Abandoned Books

Reviews of books and authors not much discussed on the web.

Name:
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, September 02, 2007

John Gardner -- part one: On Moral Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist


I’ve been reading Gardner and originally I was going to do a monster post on everything, but decided instead to break it up into two parts. For one thing, reading Gardner takes a while -- I really liked The Sunlight Dialogues, for instance, but it took a couple of weeks to get through it, and October Light looks to be the same.

But another reason is that Gardner is best known nowadays not for his novels, which are the most interesting things about him, but rather these two, to my mind rather silly, books. (Well, and Grendel, to those High School students unfortunate enough to be forced to read it. We’ll tackle that one next time.)

Gardener is known in the literary world mostly as a teacher, and these two along with another book, The Art of Fiction, are distillations, apparently, of what he taught. (I’m skipping over The Art of Fiction because I read it once in the past and it seems to me now to basically be On Becoming a Novelist with a bunch of exercises -- ie, duplicative in effort. ) On Moral Fiction apparently was so controversial when it came out that Gardner actually got invited onto the “Dick Cavett Show” to defend it, and that it (apparently at least Gardner thought so) adversely affected his career

It goes to show you how times have changed -- in 1978 this nervous, halting critique of the status quo obviously was some kind of bombshell. But now? It seems nervous and halting.
Gardner obviously means well. Who could disagree with this?

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 trifiling. 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, the kind of art that beats back the monsters and, if you will, makes the world safe for triviality…. Art is essentially serious and beneficial, a game played against chaos and death, against entropy


We meet that early in the first chapter of this and I agree. I particularly agree that the various avante garde fripperies only exist in the wake of serious, traditional art, and that art is, essentially, a serious sort of business. Gardner also deserves credit for saying these things right in the middle of the Seventies, when people still cared what John Barth thought, for instance.

But Gardner never goes beyond it. Did you read that quote? That is On Moral Fiction, sorry to spoil it for you. The rest of the book is hesitant critiques of Pynchon and Barth -- again, Gardner gets full props for launching these critiques before it was cool -- and a lot of backfilling to try to justify a semi-religious view of art without actually invoking God’s name. This involves long, labored readings of Sartre and mythology and philosophy to justify things that seem pretty obvious me -- Gardner’s critique essentially is a religious one, one that seeks to invoke the transcendent and values that which celebrates and partakes of it.

The fact that Gardner tries to do that without actually getting religious makes On Moral Fiction pretty silly, frankly. Artists are not generally good thinkers -- to the extent that they’re good artists, anyway, they tend to be incoherent thinkers. Such ideas that are here are better presented in The Sunlight Dialogues and October Light.

On Becoming a Novelist is probably better known, maybe because there’s an ever-present audience in this country for “how to make it as a writer” advice. That’s a subject worthy of an essay or three in and of itself, and I might just think through that one of these days. Add to that Gardner’s previous teaching post, and the status of his students (my edition has a preface from Raymond Carver, of all things), and we account for it’s current prominence.

It’s a pointless book. Writing is such an ineffable thing, the ways people achieve however they define “success” so varied, that I’m immediately skeptical of writing advice books -- either they’re not general enough (Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which mainly suggests lifestyle issues that few people really seem to raise is a good book for this) or not specific enough (I still look for a book that really, in a nuts and bolts way, handles the intricacies in storytelling like Robert Graves’s esteemable The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writer’s of English Prose handles the intricacies of clear style). Gardner simply relays his experiences, fair enough but I see no particular reason why I should consider them applicable to my life, or my problems. I’m not in a writing class, for example, don’t intend on going to one, and am bored by labored justifications of them. Chapter one is a very long chapter outlining Gardner’s ideas of what a writer needs, only to conclude that if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it, no matter what anybody says.

Are you kidding me? Even if I’m supposed to take this as some kind of self-deprecating bit of humor, who’s gonna pay me for the time I wasted reading that chapter, trying to get something out of it?

