Peake, Charles / James Joyce, the citizen and the artist
Chapter 5: Ulysses: the moral vision, pp. 322-340 PDF (12.9 MB)
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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