Category Archives: morality

Writing and morality

If you too are in the business of writing and publishing, you’ll run across at every turn moral injunctions and prohibitions from the editors and publishers as well as the public, whom they represent.

These may not be first-rate editors and publishers; in fact, it’s highly unlikely. But how many run-of-the-mill ideologs are out there whose job it apparently is to confuse good writing with good morals?

Take one little literary magazine’s statement of what they’re looking for:

We seek mysteries and marginalized voices, a sense of shared wonder, inclusive art that asks questions, explores mystery, and works to make visible the marginalized, the overlooked, and those whose voices have been silenced … including LGBTQ+, neurodivergent writers, women and women writers.

Then take Oscar Wilde’s statement on the relation between art and morality (including what we’d call these days politically correct morality):

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. [Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray.]

Image result for oscar wilde
Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900.

We can write about mankind and human morality, or lack of it, in other words. But the choice of subject matter says nothing about the success of the writing, whether we’re talking about homosexual rights or the Holocaust. Does the writer have something new or interesting to say? And a new or interesting way to say it?

Wilde, who for sure did have an interesting way to say what he had to say, goes on: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

Of course, Wilde was an aesthete as well as LGBTQ+ (wherever he might have fit within that spectrum). But his main point is simple: either you’re a good writer or you’re not. You don’t have to be writing about good or preaching good or babbling good. Chances are such babbling, which includes sticking to a prescribed set of socially approved values, and even vocabulary, makes you a bad writer, someone who’s saying the obvious, in an obvious way, who knows what he/she thinks before writing, and for whom nothing new is revealed or discovered in the act of writing.