Avoid this. Gardner’s importance to art lies in his art, not his ideas about art, which are as typically incoherent and confused as, well, artists’ tend to be. Read the best of him, not this tripe he did to pay the bills.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Jody said...

hey doug. I know you posted this 3 years ago but I hope you can answer my question. I was one of those students that were forced to read Grendel and Beowulf in high school. I also read Moral Fiction as well. I had a diffficulty understanding the relationship between Grendel and Moral Fiction. Can you help me and give me some examples of how they are related?

6:58 PM  
Blogger Lin Huang said...

nhl jerseys
ray bans
lebron james shoes
coach factory
louis vuitton
louis vuitton
michael kors outlet online
abercrombie
coach outlet
coach outlet
ghd hair straighteners
oakley sunglass
cheap jordans
michael kors outlet online
p90x workouts
michael kors handbags
louis vuitton outlet
soccer jerseys
abercrombie outlet
hollister
louis vuitton purses
timberland boots
oakley sunglasses cheap
louis vuitton outlet
coach outlet
true religion
abercrombie
gucci shoes
jordan 11
copy watches
ray ban sungalsses
celine
mont blanc pens
jordan 11s
coach
cheap lululemon
michael kors bag
ray ban sunglasses uk
oakley vault
oakley sunglasses
caihuanglin201506015

11:01 PM  
Blogger John said...

louboutin
ray ban sunglasses uk
true religion
jordan 13s
michael kors outlet online
jordan 6 black infrared 2015
prada uk
chanel handbags
ray ban sunglasses
michael kors bag
coach outlet online
ray ban uk
cheap jerseys
oakley sunglasses
jordan concord 11s
louis vuitton
michael kors outlet
longchamp soldes
oakley sunglasses
oakley vault
lebron 11
michael kors outlet
burberry sale
michael kors outlet
gucci shoes
gucci shoes
prada outlet
gucci handbags
michael kors
ray ban outlet
mulberry handbags
louis vuitton
jordan 5
coach factory outlet
2015713yuanyuan

4:25 AM  
Blogger chenlina said...

chenlina20150715
cheap jerseys
louis vuitton handbags
tory burch outlet
true religion sale
cheap jerseys wholesale
imitation watches
air max 90
celine handbags
louis vuitton outlet
louis vuitton
louis vuitton outlet
longchamp le pliage
www.louisvuitton.com
retro 11
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet

ralph lauren
cheap oakleys
louis vuitton handbags
louis vuitton
michael kors outlet
soccer jerseys
oakley sunglasses
louboutin

true religion
louis vuitton outlet
coach outlet
michael kors outlet
polo outlet
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors outlet online
hollister
jordan pas cher femme
coach outlet
oakley sunglasses
ray ban sunglasses outlet
christian louboutin outlet
cheap chi straighteners

11:05 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

nike outlet, polo outlet, louis vuitton outlet, longchamp outlet, prada outlet, michael kors outlet, nike free, tory burch outlet, michael kors outlet store, uggs outlet, christian louboutin outlet, jordan shoes, oakley sunglasses wholesale, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, nike air max, longchamp outlet, michael kors outlet online, michael kors outlet, prada handbags, polo ralph lauren outlet online, louis vuitton outlet, longchamp outlet, christian louboutin, burberry outlet, louis vuitton outlet, ugg boots, gucci handbags, nike air max, michael kors outlet online, louis vuitton, tiffany and co, louis vuitton, christian louboutin shoes, uggs on sale, replica watches, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, ugg boots, replica watches, christian louboutin uk, burberry handbags, michael kors outlet online, tiffany jewelry, uggs outlet

11:16 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

coach outlet, sac hermes, nike tn, louboutin pas cher, jordan pas cher, new balance, sac longchamp pas cher, true religion outlet, hogan outlet, michael kors pas cher, hollister pas cher, air max, nike roshe, longchamp pas cher, timberland pas cher, hollister uk, burberry pas cher, coach outlet, lululemon canada, nike blazer pas cher, true religion outlet, polo lacoste, ray ban pas cher, coach outlet store online, north face, michael kors outlet, nike air max, guess pas cher, kate spade, chanel handbags, ray ban uk, nike free run, kate spade outlet, true religion outlet, oakley pas cher, true religion jeans, north face uk, sac vanessa bruno, michael kors, converse pas cher, nike air force, coach purses, michael kors, vans pas cher, polo ralph lauren

