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date: 29 June 2022

Dictatorship and Global Anglophone Fictionlocked

Dictatorship and Global Anglophone Fictionlocked

  • Peter LemanPeter LemanEnglish, Brigham Young University

Summary

Authors in the global Anglophone world have long been interested in the phenomenon of dictatorships, often more by necessity than by choice as many of them personally witnessed the horrors of authoritarian rule. Among scholars, increasing attention is being given to dictatorships and the fictions that depict or otherwise respond to them in Anglophone contexts. Africa, in particular, has seen an explosion of literary texts and scholarly output, although there are important contributions from authors in South Asia, the Caribbean, and even the United States. Throughout these texts, which include novels, short fiction, plays, and poetry, authors take the authoritarian and his methods, enemies, and inevitable downfall as their subject. The reasons for doing so vary. Some authors barely veil the inspiration for their fictional leaders, intending to challenge actual dictators, sometimes at great risk and sacrifice. Others use fictional dictatorships to explore issues of sovereignty, neocolonialism, gender inequality, literary form, and more, suggesting the extent to which dictatorships cannot simply be thought of as a “third-world” phenomenon, as many do in the West, but as a problem that has both global implications and, often, global (i.e., colonial and neocolonial) origins.

Whatever their reasons and whatever their narrative approach, writers throughout the Anglophone world and beyond are engaged in a widespread and ongoing conversation about ultimate power and the cultish personalities that strive for it. The growing body of research from the social sciences underscores the diversity of circumstances and factors that give rise to dictatorships in different parts of the world, but the equally diverse fictions also reveal recurring patterns and themes. Nearly every dictator depends deeply on performance and spectacle, for example. They also seek to control their nations by controlling narrative, something writers are particularly equipped to challenge. Dictatorships and the fictions that portray them are also extended meditations on the nature of sovereign power, which dictators believe, and try to prove, to be absolute. This belief and a need for proof are fed by desperation and lead to various forms of personality worship, transcendence, and the dictator’s self-deification. At the same time, dictatorships also employ some of the least transcendent techniques imaginable to control populations (i.e., bureaucracy and red tape). Finally, as dictators discover they are not gods but mortals and even puppets, they are inevitably brought down from their imagined heights by international forces, other aspiring dictators, freedom fighters, and death itself.

Subjects

  • African Literatures
  • Fiction
  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)

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