Category Archives: spywriter

Writers Can Make a Better World

“Literature is constructive as well as reflective, and there is certain power in this.

Novels rising from moments of conflict and hardship sharpen focus on the inequalities and struggles of those times.

… such narratives raise awareness of key social issues and potentially move the culture toward empathy, understanding, change – or else underscore unfortunate cultural resistance, the failure of those things to eventuate.

…writers and artists who direct their work toward the prevailing issues of the time can […] alter the real world, for the better.”


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Readers – Agents of World Transformation

“In order to truly understand the perspectives of others different from us, we need something more than knowledge alone. We need compassion, empathy and desire to engage in social discourse.

Contrary to nonfiction books, fiction books are cherished for their form as a narrative art, which employs literary locution, syntax and its plot in a way that allows new perspectives to settle in. According to Jacques Rancière, a French philosopher and social activist, fiction is valuable “due to a new balance of the powers of language, to a new way language can act by causing something to be seen and heard. Literature … is a new system of identification.” …

According to Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher, “Literature makes us better citizens because it trains us to understand others. Narrative imagination is an essential preparation for moral interaction.” …

“Thus, reading great works of fiction turns the reader into a conscious agent of world transformation by bringing to the fore the unseen and unheard.”


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Morally Impoverished American Literature

“Everything is contained in the American novel except ideas,” Philip Rahv wrote exasperatedly in 1940, just as the European novel achieved, in the hands of Musil and Mann, its intellectual apotheosis. Obsessed with private experience, American writers, Rahv charged, were uniquely indifferent “to ideas generally, to theories of value, to the wit of the speculative and problematical.”

Why was it, he wondered, that Dostoyevsky “appears to possess degrees of passion, conviction and engagement with deep moral issues that we — here, today — cannot or do not permit ourselves”? Compared with the Russians, Wallace lamented, “the novelists of our own place and time look so thematically shallow and lightweight, so morally impoverished.”

We must grant Wallace at least part of his complaint. America’s postwar creative-writing industry hindered literature from its customary reckoning with the acute problems of the modern epoch. It boosted instead a cult of private experience and what Nietzsche identified as the style of “literary decadence,” in which “the word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, and the page comes to life at the expense of the whole.”


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Less Obvious Benefits of Reading

“One study, which scanned the brains of reading people, found that reading provides exercise to 17 different brain regions, and increased density, extent and speed of brain-cell networks within the brain — essential for maintaining mental efficiency and brain health throughout life.

Other studies suggest that, after finishing a good novel, readers enjoy these effects for several days.

Other research shows that reading brings on relaxation. Reading for just six minutes can lower stress levels by 68 per cent. In contrast, going for a walk reduced stress levels by 42 per cent. The type of story doesn’t seem to matter, if it engrosses the reader.

A number of other studies indicate reading Literature — with a capital L — increases an individual’s social competency. Literature comprises compelling, believable plots and well-developed, complex characters whose feelings and motivations are only vaguely sketched.

It requires readers to put themselves in characters’ shoes, infer motivations and tune into emotional nuance and complexity — the same social-functioning tasks that are required when dealing with real (complex) people in (messy) daily life. Reading literary stories increases readers’ empathy, social perception, mental inference and emotional intelligence.

Other studies suggest that frequently reading literary fiction from a young age hones those social skills.”


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Real Writers Follow Their Rhythm

Writers… “we’re storytellers, craftsman. We do care deeply about language. We want our words to dance to a particular rhythm… One of the tools we use is repetition. Unfortunately, it’s the tool most despised by bad editors…  English teachers, those non-writers responsible for teaching us how to write. It begins when they circle a word that appears a few times in a single paragraph and ask for an alternative…

English teachers who don’t practice the craft of writing — and that’s the vast majority — can’t ruin real writers. They can just give them bad grades. Real writers know that writing has to be heard, not just read.  They find a beat, a rhythm, and they follow it. They can’t help it.

But the rest of the class walks away with the false knowledge that good writing is something you can diagram; that it’s meant to be seen and not heard; that rhythm is a tool for poetry, not prose.”


