LITERATURE AND MORALITY

MA English Part 2 Notes Essay | LITERATURE AND MORALITY

The word “art: is basically derived from a Latin word “ars” which means skill. Art has now come to be used of skill in the exercise of a trade or profession. We speak of the art of healing, the art of shipbuilding and the art of music. To put it briefly, art means practice and production.

Firstly, we will take up the relation of art with Morality. The end of art, is not to preach but to give aesthetic pleasure. There is the other side of the picture, which is based upon the concept of morality. By morality in art we do not mean a system of metaphysics. In the artist’s religion, we find no doctrine or injunction. Art helps to inspire us with motives, not argue and discuss. He simply reveals the facts and exalts them by this magnetic ago. Further, morality in art is different from dogmatic religion. In dogmatic religion, all questions are directly answered and all doubles are endeavored to be removed. The term morality in art does not count didacticism. The artist is not a philosopher, a teacher, a preacher in the real sense of the word. In fact he is a creator, a revealers, and an exhibitor. He has the creative bent of mind, which can approach truth through its joy in creative effort. In other words, the artist does not force the reader to a particular dogma. The reader may accept his cult by the spell of his personality which indirectly conveys the deepest and the profoundest thought of humanity. But the artist is not like an escapist to shirk humanity. He repeats; he arranges and he clarifies the lesson of life. He disengages us from our experiences and show us the rich realities of life to lead us to the path of eternity. According to Stevenson, a piece of art is “not as we can see it for ourselves but with a singular change that monstrous consuming ego of ours, being, for the none, struck out.” In other words the artist’s morality is not ready made. Chesterton feels that the bad fable has a moral, while the good fable is moral. In this manner, we can differentiate between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Popes Essay on Man. While the former is moral, the latter has a moral. It is now quite apparent that morality in art does not imply a systematized metaphysics or logic or dogmatic religion of didacticism. On the other hand, morality in art has an intimate knowledge of life and the divine essence permeates apiece of art trough and trough. A real artist does not remain on this world but he conveys us the “recognition of the excellent and the heart to give it expression.” According to Routh, the artist has the perfect intimations of how things and people ought to grow and develop, can see the perfect design m the imperfect realization and by light of this inward, conception, can complete the unfulfilled plan in his pictures, poems and statues.

Morality in art means an insight into the reality, into the mystery of life and into the divine essence. The artist must hold us steady to the truth of life, until we have made it our own. “Our chains should break, we should mount above the clouds of opaque airs in which we live opaque, though they seem transparent and from the heaven of truth as Emerson would say, we shall see the world. The chief value of his art is to enhance the great and constant fact of life. Through his better perception, stands one step nearer things and turns the world to glass, and shows us all things in the right proportion. Thus, though his morality originates from his being, yet it transcendent his being; originates in his mind, yet it grows beyond his mind, and which while occupying his present, overflows its banks of the past and future. And it is in this sense that all great art is moral and all great artist are moralists. And it is in this sense that Goethe, Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Milton, Virgil, Wordsworths, Tolstoy are moralists.” Shakespeare is a dramatist through and through. Apparently he is not a moralist. But his dramatic touches here and there express the subtlest views of life. His greatness lies in the fact that he is always climbing. From the plane of preaching of that to art; and does not pin us to dogmas but reveals the whole truth of life. His influence is profound and silent, like the influence of Nature; he moulds us by contact; we drink him up like water and are bettered; and yet know not how. His morality is as wide as life itself; and he baffles us even as life does; others abide our question, thou art free.”

“Those who insist on non-moral character of art might say that when Milton was labouring hard in the throes of pain in search of his “great argument,” he was wasting his time, But Milton wrote paradise Lost in old age, in solitude, in neglect and in blindness because he was fired with deepest charity to infuse good things into others.” And are we not the better for his great argument; are not all men fortified by the remembrance of the bravery, the purity, the temperance, the toil and the angelic devotion of this man; who endeavoured in his writings, and in his life to carry the life of man to new heights of spiritual grace and dignity. Milton was so careful about the moral content of art that he said,  “he who would aspire to write well hereafter in laudable things out himself to be a true poet.” Not only this, he went a step further, “He tells us in a Latin poem, that the lyrist may indulge in wine and in a freer life, but he who would write an epic to the nations, must eat beans and drink water. And is this not a fact that humanity has adjudged Milton great; because his art is moral and in him “humanity rights itself.” Gothe is likewise moral; he always tells us how to preserve our spiritual identity, amidst a flux of impressions how to extract a sense of reality out of the changing surface of appearance (examples can be multiplied).

