not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
this post was originally published on my Goodreads account.
On Moral Fiction is a work of cultural criticism in which John Gardner examines how well modern (in this case, mid-20th-century) literature meets the moral imperatives of fiction. His conclusion: not very well. It makes for an interesting read, to say the least.
I don’t agree with Gardner’s premise that returning to the objectives of classical literature is going to improve the output of literature, and I tend to have more positive reactions to many of the big midcentury novelists than he does, but I found his book refreshing, because I think too much criticism today doesn’t engage with the moral stance a book (or any work of art, really) takes–there are critics who will look at a book through the lens of social justice (and Gardner, to his credit, sees that as a worthwhile objective, if a bit limited in its scope compared to what he wants to do), but even those criticisms seem to be concerned with appearances above content. Reading this book felt like having an argument with someone whose ideas and intelligence made his arguments enjoyable, even during the parts when I disagreed with them (and it helps that the later chapters show him to be not nearly as absolutist in his thinking as he initially appears.