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How the CIA Shaped Western Literary World

“During the Cold War, it was commonplace to draw the distinction between “totalitarian” and “free” societies by noting that only in the free ones could groups self-organize independently of the state. But many of the groups that made that argument [including literary magazines] were often covertly-sponsored instruments of state power, at least in part. Whether or not art and artists would have been more “revolutionary” in the absence of the CIA’s cultural work is a vexed question; what is clear is that that possibility was not a risk they were willing to run. And the magazines remain, giving off an occasional glitter amid the murk left behind by the intersection of power and self-interest. Here are seven of the best, ranked by an opaque and arbitrary combination of quality, impact, and level of CIA involvement.

Probably the finest literary magazine in American history, the Kenyon Review was founded by John Crowe Ransom in 1939. The intellectuals and CIA officers who ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom loved Ransom, and used him and his literary networks to locate promising students and literary friends that it could recruit to work for it. Even Ransom’s technique of “New Criticism,” seen as a quintessentially conservative Cold War form of analysis because it eschewed examination of the social and political context of literary works, has sometimes been compared to the work of espionage, by which careful reading can unearth hidden plans and meanings.”

From, and more, on 7 Influential Literary Magazines with CIA ties:

Related: CIA involvement in the shaping of American Literature

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Literary Creativity in Intrinsic Motivation

“A creative writer should be motivated by interest, challenge and satisfaction, and not by external pressures, otherwise he/she will fall by the wayside when external forces fade or when they cannot withstand the editorial pressure.

A renowned psychologist at Harvard University, in her research, invited art experts to assess the work of 29 professional artists.

Unknown to the experts was that each artist had been asked to submit 10 commissioned and 10 non-commissioned works. The experts rated the non-commissioned works as being more creative than the commissioned ones. The study ascertained a link between intrinsic motivation and creativity.

It states that the higher the creator’s intrinsic motivation, the more creative and original one will be. What kills literary creativity […] is the desire for instant fame and money.”


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Revolution Will Not Come From Materialistic Writers

“Though the mouth has hardly ever ceased to be “muzzled by the food it eats to live,” nature has always had this quaint way of producing those daring ones determined to go against the grain.”

“No doubt one has to have the conviction of steel to take such a stand, and this decision will not appeal to a highly materialist writer. The very rich who write for kicks are not too fussy about integrity or conviction, though they can be if they so desire.”

“There are stories galore about writers with a passion for truth but who under pressure were forced to compromise.”

“well-to-do folks with their full quota of daily calories, can write well but have nothing to say, as against poor folks who do the hard work and get the least calories, and have much to say but can’t write. Lao Tzu said: “Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know”.

“writers and artists of integrity are most often found outside looking in armed with their criticism … for that’s where the revolution happens.”


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Skip the Pills, Take a Book

“If you read a story that really involves you, your body will tell you that you are living through the experience. You will recognize feelings that have physical signs—increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or calm, relaxed breathing and so on, depending on your mood. These effects are the same you would feel in similar real-life experiences—fear, anger, interest, joy, shame or sadness. Amazingly, you can actually ‘live’ experience without moving anything but your eyes across a page.” The lesson is clear? Reading good literature is a life support system you never outgrow.” …

“Psychologists, therapists, physicians, counselors and librarians the world over are active bibliotherapists and their numbers increase every years as research clearly shows that reading is a more effective stress reliever than say, listening to music, going for a walk, or even sitting down with a good cup of coffee. “If you have a life crisis, bibiliotherapy is great”. …

“In fact, researchers are now discovering what the ancient Greeks knew centuries ago—reading good literature works just as well.”


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Literature Can Bind a Split Nation

The “lack of meaningful connections among citizens is a complex problem. It contributes to the crippling partisanship”. …

“If the root of our problems … is a breakdown in communication and connection, literature has some incredibly powerful tools to help.” …

“learning how to engage with literature and, by extension, with others, is a very practical, widely-applicable skill.” …

“Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender or personality type. … Great literature allows one to think and feel from within how other cultures think and feel”.

“It’s not necessarily about the specific content of what you read; it’s the underlying practice of putting yourself inside another person’s head, inhabiting a narrative that is not your own, and considering perspectives that you do not share. Time spent actually exercising these skills and improving your capacity to connect and empathize with people – actually reading literature – is time well spent. It’s a concrete step to making you a more effective leader, better positioned to address the crises in our country today and cross the fault lines that have distanced us from each other.

Reading a book won’t singlehandedly bring about the end of American conflict – but it may make you better equipped to start.”

From, and read more:

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