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Peake, Charles / James Joyce, the citizen and the artist
(1977)

Chapter 5: Ulysses: the moral vision,   pp. 322-340 PDF (12.9 MB)


Page 322

Chapter 5 Ulysses: the moral vision 
Moral vision has nothing to do with visions, religious, mystical, prophetic
or otherwise transcendental; it refers to an artist's characteristic ways
of seeing and presenting life, as distinguished from any moral ideas, attitudes,
beliefs or faiths to which he may adhere and which he may seek to express
in his work. Such ideas and attitudes — religious or humanist, spiritual
or materialist, social or personal, optimistic or pessimistic, life-celebrating
or life-decrying — may be, in part, a product of his moral vision,
may provide a vocabulary for expressing it, and cannot be ignored in critical
discussion of his work: but they do not constitute the work's moral value,
and frequently mark the limits of the author's vision. With ideas and attitudes
we can agree or disagree: to a way of seeing, agreement or disagreement is
irrelevant. Even the greatest artists can illuminate only a small area of
human experience, and artists whom we regard as sick, mad or advocates of
evil can nevertheless light up something in us which more congenial artists
fail to do. There is nothing inconsistent about preferring the moral attitudes
of Joyce Cary to those of Wyndham Lewis, while regarding Lewis's moral vision
as far keener; or in rejecting the moral doctrines of The Pilgrim's Progress,
while responding to Bunyan's moral vision. As far as art is concerned, what
matters is the quality of the vision, not the acceptability of the ideas
and attitudes associated with it, often quite arbitrarily.' 
 Differentiation between and evaluation of the moral visions implicit in
literature depend on the degree of penetration into human experience, on
the range of experience into which the author has insight, and on the coherence
of the vision within its own range. The penetration is not necessarily a
matter of probing psychological depths; it can be equally evident in the
grasp of superficial social behaviour. Range may refer to the different kinds
of experience explored and presented, but refers more importantly to the
centrality of the experience; Jane Austen is a case in point. Coherence is
not merely consistency; it is more apparent in a work which struggles with
the contradictions and incompatibilities of experience 
 1 Anthony Cronin makes a similar distinction: ' To speak of the quality
of a man's vision is not to speak of the worth of his mere, paraphrasable
opinions abou thistory or religion or our place in the cosmos: an ideology
which could be discovered and exclaimed over like that of any other fashionable
sage' (A Question of Modernity (London, Secker and Warburg 1966), 69—70).


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