, despite being defined as not-not-real. Nonfiction writers of power can be even more fanciful than fiction writers about power because the fiction world already knows it's not real, and operates on the basis of trying to be as close to real as possible. Nonfiction, however, often believes that since it's not fiction, it's real. That it's truth. That is the final answer. Thus, the nonfiction ego can develop differently than the fiction ego with the writers believing themselves into their own nonfiction and developing an elevated--though falsely based--sense of knowledge and power. When this happens, it insulates the readers from a better understanding of the power of the real account that they're reading.
In the fiction world, characters and events are often embellished to highlight the meaning the writer wants to highlight. How many of the most influential, meaningful, and intimate events of your life would seem unimpressive if you simply wrote them down exactly how they happened? Just as nuance in literature is a powerful tool, nuance in life is a powerful thing, however translating nuances from real life to literature under-appraises them because the experience of those nuances in real life are what makes them so powerful. This is a different type of power than the traditional power-over-another type, however it's still power. Power isn't human-centric, as nature has attested many times. Humans have claimed a monopoly on power. For writers, translating this real-life power onto the page and making it seem as real, gritty, and important as it was in real life is a key element toward gripping writing--both fiction and nonfiction--and can be very challenging.
Since fiction represents real life, it changes with culture. Orwell pointed out that many crime stories a few hundred years ago didn't even involve a crime, let alone a murder. They involved a mystery of some type, a stolen object which really turned out to be misplaced, or an ancestral mystery of some type. Often, the protagonist would be feverishly investigative, and it's here we're probably all thinking Sherlock Holmes. As culture has become more aware of atrocity, literature has changed to reflect it. (Thus, fundaments of culture aren't the only things that need to change for literature to change; general awareness of things that determine the culture can change, thus changing the literature, both fiction and nonfiction).
In more stories we're finding sexual deviancy, death-worship, and tragedy. These are all elements of power, just highlighted in different ways; sexual deviancy involves breaking taboos, coercing another into servicing our primal needs, or exploring taboos in private, sans the consequences we're told are inevitable. Death-worship involves some kind of obsession with finality and mortality, often rooted in fear of either living, fear of death, or both. Tragedy involves the conflict of two rights, where the audience knows one of them has to fall. I don't see Shakespeare's plays as overly tragic, just simply comical and mildly reflective. He just wrote with authority and sensitivity. Tragedy in real life is the car accident where the driver strikes a deer that jumped out, sending the car astray and wounding the people and the deer. Or Alzheimer's; the individual's body struggles to survive while their consciousness is slowly sapped. They're warm, they're present, but they're not there. Their personal power was infiltrated by nature. The deer was just looking to forage, and the driver was just looking to head home. Coercion of power can indeed be malicious and evil, however power transfers happen all the time and go unnoticed. Fiction and nonfiction writers always--on some level--portray this stream of power. Power doesn't always entail a moral judgment due to coercion or scandal; power is just power, and literature can convey that.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new Orwell 365 posts.