Government jobs as arts subsidy

Often governments support the arts best when they are intent on some other purpose:

The very existence of government jobs subsidizes the arts. Even in the best of times, most writers find it difficult to make a living from book sales alone. Many accept government jobs, hoping they will have time to pursue their own projects. Bureaucracy, despite its deadening effects, stimulates creativity by creating a realm of personal freedom for many employees.

William Faulkner worked for a time as postmaster at the University of Mississippi postal station. He called his section of the post office the "reading room." Nathaniel Hawthorne worked in a customs house, after failing to get a postmaster job. Walt Whitman revised his Leaves of Grass while working for the Department of the Interior, although his superior fired him because he regarded the book as immoral. Herman Melville worked in a customs house as well, although not at the time of his greatest literary productivity. William Charvat estimated that between 1800 and 1875, 60 to 75 percent of American male writers "who even approached professionalism either held public office or tried to get it." 

The role of government jobs is no less prominent in the history of literature more generally. Chaucer was a career public servant, Dante pursued politics, Goethe was a bureaucrat for much of his life, and Anthony Trollope held a job in the postal service, during which time he wrote most of his sixty novels. William Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe, and the Roman poet Horace worked as tax collectors. Jonathan Swift was clergy in a tax-supported church. Stendahl worked in the Napoleonic bureaucracy. In the social sciences, Adam Smith worked in the customs house and Edward Gibbon was a member of Parliament and lord of trade.

It is a moot point whether we should count prison as a government "job," but many notable literary works have been written in enforced confinement, most notably Cervantes’s Don Quixote and de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. Prison literature has been a growing genre in the United States since at least the 1960s. A longer list of incarcerated writers includes Boethius, Villon, Thomas More, Campanella, Walter Raleigh, Donne, Richard Lovelace, Bunyan, Defoe, Voltaire, Diderot, Thoreau, Melville, Leigh Hunt, Oscar Wilde, Jack London, Maxim Gorky, Genet, O. Henry, Robert Lowell, Brendan Behan, Chernyeshevsky, Dostoyevsky, and Solzhenitsyn.

I don’t have to tell you whose book that is from.  I wrote it, of course, while working for a state university.


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