Separating the art from the artist

Emily Rutherford on Orson Scott Card:

Friends sometimes tell me I’m being immature and short-sighted, arguing that I should be able to enjoy an author’s fiction even if I disagree with his or her politics. But there’s something that rankles with me about supporting this guy at all, whether by buying his books or merely condoning them.

What do you think? Are Card’s books in fact “safe” reading for our liberally indoctrinated children, and is it PC to like them regardless of his repugnant views?

This is a pretty easy one: As a parent, I’d much rather spend my time trying to provide my children with the critical thinking skills to draw their own conclusions, rather than agonize over whether or not what my children read for entertainment will conflict with the strict liberal dogma I’m force-feeding them. Educating your kids about why you believe in progressive values is one thing, but baptizing your kids into the hermetically-sealed church of liberalism is no way to produce sentient, functioning members of society.

More to the point though, the fact that Card holds repugnant views shouldn’t hinder anyone’s enjoyment of his work. That’s kind of a limited prism through which to view literature, particularly since some of the greatest authors in human history have been real bastards. Are we going to deprive ourselves of Norman Mailer’s work because he was a misogynist? Are we going to throw away The Great Gatsby because of the crude, anti-Semitic stereotype within? Should we put Harlan Ellison back on the shelf because he’s kind of a dick?

Alright, so Card’s no Fitzgerald – he’s not a great author, but he is, or at least was, a good one. The same rule applies. The things these authors write, or at least the things they write that last, are bigger than them – they tap into basic and essential truths that maybe the authors themselves are only dimly aware of. Sometimes the works that last actually refute their creators’ prejudices, without them ever realizing it, and I think that’s the case with Card’s better work. Authorial intent be damned – once you send a piece of writing out into the world, it doesn’t belong to you any more, and if you’re a half-decent storyteller, then what you wrote transcends your petty little hatreds and insecurities, whether you like it or not. Sure, the human failings of writers are still present in their work, but I like to think that acknowledging those failings, as long as they don’t dominate an author’s work, should give us a greater appreciation for the fact that a flawed human being can create something that, on balance, is truly good.


2 Responses

  1. You know, one of the things I find a little troubling about our side of the aisle is our willingness to engage in this sort of aesthetic Stalinism; shunning pieces of art, literature etc. because of the political beliefs of their creators. It’s flared up a few times this year, especially after GTA IV was released, and each time, I’ve been really disappointed.

    Of course, you’ll probably find the same thing (except orders of magnitude worse) on the right, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. But still.

  2. Yeah, I think it’s the kind of thing you’ll find in any kind of ideology or belief system. It’s just weird when it happens to a group of people whose philosophy is supposed to uphold intellectual pluralism as a virtue.

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