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The Purpose of Purpose: Aesthetics and the Unity of Context and Form in Third-World Literature

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  1. Introduction
  2. Literature as a political necessity
    1. Angela Carter and functional dichotomy
    2. The presentation of Western literature
  3. The consequential problem of translation
  4. Providing purpose for work
    1. The narrow scope of third world literature
    2. The importance of the texts as a whole and their linguistic components
    3. Wicomb's writing: Aesthetically pleasing
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works cited

All literary texts are both political and aesthetic. Words in and of themselves are innately sensual, inseparable from the emotions they evoke in a reader. They are also political, pieces of language steeped in history and theory. However, writers often plan toward one extreme, selecting their words either for contextual or libidinal value. Beyond a doubt, most first-world authors embrace the aesthetic foremost; in the West, reading has become an activity of leisure, performed for pleasure, not for knowledge. The beauty of these works is literally derived from their otherwise purposeless existence, a feature of aesthetic judgment that Immanuel Kant calls ?final without end? (69). But this does not mean that the opposite is true of third-world texts: while the written word still has the power to give birth to revolution in these regions, non-Western authors are still concerned with the aesthetic value of literature. Nor do all first-world texts exist separate from the political world. It is only Western bias that leads individuals such as Fredric Jameson to believe that libidinal texts are solely a product of industrialized nations. Aesthetic techniques, the affects of wordplay and structure, do not ensure an aesthetically-pleasing text. There must be a relationship between form and context. As Christian Wiman states, ?form itself has no inherent political meaning, but that [does not] mean that a [writer's] treatment of the form [cannot] give it a political meaning? (212). If form itself can be given into a role within the realm of politics, then surely politics can become a thing of beauty. When aesthetics are manipulated into vehicles for the political message of the text, only then can those aesthetics be considered beautiful. Third-world writers, regardless of first-world opinion, write with both libidinal and political intentions, for they understand that aesthetic value depends on the innate harmony between context and form.

[...] The novel is incomplete when stripped of its native language, for the unity between context and form is impossible when that form is no longer representative of the original intentions. The author, in a sense, is no longer Nawal el Saadawi, but a secondary voice in the guise of a translator, possibly neutral, but possibly working within his or her own agenda. Any translation is, therefore, ambiguous in intention, especially when that intention is inseparable from language. In first-world writing, authors may claim that word choice is important, that every word they use matters and could not be replaced with any other word. [...]

[...] But the everyday living conditions of South Africa, Western in many aspects and actually entwined in Western politics, created a context dependant on a form that also exhibited Western tendencies. The success of her political message depended on it stretching beyond the borders of South Africa, and her language too needed this tremendous reach. Regardless of Western bias, Wicomb's writing is more aesthetically pleasing not because of these Western influences, but because her politics require more Western-appealing language to connect to her broader audience. [...]

[...] Saadawi is correct in establishing the powerlessness of Western writers, for Western readers are not waiting for a revolution, and therefore, they will not listen to a revolution. The aesthetic supremacy of first-world literature is more than a frivolous byproduct of cultures seeking pleasure and escape through Romance novels and poetry; it is the perfect medium for covert politics that would otherwise be ignored if too direct. These politics are broader for a broader audience, their contexts less defined and lacking the urgency of third-world texts, but the claim that Western literature is void of politics is a failure to read the myriad threads contained within. [...]

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