Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Is Fiction Immoral?

There was discussion recently on the Times and Seasons blog regarding the topic Is Fiction Inherently Immoral? I became aware of the too late to comment there. Therefore I will comment here. A couple of years ago I commented on another blog in response to a question about how fiction could be true. In my response I quoted a statement by the First Presidency of the LDS Church. They wrote: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” I believe great works of literature such as “The Brothers Karamazov” contains “moral truths” and falls within the plain meaning of the First Presidency’s statement.
Indeed the New Testament supports this. Consider the parables of Jesus. I’ve heard no one claim that the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” reports an actual occurrence. It does, however, teach great truths. In much the same manner, “The Brothers Karamazov” teaches great truths although it reports events that did not actually occur.
I think great fiction teaches timeless moral truths. It is not inherently immoral. As long as it is clear that it is fiction and not biography, it is not immoral.

I think the clearest statement explaining the nature of great fiction is by Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book: “In one sense, of course, even the greatest writer cannot communicate his own experiences. They are uniquely his through all eternity. A man can share his knowledge with others, but he cannot share the actual pulsations of his life. Since unique and concrete experience cannot be communicated, the artist does the next best thing. He creates in the reader what he cannot convey. He uses words to produce an experience for the reader to enjoy, an experience which the reader lives through in a manner similar and proportionate to the writer's own. His language so works upon the emotions and imagination of each reader that each in turn suffers an experience he has never had before, even though memories may be evoked in the process. These new experiences, different for each reader according to his own individual nature and memories, are nevertheless alike, because they are all created according to the model--the incommunicable experiences upon which the writer draws. We are like so many instruments for him to play upon, each with its special overtones and resonances, but the music that he plays so differently on each of us follows one and the same score. The score is written into the novel or poem. As we read it, it seems to communicate, but it really creates, an experience. That is the magic of good fiction, which creates imaginatively the similitude of an actual experience.”

I believe the quote is only in the first edition, not in the revised and updated edition. It should be called the gutted edition; all life has been taken out of it. The writing in the first edition is crisp and sparkling. In the other edition it is flat and dull.


Docface/Wilbur said...

Joe! I am glad that you can get to your blog again. I agree with you about fiction. I am glad that it isn't immoral, or I would have to continue to be a sinner and read it anyway!

Joe said...

I have to agree with you. Sometimes fiction embodies greater truth than socalled fact based writing.