This book is about breaking rules. Ariel Dorfman has spent
his life breaking rules—refusing to be told who he is, what he should feel, how he
should write, and what it should mean. Through his work he tells his readers to
ask questions, refuse definitions, and think alternatively. But, he cautions, do
not do this alone. Reach out, learn about your community, connect with
humanity, be full of patience and compassion, and be full of rage and resistance.
Be fallible. Be courageous. Take risks. And, most important, a message he
repeats again and again is that literature, the arts, and culture play an essential
role in the way we understand our world and in our struggles to change it.
One of the cardinal rules that Dorfman breaks is to passionately insist that
art and politics are integrally connected. Dorfman’s work challenges conserva-
tive views of art that suggest that it should be ‘‘free’’ of the taint of politics. Even
though this debate has a long history, Dorfman has been forced to confront it
repeatedly. For instance, in an exchange about the role of poetry in under-
standing the Abu Ghraib torture photos, David Ball claimed that poets who
‘‘try to express horror at the practice [of torture] run the risk of writing bad
poems’’ (Ball et al., 6). Dorfman responded that poetry enables a vision of
torturer and victim that reveals their mutual contaminations (ibid., 7). For
Dorfman, the aesthetics of engaged literature o√er the reader an opportunity
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