On Moral Fiction
On Moral Fiction set off a firestorm of controversy when it was first published in 1978. With a daring not obscured by the author’s extraordinary humaneness of spirit, the book argued that contemporary literature suffers first and foremost from a basic failure of the test of “morality.” By “moral fiction” the author meant fiction that attempts to test human values, not for...more
We may expect that such a long and long-awaited book as JR will fall into one of two categories; either some work intellectually and emotionally gargantuan, like Don Quixote, War and Peace, Remembrance of Things Past, or The Magic Mountain, or else some huge and magnificent, generous, ingenious, and memorable entertainment, like Our Mutual Friend or Old Wives’ Tale. If one judged by...more
The word "moral" is a major stumbling block. But if you put aside your assumptions about the word, Gardner has lots to teach: “What the writer understands, though the student or critic of literature need not, is that the writer discover ...more
And I worry about how he interprets lit ...more
“True art is moral. We recognize true art by its’ careful, thoroughly honest search for an analysis of values. It is not didactic because, instead of teaching by authority and force, it explores, open-mindedly, to learn what it should teach. It clarifies like an experiment in a chemistry lab, and confirms.” - John Gardner
I have of late been on a kick of reading whatever I can about writing, expanding… ah, better, reviewing my sparse understanding of art and craft, the ...more
He fails to identify ideas on morality from John Rawls or Immanuel Kant, ideas on morality that don't require any religion to arrive at.
He dismisses post-modernism (sic) as inherently pointless or immoral, somehow f ...more
Gardner writes with punch. Consider this statement: "...telling familiar lies does not make them true. Art is our way of ...more
His opinion of many of the foremost 'literary' authors of his day (the 1970’s) is nothing short of scathing, and I can't help wondering what he wo ...more
His essential arguments are that 1) art must by its nature be moral, that is, oriented toward or built upon truth, though not necessarily didactic, with instilling or affirming life and goodness as its purpose; and 2) by this criterion most “art” in the twentieth century deserves those scarequotes. Gardner’s thesis is more complex and nuanced than this, and he’d probably quibble with every word of this summary ...more
Gardner is fair, funny, and incredibly down-to-earth. Of course, he is brilliant - which helps in his observations, which no one would dare call "ordinary - but his brilliance is used in the service of the reader.
What he finds "immoral" about a work of art is not based o ...more
However, the guy is an asshole. He pans better authors (Gass, Elkin--ELKIN! He dastn't). He is so small and such a shallow reader (I am no great reader of difficult books, but I understand Elkin's work, and see clearly that he has a stringent ethical/moral paradigm) that he must label these other authors--whose only offense is to play with language, to attempt to find exciting new modes ...more
This little book is a great defense against crap in fiction. Gardner argues against the postmodern flotsam that is today considered high art. Its high art all right, but it is not morally straight.
The book is very helpful to create clarity in the haze that has been created by the ivory towered tenured writer who instead of making art that is clearly understood, makes art that is just confusing or plain gibberish at its best.
I would add this book to my collection, because it would serve me well...more
"What we see around us is, for the most part, dramatization without belief or else opinion untested by honest drama. William Gaddis has named the problem in JR, though he himself doesn't escape it: 'believing and shitting are two different things.'
"... Insofar as literature is a telling of new stories, literature has been 'exhausted' for centuries; but insofar as literatur ...more
This seems to be an important stand to take when critically approaching literature. This book, I believe, is important for educators to study so as to more effectively lead their students in developing their critical thinking skills.
Moral judgments, I agree, should be made towards our literature -- and not, as Gardner makes clear, in some wea ...more
He says that all art should to some extent promote good. A few quotes from his book,
"If art destroys good, mistaking it for evil, then that art is false, an error; it requires denunciation."...more
"To Plato it seemed that if a
Gardner was born in Batavia, New York. His father was a lay preacher and dairy farmer, and his mother taught English at a local school. Both parents were fond of Shakespeare and often recited literature together. As a child, Gardner ...more
"Give me your left eye," said the king of the trolls, "and I'll tell you."
Without hesitation, Woden gave up his left eye. "Now tell me."
The troll said, "The secret is, Watch with both eyes!”