Thursday, April 12, 2007

Integrity and Intelligence

At best, integrity and intelligence go hand in hand to ensure against laziness, false analogies, pleaded connections, and sleight of word. Integrity demands of intelligence that it forge true connections on the page. Intelligence calls for integrity for the challenge of it, and from intelligence respect for the audience of literature, and respect for the art of literature itself, and for its capacity to mean. — Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard
No guesswork needed, right? I like what this author has to say, especially in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. But in this book, Living by Fiction, you’ll come across powerful and thoughtful arguments for fiction as a great conveyor of truth. Many may have a problem with fiction. They see in it feigned plot with unreal people saying things that never were said and doing things that were not really done, often in a place that is without map, and time that is never suggested—time unpaced, that is, ten years on one page, an hour in a lengthy chapter. But this is truncated insight. All art is somewhat unreal. To take it further, only the Real is real, and everything else is an attempt at reaching the Real. Art and scholarship may share a common motive on this count: piercing the veils to time-stopping sense of the “purpose of it all.”

As for intelligence and integrity, we need to think about relationships between virtues and how when one is separated from another, the virtue is either lost or severely diluted. The citizens of the modern marketing mind are taught to admire the shrewd, those who have high intelligence and apply it for ungainly profit. We read their books, buy their CD’s, want to learn their secrets—so that we too could be like them. Remember Korah, the Israelite who’s treasure houses required keys heavy enough to employ a band of men to carry. Remember how he was so admired that his folk wished they had the likes of his possessions. Remember when Korah and his home and riches were caused to sink in the earth, and those who admired him the day before were relieved that they had not been in his shoes after all. The obvious lesson is to not exult in one’s possessions. But there’s something else: admiring something is an act, a deed, a weighable work that has an ethical value attached to it. Intelligence requires integrity, just as accomplishment requires humility and gratitude. The modern method of bifurcation is simply bad ethos. Like whole wheat, we'd be better off with whole virtues—a connected package of virtues. (No gluten, too.)


Anonymous Irving said...

Interesting post. One can certainly tell a lot about a person by whom they admire, and for what reason. And then we could also be totally wrong about both, for we do not know the heart of either, or why they do what they do. To God alone is the judgement.

Ya Haqq!

4/14/2007 7:11 AM  
Anonymous Shiraz said...

People who have trouble dealing with fiction... Why? Because it's not "real." I don't know how people can be so rational. Art is a reflection of who we are as people and as cultures. Sadly, there are many people in the world who have no appreciation for the possibilities that art provides. It allows us a certain distance from events while at the same time exploring them deeply. Would we rather live in a world of work, work, work, results, and cold pragmatism all the time? I think not.

4/18/2007 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Maliha said...

I chanced upon this book in used book sale and I bought it becuase I remembered you mentioned it here before (and it was a dollar:) ). I have only read the intro and first chapter so far.

Has she written any fiction? I tried to look it up but it doesn't seem like it. She is really brilliant Mashaallah.

4/19/2007 6:21 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Maliha: A dollar? I like good deals. Well Dillard did / does write fiction (novels). You can check her website out:

4/19/2007 6:10 PM  

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