11:21 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

polo lacoste, sac vanessa bruno, ray ban pas cher, hollister pas cher, nike free run, nike air force, michael kors, north face, hogan outlet, coach purses, oakley pas cher, new balance, sac longchamp pas cher, nike air max, coach outlet, true religion jeans, chanel handbags, north face uk, polo ralph lauren, kate spade, longchamp pas cher, michael kors, coach outlet, timberland pas cher, nike blazer pas cher, burberry pas cher, true religion outlet, louboutin pas cher, nike tn, nike roshe, sac hermes, air max, lululemon canada, jordan pas cher, guess pas cher, vans pas cher, true religion outlet, converse pas cher, true religion outlet, kate spade outlet, michael kors outlet, ray ban uk, coach outlet store online, michael kors pas cher, hollister uk

11:28 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

hollister, louis vuitton, montre pas cher, pandora jewelry, links of london, louis vuitton, thomas sabo, lancel, louis vuitton, coach outlet, louboutin, hollister, replica watches, nike air max, converse, vans, doke gabbana, michael kors outlet, ugg, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, supra shoes, pandora jewelry, louis vuitton, pandora uk, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, ralph lauren, swarovski crystal, swarovski, karen millen uk, juicy couture outlet, oakley, ray ban, converse outlet, ugg pas cher, louis vuitton, michael kors outlet online, gucci, michael kors handbags, ugg uk, iphone 6 cases, juicy couture outlet, timberland boots, pandora charms, wedding dresses, toms shoes, marc jacobs

11:34 PM  
Blogger 林磊 said...

2015-10-7leilei
Lerbron James Shoes For Sale
michael kors uk
louis vuitton outlet online
Michael Kors Handbags Outlet
Abercrombie and Fitch Outlet
Christian Louboutin Outlet Authentic sneakers
Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet
coach outlet
ray-ban sunglasses,ray ban sunglasses,ray bans,rayban,ray ban wayfarer,raybans,ray ban glasses,ray ban aviators,ray ban clubmaster,ray ban eyeglasses,cheap ray bans,ray bans sunglasses,ray ban aviator,ray bands,fake ray bans,ray ban prescription glasses,ray ban outlet,ray ban canada,ray ban sunglasses sale,ray ban sale
michael kors uk
ugg boots sale
nike trainers
Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet Stores
louis vuitton handbags
uggs sale
cheap ugg boots
canada goose jackets
Ralph Lauren UK
hollister uk sale
Hollister Cheap Hollister Clothing Outlet Store
Mont Blanc Pens
Louis Vuitton Handbags Discount
michael kors outlet
ugg outlet
Coach Outlet Discount Sale

2:09 AM  
Blogger mmjiaxin said...

canada goose jackets
swarovski crystal
michael kors online outlet
kobe shoes
kate spade uk outlet
canada goose jackets
hermes outlet store
prada outlet
cleveland cavaliers
kate spade outlet
giuseppe zanotti outlet
michael kors canada
michael kors outlet sale
ferragamo outlet
ugg boots outlet,ugg outlet
belstaff outlet
ysl outlet
ugg outlet
coach outlet online
nfl jerseys
mm1214

1:19 AM  
Blogger Wesley yuniarty said...

jual apartemen jual apartemen jual apartemen apartemen murah apartemen jakarta sewa apartemen louisville apartemen dijual harga apartemen sewa apartemen sewa apartemen sewa apartemen sewa apartemen apartemen dijual apartemen moi cari apartemen jual rumah sewa apartemen pavilion apartemen jakarta harga apartemen

5:39 AM  
Blogger Hal taqim said...

tanah bintaro rumah di jual daerah bintaro jual rumah di bintaro rumah disewakan di bintaro sektor 2 bintaro sektor 4 rumah dijual puri bintaro rumah123 bintaro bintaro tangerang rumah kontrakan murah rumah dijual bintaro jaya sektor 9 bintaro sektor 9 rumah dijual daerah bintaro rumah dijual di graha bintaro dijual rumah di bintaro jaya rumah daerah bintaro dijual rumah bintaro sektor 2 jual rumah gading serpong sektor dijual rumah nusa loka bsd harga rumah di icon bsd city rumah dijual di gading serpong sektor

5:26 AM  
Blogger Wesley yuniarty said...

