The Philosophical, Prurient, and Profane

As I begin to write my second fantasy novel, I find myself thinking about the definition of art in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and one aspect in particular which I agree with. The philosopher describes art as an imitation of reality that helps us understand reality better, even (perhaps, especially) when reality is disagreeable. It attempts to reach past an external thing to represent deeper meaning contained within it – it does not simply copy the object it sees, but fills in gaps, so to speak, to make sense of how that object fits into a larger picture.

Fiction is like that. Characters and places, dialogue and theme, show us a type and shadow of everyday life. However, a fiction author has room – the whole world, in fact – to play around with the circumstances in order to expose the currents of thought and feeling flowing beneath what is outwardly said and done. Plus, since the reader is sufficiently removed from fiction, he is better able to understand those currents than he would be from observing his own day-to-day life.

Anyway, I say all that as a foundation for saying that I don’t always agree with what I portray. As a Christian, I feel the tension (particularly in treatment of sex and profanity) that drives some Christians/writers to become Christian writers – that is, writers who stick to explicitly Christian fiction, that neither expects nor tolerates things like fornication or profanity. However, because these things are part of our world, and because I am a “secular” author, I choose to use them from time to time.

This is not to say that I sanction the pornographic or gratuitous use of either sex or (potentially) offensive language. There is a balance, I believe, between creating a realistically “rough” world and creating rough-toned art. I am also not beyond the idea of secular art without sex or profanity – how can we forget the masterpieces of J.R.R. Tolkien? – though that kind of storytelling lends itself better to particular genres and styles.

What do you think? Does this bring to mind anything you’ve recently read or written? Do you hate what I’ve just said and think it’s bunk, or do you agree? Give me a shout-out, dear reader!

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