Friday, September 14, 2012

Quote of the Day (John Gardner, on Art and Values)

"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."—John Gardner, On Moral Fiction (1979)

The American novelist, essayist, critic, and academic John Gardner died at age 49, in a motorcycle accident not far from his home in Susquehanna County, Pa., on this date in 1982. He had won a degree of acclaim beforehand with novels such as Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues and Nickel Mountain, but nothing seemed to raise people’s hackles more in his career than his full-throated assault on much of the contemporary literary scene in On Moral Fiction.

Gardner desperately needed the values--including "moral courage"--that he extolled in this cultural critique. His fatal accident, reckless and unnecessary, probably resulted, as much as anything else, from lifelong guilt for having caused the accidental death of a brother in childhood. 

For a reconsideration of the controversial author’s career and life, see this Washington Post essay by David Stanton.

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