This morning's Seven Days
had me crying like a baby. Or perhaps more like me, when I am crying.
has a fascinating discussion
going on over in her LJ. She's linked to this post
in Neil Gaiman's blog on authors and morality. I know I'm not the only one who immediately thought of Orson Scott Card and his stances on, among other things, homosexuality and militancy. I know this because people who are not me mention him in the comments.
Most people seem to agree that the author's views shouldn't have an effect on the appreciation of the work, although a few point out that financially supporting someone who spouts hate by buying their book may
be a morally questionable activity. But I think witchqueen
is right in saying
that she "think[s] Gaiman's questioner missed the really interesting question, which isn't, 'Do you enjoy the good work of people with questionable moral stance?' but, 'Do you enjoy high quality work espousing a morally deplorable view?'"
Having just finished an Ender's Game fanfic
and having inhabited that world for a while, I can say that the novel is deeply problematic in so many ways. (Which doesn't change the fact that I love it deeply. Oh, Valentine
.) The problem isn't just with Card, but with the novel itself. (Although admittedly understanding how Card thinks opens up elements of the novel that weren't obvious before; knowledge about the biographical author influences how we construct the author-function.) And the anti-abortion rhetoric in Shadow Puppets
became so thick I felt like throwing up. Although there it was particularly disgusting because it was clear how he was warping and distorting his characters in order to preach his religious message.
But that's just the thing: we don't notice how problematic Ender's Game
is at first because we read it with our moral perspective firmly in place. Card never comes out and says that what Colonel Graff does is good or bad, right or wrong; we're left free to judge for ourselves. Colonel Graff is just being Colonel Graff. Part of Bernard Shaw's genius is that he was never able to commit himself to the socialist message that he wanted to preach (and did preach in his prologues); his sense of drama and character always forced him to give the devil the best lines. As long as the author is true to their characters, it seems, texts don't really have moral voices, because they don't have morals. There's no clear right or wrong side, simply a sequence of events.
There is always the option of constructing an ironic or satiric author-function (regardless of the historical intent of the actual author) in our reading. I'm able to read Atlas Shrugged
as a call for altruism and socialist healthcare. And anyone who thinks the Bible is unambiguously pro-Christian (or whatever relevant religion applies) simply hasn't read it. As shrewreader says on the second page of comments
: "YMMV: It's not just for driving anymore!"
But still, there is the intuitive notion that these readings are against
the grain, which implies that there is
a grain. At least in this sociohistoric location, my intuition insists that there is something in the text which can strategically pass as an essence. (It's actual ontological nature isn't really the issue.) ( Spoiler for Ender's Game. )
Sure, we can read it as a satire and interpret these conclusions the same way we do ( spoiler for 1984 )
on the last page of Nineteen Eighty-Four
, but is that really just as valid
of a reading. And even if it is, the fact that we can
doesn't disguise the fact that in most cases we don't
and as a radical feminist I privilege praxis
I've often said that I don't think a literary work can be "feminist," in that concerns of character, narrative, etc. inevitably distract from that message and introduces thing which are problematizable from a radical feminist perspective. (But then again, what isn't
problematizable from a radical feminist perspective?) But does that imply that a text can't be anti-feminist, either, because it is always potentially empowering to somebody
? That texts can't be pro-militarism or pro-Nazi, anti-religion or anti-homosexual, that Triumph of the Will
is just as much anti-fascist satire as it is pro-fascist propoganda? That the only that the moral message depends on is the moral commitments of the reader, and not any feature of the text itself? That was the conclusion to which I came in my thesis, but I'm still not completely comfortable with that radical a hermeneutic relativism.
After all, literary texts have the power to persuade and to convert, and it seems a castrated sort of text which could only provide that which one brings to it. (And yet I'm still reminded of Wittgenstein's statement
that the Tractatus
"will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it--or similar thoughts" and can't help wondering if maybe literature works the same way.) And I've already express my distaste with the "YMMV" doctrine when it is indicative of a radical relativism, because I don't think feminism is tenable under those conditions.
This is completely a theoretical question; I've already worked out the practical question ("Am I disempowering others, in this sociohistorical location, through my writing?") here
. But still my intuitions are conflicting, which usually is a sign that something interesting is going on, theoretically.
So what do you think, flist? Can texts speak with moral voices? And if not, how do we respond to them when we see them disempowering people in a specific sociohistoric location?