Fall 1983 • Vol. V No. 4 Nonfiction |

Morality, Poetry, and Criticism

Despite the common recognition in recent years that literary criticism is in some significant ways a philosophical inquiry, discussion of literature and morality make most contemporary critics squirm in their chairs. The largely dismissive response that greeted John Gardner's On Moral Fiction when it came out in 1978 was a notable example of this unease. If fiction can be reputably described as moral or immoral, one fear goes, less reputable forces, from Stalinism to fundamentalism, may use these descriptions for purposes that few literary critics would approve. The group that calls itself the Moral Majority, as one distinguished critic recently reminded us, is not noted for the catholicity of its tastes.1 Since moral can easily mean narrow, bigoted, intolerant, let us see that the word and concept remain banished from the vocabulary of reputable criticism. So runs one train of thought. There are other reasons for the reluctance of most critics in the last forty years to engage

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The Ram’s Story

By Christopher Clausen

Despite the common recognition in recent years that literary criticism is in some significant ways a philosophical inquiry, discussion of literature and morality make most contemporary critics squirm in their […]

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