Various critics have discovered the moral values of art. The function of literature is to import pleasure as well as instruction. The great Greek critic Aristotle has interpreted the term imitation as an aesthetic value of art. The artist may imitate things as they ought to be. There should be no literal transcript of the word of reality. The art emerges from artist’s mental processes, spiritual movements and outward acts issuing from deeper sources. In other words, art constitutes, the inward and essential activity of the soul. The whole universe is not conceived of the raw material of art. Aristotle’s theory is in conformity with the practice of the Greek poets and artists of the period. The external world is based upon the background of internal action and an emotional element into man’s life. If we keep in view this idea imitative art in the highest is in is highest form, namely poetry, is an expression of the universal element in human life. If we keep in view this idea, fine art eliminates what is transient and particular and reveals the permanent and essential features of the original. It discovers the form towards which an object tends, the result which nature strives to attain. Beneath the individual, it finds the universal. It passes beyond the bare reality given by Nature and expresses a purified form of reality. Thus, art in imitating the universal, imitates the ideal. A work of art is an idealized representation of human life i.e., of character, emotion action. According to Aristotle, the characters portrayed by epic and tragic poetry, have their bases in moral goodness, but the goodness is of the heroic order. It is quite distinct from plain uninspiring virtue. It has nothing common or mean in it. Whatever be the moral imperfection in the characters, they are such as impress our imagination, and arouse the sense of grandeur. In other words, we are lifted above the reality of daily life. Shakespeare’s four great heroes, Macbeth, Hamlet, tear and Othello are universal figures who at once exalt and elevate us.

Sidney a great critic of Elizabethan age, wrote a well-known treatise Apology of Poetry, which contains the theory of poetry. According to daiches:

“Sidney is not really concerned to prove that poetry imitates anything. Its glory is that it is the only one of the arts that does no imitate, but creates. He almost proceeds to develop a theory, of ideal imitation. According to him, the poet imitates not the mere appearance of actuality but also the hidden reality behind it, and stops short as this is to maintain the more native theory that the poet creates a better world than the one we actually live in. He does not however rest content with a mere escapist position. The function of imaginative literature is not be provide us with an escape world in which our imagination can seek consolation for the difficulties and imperfections of real life. It is true that this view of literature as simple escape is often held and that the great majority of ordinary readers of popular magazine stories today have some such view of the function of fiction. For Sidney, this would be a far from adequate defence of poetry and would certainly leveled by the puritans, While explaining the greatness of Horace, the Roman poet, Sidney goes on to say that the poet delights and teaches. The poet teaches by representing an ideal world for the imitation of the reader. But if the poet’s world is a perfect world his all rivers are pleasant, all trees fruitful, all lovers faithful and all friends constant.”

Dryden, a great critic of the Restoration period, has also maintained that art is meant for the delight and instruction of mankind. The delight comes from recognizing in fictional characters and fundamental psychological truths. While the instruction is not the moral instruction but instruction in the facts of human nature. The reader is instructed in psychology through facts. For why should we restrict the term instruction to mean only moral instruction. There can be any kind of instruction. We send children to school to be instructed in arithmetic, without an expectation that their sums will make them morally better. So, could we not argue that Dryden is here pleading for a lively psychological realism on the ground that it gives pleasure and at the same time provides instruction in human psychology.

Mathew Arnold, the recognized critic of the Victorian era, interpreted literature in terms of moral values. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete. Most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Poetry has the same moral value as it had for Wordsworth. According to Arnold, as it was to Wordsworth, poetry is the breath and spirit of all knowledge, the impassioned expression of what is in the countenance of all science. Literature and especially poetry, is a criticism of life. The greatness of a poet lies in the powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life. It enables us to answer the questions how to live. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas is poetry of revolt against life. In other words, a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life. But in poetry, however, the criticism of life has to be made in conformity to the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. It is by knowing and feeling the work of those poets that we learn to recognize the fulfillment of such condition. According to Mathew Arnold, poetry interprets in two ways. It interprets by expressing with inspired conviction, the ideas and laws of the inward world of man’s moral and spiritual natural. In other words, poetry is interpretative by having natural magic in it and by having moral profundity. In order to achieve this, the poet must aim at what Aristotle calls as high and excellent seriousness.

The modern critic T.S. Eliot has also stress on the multifarious activities of art or literature. For example the great critic has probed into the deeper meaning of poetry. While poetry may be written in a direct relationship to some coherent, traditional system of thought, its primary purpose is not to inculcate acceptance of that system. Poetry requires a background of myth to provide common ground between artist and audience. This it may seek even by appeal to the recesses of racial. Memory. Collective memory has its foundations in instructive human responses to the seasonal cycle, the primary symbols of death and rebirth. The most primitive religious people not only sought from their gods satisfaction of their material needs alone, but also believed that their own death ensured new spiritual life. Living close to the earth, through the material reward they did expect, so in western civilization the primitive instinct find their most spiritual embodiment in Christianity. Christain reaching promises no earthly reward, and to live by it, demands the exercise of faith, for it is not a system fabricated by human beings to answer pleasingly their non instinctive responses. Poetry, takes Christianity as its background not to formulate a morality, but because its is one of the ways by which the questions, with which poetry concerns itself, the repeated attempts of mankind to perceive order in the material scene, may be related to something bend the material. This is why, while poetry is not religion, it is not unconnected with religion.

The concept of “art for art sake” was supported in the end of 19th, century. During the last fifty years, the view that values of art are unique and are capable of being considered in isolation from all others, that form and content, subject and handing are two distinct and separate things has held sway even among some critics of importance. Partly the theory of “art for art sake” may be due to the influence of Whistler and Peter and as reaction against Ruskin. Partly it may be due to the influence of French and German critics upon the English mind. Almost from the beginning of scientific aesthetics the insistence upon the aesthetic experience as an experience peculiar, complete and capable of being studied in isolation has received prominence.

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