Educating John Doe: Literature, Politics, Justice

Grant Data
Project Title
Educating John Doe: Literature, Politics, Justice
Principal Investigator
Dr Swirski, Peter   (Principal investigator)
Start Date
Completion Date
Conference Title
Presentation Title
American Literature, American History, American Politics, Popular Culture, Democracy
Literature,Public Administration and Political Science
Humanities & Social Sciences (H)
RGC General Research Fund (GRF)
HKU Project Code
HKU 751608H
Grant Type
General Research Fund (GRF)
Funding Year
1) Examine the degree and the nature of political orientation among contemporary works of popular art (fiction and essayistic nonfiction). The working assumption is that, selling in the tens of millions, popular bestsellers that openly engage in the political process have a high impact on the public political opinion in the United States (and, by extension, abroad). The degree, efficacy and accuracy of such mass political education is of utmost importance. 2) Examine the level of these works' political, and specifically, partisan involvement. Inasmuch as they clearly and openly identify themselves with political parties or instantly recognizable political platforms, the objective is to examine them with a view to how contemporary popular art can effectively further such political programs. 3) Examine the degree and nature of its rhetoric. Given their phenomenal appeal, the popular bestsellers under study are effective opinion-makers. As such, they demand scrupulous analysis of their content, form, style, and rhetoric in order to establish their degree of factual, sttistical, historical and ideological veracity. Given that the works come from both sides of the political spectrum, from the Republican right to the Independent and Democratic left, such analysis is needed to clear the rhetorical smokescreens dispensed by the artists themselves and their political allies and critics. 4) Examine the domestic aspects of the American political system. In view of the turbulent recent political history, such a re-examination will set the record straight on the politics, history, and socioeconomic policies of the recent times. Significantly, the works under study do not merely employ politics as a backdrop--they take on the political system comprehensively and directly, in the process becoming political instruments in their own right. 5) Examine the deliberate effort to bridge high intellectual content with popular art forms, journalistic immediacy and "nobrow" appeal. For example, the assorted works include a great deal of statistical data, comparative tables, or historical references—extremely unusual in popular bestsellers. This nobrow bridge between serious political content and popular art forms is in need of analysis, both in terms of its effect on political culture in the United States and its effect on the art/literary scene. 6) Examine what's topical in American political art with a view to its performance of the roles traditionally performed by the mass media: information bearer and an important elements of the systems of check and balances built into the American democracy. While making every effort to situate my analyses historically, I focus on contemporary politics and contemporary political art in order to examine its efficacy and accuracy in (in Conrad's words) "bringing the visible world to justice."