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China Miéville: Politics of, and, and in Art


At the website of the UK socialist journal Salvage, sci fi writer China Miéville examines how political battles—for example, for women’s liberation—are often displaced onto cultural terrain. While it’s important to battle misogynist depictions in popular culture, how big a role should this play in the larger struggle against patriarchy? Miéville suggests that battles in the cultural sphere can sometime distract from a focus on the structural factors that give rise to sexist cultural depiction in the first place. Here’s an excerpt:

None of which is to say that culture does not matter. Nor that one should try to opt out of it tout court – one cannot, and there’s play to be had with it, in any case, because even commodified, it has its pleasures, and a contested aesthetic content. Nor does this total(ising) view mean that there is no point trying for political criticism: even if we cannot ‘liberate’ culture, there is failing and failing better, and we can make culture move.

What it does mean is having a realistic sense of the parameters of the battleground. We do not surrender the cultural terrain: but we have to be unsentimental about its limitations.

The best way to fight for the culture we deserve is to fight the system that throws up the culture we are offered. To demand choices that matter necessitates the destruction of the system of choices we have. Not because we can never effect changes in culture: we can – but a change at that level alone will be a poisoned gift.

Tomorrow, we might get rid of Chief Wahoo, the hideous unseemly ‘redskin’ mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. And that banishing will be righteous. But the Native American activist Leonard Peltier will still be in jail, nearly 40 years after a political show-trail. If the end of Wahoo reflected a fundamental change in the system that put Peltier there, that would be one thing. But what if it is used to exonerate it? That would be worse than nothing.