"We allow Satan to speak freely in the novel, because we assume that nobody will pay serious attention. And we trust that if somebody is paying serious attention to the art of the novel this must be a so-called expert who is by definition immune to the sirens of Satan. The layman might be seduced by the Great Seducer – the expert finds nothing but rhetoric and literary technique. It’s hard to distinguish between his immunity and his expertise."
So says the very popular and widely translated Dutch novelist, Arnon Grunberg, responding to my comment that “Philosophy is different from law (where very bad human beings and acts deserve the very best arguments on their behalf in order to make a potentially moral institution function properly) or literature (where the art may be diminished if -- to speak poetically -- Satan is not given airtime.)”
Now, Grunberg and I agree that the freedom or indifference given to the novel is evidence for its marginalization and lack of impact. I had assumed that "the artists I know (in Liberal Democracies) treat art as if not dangerous; they seem very comfortable with their self-marginalization (which is compatible with fame, status, and money, by the way)." That is, our authors have tamed themselves and this is why their novels make no difference.
Grunberg's "we" seems to assume that the words and images found in novels barely register among non-expert readers. I had assumed this was due to something like a curse of low expectations all around. Unlike most commentators, who claim that internet and mass media have displaced the book, I am struck by the fact that The Book (the Bible) still is capable of attracting an extremely wide and devoted audience. Reading is by no means finished (says the author to his audience).
Grunberg seems to imply, however, that contemporary novels do still contain the capacity to be dangerous, but that the expert readers, who would presumably be receptive to what novelist are doing, are disabled by their own technical expertise. If that is right then if the right literary counter-disabling strategy is followed, Satan could still find an audience among the experts. Unlike Grunberg's "we," I am less sanguine about the experts' immunity to evil.