N.O. Ting: Substance abuse, morbid rumination, criminal disloyalty in friendship, political cynicism, social alienation, dog-like sexual promiscuity, chronic mental illness, obsessive/compulsive engagement in "original" artistic creation--do these fools Sade, Burroughs, Genet, Bataille have anything more in their kitbag or does this short and scabrous list exhaust the possibilities?
Let us not forget the view of the eighteenth century's Samuel Johnson, originator of the dictionary
(and the first to introduce the idea of showing usage of the word being defined in a sentence), as to what constitutes the appropriate subject matter of fiction:
"In narratives . . . I cannot discover why there should not be exhibited the most perfect idea of virtue; of virtue not angelical, nor above probability, for what we cannot credit we shall never imitate, but the highest and purest humanity can reach, which, exercised in such trials as the various revolutions of things shall bring upon it, may, by conquering some calamities, and enduring others, teach us what we may hope, and what we can perform.
"Vice, for vice is necessary to be shown, should always disgust; nor should the graces of gaiety, or the dignity of courage, be so united with it, as to reconcile it to the mind. Wherever it appears, it should raise hatred by the malignity of its practices, and contempt by the meanness of its stratagems . . . . It is therefore to be steadily inculcated that virtue is the highest proof of understanding, and the only solid basis of greatness; and that vice is the natural consequence of narrow thoughts, that it begins in mistake, and ends in ignominy."
An outstanding example of virtue in action is presented in William Owens' memoir This Stubborn Soil.
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