Diomedes and Aphrodite (Real and Fake Fiction)

Botticelli's Pallas and Centaur, or Reason and Strength

It occurred to me (in a forehead-slapping duh moment) that Nabokov’s consistent hatred of moralizing tales and fables of virtue that carry within them any kind of ethical lesson—his amorality, his Wildesque art for art’s sake—is a morality of its own, in the same silly and contradictory way that everything should be done in moderation—even moderation. This percolation originated from a perusal of some of Samuel Johnson’s essays as well as a very, very brief skimming of some ancient literary exegetical texts, all of which stressed the need for the ideal artist to present the ideal man so that the reader can learn from him and therefore augment and make more wholesome (and dull) his own personality. The self-evident absurdity of this notion seems to have been lost on nearly every commentator who has ever written literary criticism, but thankfully the greatest artists have completely ignored such sophistry, and always manage to deliver human beings in their stories, rather than models of perfect virtue, with strengths as well as weaknesses. Superman is completely uninteresting without his kryptonite, and I remember almost cheering out loud the first time I read the moment when Diomedes manages to stab Aphrodite in the Iliad. The fickle goddess of love has been far better to me lately but in those days she was just as cruel as she usually is and totally deserved it.

Would anyone care for Don Quixote if the knight of the rueful countenance lacked the flaw of an overactive imagination? Would anyone care for Sancho Panza if the man were capable of even the slightest flight of fancy? Could the first great novel exist without character flaws its author might exploit? Does this sort of question even need to be asked?

There is far more to say on this subject, particularly with regard to political activists of any persuasion, who have little interest in the real fiction of Shakespeare and Nabokov, and only really care for the fake fiction that confirms and solidifies the skewed lines of their realities, but there is much more yet to write tonight, so I will leave off here.

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