service of material life. Material, togethernwith hygiene, morality, and internationalngood order.” A menu to discourage anynrobust Balzac whose appetite for realityncould not be easily obstructed.nThus most of our writers, young andnthose who were once young, are willynillyncast in the role of Oliver Alden.nThe nation asks nothing of them beyondnentertainment and shock. Hence, butnGardner makes no mention of it, theirnobsession ior facts, descriptions amountingnto facts, the accumulation ofnthousands of extremely subtle observationsnof street scenes, sex games, battlefields,nand neo-genteel behavior; hencenthe vacuousness of their attempts toncapture ordinary feelings and, as Gardnernwould say, to refer to truth, Beatricenbehind Dante. The overall impressionntheir ice cream cones.” To my mind, anworse than apocalyptic sight, not a daredevilnact but a completely misunderstoodnmoment, a nutshell misapprehension ofnlife. The episode, no matter how remotenfrom our writers’ preoccupations, goes anlong way toward illustrating their inabilitynto write “moral fiction.” Gardnernputs it better than I could: “We need tonstop excusing mediocre and downrightnpernicious art, stop ‘taking it for whatnit’s worth’ as we take our fast foods, ournoverpriced cars that are not good, thenoverpriced houses we spend all our livesnfixing, our television programs, ournschools thrown up like barricades in thenway of young minds, our brainless fatnreligions . . . We would not put up withna debauched king, but in a democracy allnof us are kings, and we praise debaucheryn”Gardner is clever about the deficiencies of American novelists but unfairnabout writers whose sense of life is uncomfortably too intense for him.”n— Esquiren”On Moral Fiction is… a loosely connected sequence of repetitive assertionsopinionated,nsincere, tautological, over-ambitious, and ultimately less thannpersuasive.”n—Library Journaln”Because Mr. Gardner’s argument is old-fashioned, it is also very familiar,nperhaps much more so than Mr. Gardner realizes . . . On Moral Fiction . . .nnever gets much past pronouncements and down to the essential tasks. It isnnot. for all its solemnity, a serious book.”n— New York Times Book Reviewn’There’s more table-banging than reason here.’nof this literature is that the trees hide thenforest, that so much happens (for thenreportorial eye) that nothing can be genuinelyndescribed. The skill acquired fromncreative writing classes and workshops,nor with a similar illusoriness, from writersnin college residence, smothers the honestntalent and rises, with a forbidding finger,nbefore the genius. There is a frighteningnpassage in an article by the Anglo-nHungarian writer, George Faludy, describingnthe sinking of an U.S. warshipnin World War Two. “The sailors andntroops jumped into the water still lickingn—Neiv Timesnas pluralism. This book is of course noncondemnation of pluralism; but it is truenthat art is in one sense fascistic: it claims,non good authority, that some things arenhealthy for individuals and society andnsome things are not.”nMinus the silly reference to art beingnfascistic because it claims authority andnmoral health, Gardner in this passagendiagnoses the social-cultural backgroundnof immoral—and untrue—fiction and isndriven implicitly to state that the writernis caught up in the web of his society.nAlas, so is John Gardner. His many.nnnquite remarkable, passages end up bynleaving us cold, exactly as if he were thenprofessor in a creative writing class. Whatnhe writes is mostly true, and the passagesnFquoted might erase all my critical notesnand all his sins. And he needs this advancenabsolution for he will be dragged to thenpillory. Yet, somehow he partakes of thengeneral flatness he documents and denounces,nand gives the impression of anconscientious doctoral candidate who tiesnup the loose ends of a et’s skip over a few passages wherenGardner uses words for which the lastnlegitimate users were Chaucer andnRabelais. In fact, it is not the rare coarsenessnwhich offends in this book, it is, if Inmay use the expression, a lack of juiciness.nI am not acquainted with JohnnGardner’s fiction, my judgment may benunjustly one-sided. But I find in this booknwhose topic and scope may prove morenimportant than the author’s novels, andisproportion between what he writesnand how he writes it—which is, also,nafter all, what literary criticism is about.nI repeat, the book is extremely important,nit ought to cause a metanoia in our literaryncircles. Nobody, for a long time, hasnwritten about the art of fiction as Gardnerndoes: that literature is not just anothernconventional way of self-expression, norna vast psychoanalytic couch, nor thenoccasion for displaying the novelist’snego—but one of the very highest humannpursuits. Precisely: this book ought tonhave been conceived as more than annadditional volume of literary criticism,nit ought to have been turned into a manifesto.nIt should have emerged as a fiercencondemnation, a drawing of battle lines,na call to still honest writers to cross thenlines in our direction. It should havenbecome a basically conservative manifesto,nnot a timid pulling at the writer’snsleeve but a piece of vigorous prose innthe tradition of great pamphletists.nInstead of this, Gardner authored ankind of textbook. The supreme irony isnthat it may be taken up by professors innworkshops of creative writing. DnChronicles of Culturen