No! in Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature

No! in Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature

No! in Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature

No! in Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature

Excerpt

That the practice of any art at any time is essentially a moral activity I have always believed; indeed, I do not know how to begin to make a book or talk about one without moral commitment. Yet for a long time I tried to keep this secret from myself as well as from others, since in the critical world in which I grew up, a "moralistic approach" to literature was considered not only indecent but faintly comic. Most of my best literary friends, at any rate, considered it strategically advisable to speak of novels and poems purely (the adverb is theirs) in terms of diction, structure and point of view, remaining safely inside the realm of the formal. But an author's choice of--or a critic's preference for--one point of view, or type of diction, or kind of structure, or even his emphasis on one of these elements at the expense of the others, involves a judgment of the experience he is rendering; and such a judgement is, implicitly at least, a moral one.

One of the special strengths of modern fiction has been its awareness of the moral dimension of form; and the seminal greatness of Flaubert lies in his willingness to entrust judgment primarily to style: to transform style, in effect, from a social grace to a tool of ethical analysis. The author of Madame Bovary seldom comments directly on the social concerns which most deeply vex him; he has, indeed, an almost fanatic resolve not to admonish or preach, but his style is his surrogate in this regard. And his style judges--judges Emma and Homais, the clichés of Romanticism and Revolution, the formlessness and falsity of bourgeois life. By the same token, that style judges and condemns, as all serious style continues to judge and condemn, the literature of the market place and those misguided books dedicated to anti-style.

There are, of course, certain counterfeits of style, quite . . .

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