Tuesday, April 13, 2010

John Gardner quotes from "On Moral Fiction"

I recently finished John Gardner's On Moral Fiction and found so many great quotes within, not all of which I agree with but still found interesting, I just had to share. They are below.

"Every hero's proper function is to provide a noble image for men to be inspired and guided by in their own actions."

"The gods set ideals, heroes enact them, and artists ... preserve the image as a guide for men."

"Real art creates myths a society can live instead of die by, and clearly our society is in need of such myths."

"Fantasy writing, of course, nearly always comments on the time and place that produced it ..."

"By its nature, criticism makes art sound more intellectual than it is ..."

"Art builds temporary walls against life's leveling force ... In corpses, entropy has won."

"... what we generally get in our books and films is bad instruction: escapist models or else moral evasiveness, or, worse, cynical attacks on traditional values such as honesty, love of country, marital fidelity, work, and moral courage. This is not to imply that such values are absolutes, too holy to attack. But it is dangerous to raise a generation that smiles at such values, or has never heard of them, or dismisses them with indignation, as if they were not relative goods but were absolute evils. The Jeffersonian assumption that truth will emerge where people are free to attack the false becomes empty theory if falsehood is suffered and obliged like an unwelcome -- or worse, an invited -- guest."

"We are beset, to an extent few people were before us, by doubts on every side; and the doubts are increased, if not partly introduced, by the moral relativism which naturally arises in a world of rapid communications and the sort of cultural interchange both invaluable and inescapable in the American melting pot."

"The traditional view is that true art is moral: it seeks to improve life, not debase it. It seeks to hold off, at least for a while, the twilight of the gods and us. I do not deny that art, like criticism, may legitimately celebrate the trifling. It may joke, or mock, or while away the time. But trivial art has no meaning or value except in the shadow of more serious art."

"For the most part our artists do not struggle -- as artists have traditionally struggled -- toward a vision of how things ought to be or what has gone wrong; they do not provide us with the flicker of lightning that shows us where we are. Either they pointlessly waste our time, saying and doing nothing, or they celebrate ugliness and futility, scoffing at good."

"We recognize true art by its careful, thoroughly honest search for and 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."

"To worship the unique, the unaccountable and the freaky is -- if we're consistent -- to give up the right to say to our children, 'Be good.' "

"... morality has become, in many people's minds, an unattractive word ... . ... but the only thing wrong with morality ... is that it's frequently been used as a means of oppression ..."

"Tolstoy argues, in effect, ... that the ideal held up in a proper work of art comes from God ..."

"With the worship of Zeus substituted for Christianity, this is almost exactly Homer's position ... What the warrior-hero does on the battlefield, especially if he is half god, like Achilles, shows ordinary men what the gods love."

"Dante ... had ... come to the same discovery Aquinas had reached: that logical argument can support opposite and mutually exclusive conclusions with equal force, so that reason is at best ... a limited guide."

"In the name of democracy, justice, and compassion, we abandon our right to believe, to debate and to hunt down truth."

"The true critic knows that badness in art has to do not with the artist's interest or lack of interest in 'truth' but with his lack of truthfulness, the degree to which, for him, working at art is a morally indifferent act."

"... the interaction of characters is everying."

"Our more fashionable writers feel, as Chekhov and Tolstoy did not, that their art is unimporant; and they're correct."

"Religion's chief value is its conservatism: it keeps us in touch with what at least one section of humanity has believed for centuries. Art's chief value is that it takes nothing for granted."

"We need to stop excusing mediocre and downright pernicious art, stop "taking it for what it's worth" as we take our fast foods, our overpriced cars that are no good, the overpriced houses we spend all our lives fixing, our television programs, our schools thrown up like barricades in the way of young minds, our brainless fat religions, our poisonous air, our incredible cult of sports, and our ritual of fornicating with all pretty or even horse-faced strangers. We would not put up with a debauched king, but in a democracy all of us are kings, and we praise debauchery as pluralism."

"It is a fact of life that noble ideas, noble examples of human behavior, can drop out of fashion though they remain as real and applicable as ever -- can simply come to be forgotten, plowed under by 'progress.' "

"I would not claim that even the worst bad art should be outlawed, since morality by compulsion is a fool's morality and since, moreover, I agree with Tolstoy that the highest purpose of art is to make people good by choice. But I do think bad art should be revealed for what it is whenever it dares tostick its head up ..."

"It goes without saying, though I will say it anyway, that even the mostly lofty and respectable theories of human motivation -- from psychiatrists, biologists, theologians, and philosophers -- must always be treated by the serious writer as suspect."

"... the true artist is after 'glory,' as Faulkner said -- that is, the pleasure of noble achievement and good people's praise. The false artist is after power and the yawping flattery of his carnivore pack."

"Perfectly comfortable art is dead art, the product of an embalmed mind that has nothing to say to anyone, even the aesthetically dead."

"It can be shown by infallible or at least official logic that values are all a matter of opinion, that what seems good in one culture ... seems unpleasant to another. It can be proved positively that everything is relative. But not to an artist."

"... what ... artists care about -- what they rave or mourn or bitterly joke about -- is the forms of truth: justice, fairness, accuracy."

"... to write badly because otherwise one might not get published is useless compromise."

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