When someone hears the words “moral fiction,” or “moral art,” a person might wonder how to define morality. According to John Gardner, “moral” does not equal “not too blatantly immoral.” It can’t be simple, and it can’t be forced upon artists. Continue reading
A while back, Erika Dreifus had recommended John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, a slim volume dedicated to writing and literary criticism from the POV that an artist has a moral responsibility to their audience, and that art criticism should in part address how well the creator of a work of art has met that responsibility. The book dates from 1978, and it’s amazing how well it (thus far in my reading) stands up over time.
I’m only about three chapters in, and what strikes me most Continue reading
Okay, so last week I mentioned how much I admired Nina Badzin’s article for TC Jew Folk, “Things I Don’t Write about on the Internet.”
I pretty much agreed with her on all points, although I will occasionally get political. (This is pretty much conditioning on my part: no meal shared with my family during the 1980s did not involve bashing of the Republican Party, so far as I can remember. But my memory might be faulty. Not that I’m a Democrat. Currently, my party membership is officially “decline to state.” You can do that in California.)
Anyway, there was one thing not on Nina’s list I kept thinking about while reading it, and it has haunted me ever since:
I DON’T TELL OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES.
What are “other people’s stories?” Continue reading
Today’s post from Erika Dreifus deserves a look-see. She comments on a recent NY Times essay by Margot Rabb entitled “Fallen Idols,” then adds her own reflections, touching on various writers with Anti-Zionist or antisemitic beliefs, such as T.S. Eliot and Alice Walker (the latter of whom has recently made headlines). I invite you to read both pieces (the links are embedded above).
An interesting aspect of the writer-reader relationship that Rabb touches on is that readers get to step inside the brains of authors. For this reason, there are some Chareidim who only allow their children to read books written by people who are either Orthodox Jews themselves, or are otherwise respected and considered to have good character. While I don’t have this “policy” myself, I do understand that it’s reflecting a genuine concern. Authors don’t have to have a conscious agenda to slip all sorts of allusions to their beliefs in their work. For example, English authors are particularly well known for their antisemitism, which pops up in all sorts of weird places (Georgette Heyer’s The Great Sophy, several works by Dickens, and so on). The science-fiction/fantasy author Phillip Pullman is a proud atheist, and his work reflects this viewpoint.
Then again, if an author uses their money to donate to causes we don’t agree with, a political cause that does not have anything to do with their writing, is that a reason shun their work? Or, to take it a step further, protest their work?
One of the commentators on Erika Dreifus’s blog mentions Orson Scott Card. There are people who want to picket the movie adaptation of his book, Ender’s Game, because they disagree with his political and religious beliefs. (I happen to not agree with the commentator’s assessment of Card, but he’s a good example.) Ender’s Game does not mention the particular beliefs that the protesters find repulsive in Card’s public statements.
Personally, I can see forgoing a trip to the theater, or skipping a book, if you disagree with an author or artist. But a public protest seems excessive to me unless the novel/play/whatever is actively preaching the message you disagree with in that particular piece of work.
How likely are you to read a book by someone whose character is deeply flawed or who espouses beliefs you find repugnant?
A couple days ago, I read this post on the Florida Writers Conference Blog (I know I’m not from Florida, but I happen to really like this blog) about humor. And there’s a fun overview of contemporary religious Jews in comedy right now on Aish.com. So I was already contemplating the subject when I spotted an interview with Ruth Wisse on Tablet about her new book, No Joke.
Ten minutes in, Wisse talks about secular Jewish vs religious humor. If you’re a Jewish writer, it’s worth listening just for that bit.
The conversation as a whole gives a really interesting spin on Jewish comedy, but the most fascinating part is the end of the interview Continue reading
Today’s post from The Write Practice got me thinking. In it, Joe Bunting suggests that we worry too much about sales, and even about how good our writing is.
I love these two lines:
Does the fact that more people have read Twilight than have read [any book by] Mark Twain mean Stephenie Meyer is a better writer?
More important for us, does the fact that we are all less known than E.L. James (as far as I know) mean our stories aren’t as good?
Bunting suggests we think “Connection” (with readers) over “Competition” (with other writers).
What Bunting says really appealed to me. Of all the kinds of feedback I get from my stories and articles, the ones that mean the most are the ones where people tell me that they identified with some aspect of what I’d written–particularly if the person is really different from me. This the kind of thing that bonds together humanity. Bunting would call this kind of connection literary success.
I’d call it something else: a measuring stick to use if you want to judge your writing’s moral quotient: will this writing bind people together, or will it tear them apart with strife? In that sense, “Good Writing” has a quality beyond the writer’s style or storytelling ability. It’s “Good” in the moral sense, as well.
What do you think?