Supplier Baju Kosmetik Untuk Wajah Rumah Dijual Di Griya Loka Rumah Dijual Di Del Jasa Kontraktor Rumah Pemutih Kulit Secara Alami Tas Kantor Jual Rumah Bsd Game Truk Gandeng Tas Tas Batam Baju Murah Bandung Dijual Rumah Bsd Branded Tas Batu Merah Hati Rumah Second Di Alam Sutra Tas Branded Murah Harga Tanah Nusa Loka Harga Pintu Besi Pasir Putih Depok Gambar Interior Rumah Minimali

4:10 AM  
Blogger Lexie riezky said...

Rumah Dijual Bsd City Fashion Wanita Jual Rumah De Latin Grosir Tas Kw Krim Pemutih Racikan Rumah Dijual Griya Toko Grosir Tas Mur Sewa Rumah Gading Serpong Pemutih Kulit Cepat Jual Rumah Murah Di Tas Dan Dompet Online Baju Murah Tas Murah Model Tas Baru Tas Grosir Import Import Tas Korea Fashion Disewakan Rumah Di Pemutih Kulit Cepat Toko Tas Grosir

2:42 AM  
Blogger Vicente wiko said...

Desain Interior Kamar Harga Pipa Daftar Harga Rumah Pengadaan Barang Dan Jasa Tas Import Grosir Desain Interior Ruang Tamu Krim Pemutih Racika Shopping Online Toko Murah Teralis Jendela Harga Rumah Alam Sutera Genteng Cisangkan Harga Paving Fashion Grosir Interior Ruang Tamu Rumah Mini Belanja Tas Lelang Rumah Tas Grosir Harga Sewa Rumah Al Jual Rumah Di Griya

8:43 PM  
Blogger Jayna firman said...

Shopping Online Kanopi Rumah Desain Rumah Toko Jual Rumah Bsd Gading Baju Import Murah Baju Grosir Korea Tas Branded Murah Toko Murah Online Rumah Baru Bsd City Besi Cor Atap Genteng Genteng Mutiara Pintu Teralis Instalasi Listrik Rumah Sederh Games Truk Gandeng Branded Tas Harga Tanah Di Fore Harga Sewa Rumah Di Reseller Tas Model Rumah Mewah

8:29 PM  
Blogger نور القمر said...


تعد الاخلاص افضل شركة تنظيف ومكافحة حشرات بالطائف فهى تقدم افضل الخدمات وباقل الاسعار لانها تتميز بانها افضل :
شركة رش مبيدات بالطائف
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالطائف
شركة تنظيف خزانات بالطائف
شركة تنظيف بالطائف
شركة تسليك مجاري بالطائف

6:33 PM  
Blogger نور القمر said...

شركة اتقان الرياض للديكور

يعد الديكور من اهم عناصر جمال المنزل ورونقه نقدم افضل ديكورات ودهانات بافضل الدهانات العالمية العالية الجودة ونتميز بتقديم احدث تصميمات الديكور العالمية التى تعمل على جعل منزلك انيقا فخما ومريحا عمليا بالاضافة الى خدمات تنظيف السجاد وتنظيف الموكيت وتنظيف الكنب بجميع انواعه
نتميز باننا الافضل والاعلى جودة ولكن اسعارنا في متناول الجميع
مقاول دهانات بالرياض
تركيب جبس بورد بالرياض
شركة ديكورات وتشطيبات بالرياض
تشطيب فلل بالرياض
تشطيب شقق بالرياض
فني تركيب ورق جدران بالرياض
افضل شركة غسيل كنب بالرياض
افضل شركة تنظيف موكيت بالرياض
شركة رش مبيدات بالباحه
شركة تنظيف منازل بالباحة

6:34 PM  
Blogger Mie Helal said...




I really like all the points you have made
https://decor-ksa.com
http://mchaabaty.com/dawadmi/
http://mchaabaty.com/templates/
http://mchaabaty.com/riyadh/
http://mchaabaty.com/stone/

4:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home