Lamarque on Artistic Value

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Lamarque's "Tragedy and Moral Value". 
My personal comments are in red.

The essay is an alternative to Gaut's ethicism. The focus is on tragic narratives, such as King Lear.

The key to the essay is the idea of a distinction between three dimensions of a literary narrative. Each can be evaluated.

  • There is a fictive dimension.
    The story is not intended to be taken as true. It is meant to engage the imagination.

  • There is a literary dimension.
    It has aesthetic value as an arrangement of words in a language. Typically, literary works have themes, and we evaluate how the writer uses and elaborates upon a theme. (E.g., the theme of light vs. dark in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.)

  • There is a moral dimension.

How does the third relate to the others?

The fictive dimension is value-neutral: it has no special relationship to questions of value.

A literary theme is often a moral theme. HOWEVER, to employ a moral theme is not the same as endorsing a moral rule or principle. As a literary component, it should be evaluated for its utility in giving unity to the literary work.

THESIS: The work's moral dimension cannot be reduced to the other two dimensions.

Moving beyond a moral theme's "literary" value:

  • The work can be morally good for contributing ideas to moral understanding (including philosophy).

  • The work can provide evidence in favor of, or clarification of,  a moral rule. It does so by illustrating it.

The fictive dimension is essentially an INTERNAL PERSPECTIVE. The reader is "in" the work, following the story. The people "in" the story are viewed as if real people. We feel for them. Example: In King Lear, we regret Cordelia's death.

The literary dimension invites an EXTERNAL PERSPECTIVE, which is aware of the work as a "mode of representation," as a constructed thing that represents people and their interaction. From THIS perspective, Cordelia's death is a good and desirable move in the plot construction, and in the elaboration of the principal theme.

From the two perspectives, the same element of the work can have opposite value.

Since the structure guides the imaginative response, and responding with understanding treats the utterances of characters as more than just the speech of the imagined people. (You can't take it all at face value!)

The fictive dimension appears different to those who see it in light of its construction as part of the larger literary work. (E.g., is it ironic?)

SO, the moral dimension is not there solely in the fictive dimension. What is there is only there because we also have an external perspective.

                        Last updated April 11, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk