Accueil > littérature > De la morale en littérature

De la morale en littérature

L’extrait de Matzneff que j’ai cité dans le billet précédent m’a fait penser au lien entre art et morale. La morale a-t-elle partie liée avec la littérature? Ou tout est-il permis dans un livre? Un de mes auteurs préférés, Anthony Burgess, a depuis longtemps donné sa réponse: la littérature est bien supérieure à la morale. Alors pour me faire plaisir, je livre ici l’incipit de The Kingdom of the Wicked. Appréciez.

« I take my title from the name the Jews have traditionally given to the Roman Empire. You may expect to meet all manner of wickedness in what follows – pork-eating, lechery, adultery, bigamy, sodomy, bestiality, the most ingenious varieties of cruelty, assassination, the worship of false gods and the sin of being uncircumcised. So you may lick your lips in anticipation of being, as it were, vicariously corrupted at the hands of your author. It is all too possible that the practice of literature is a mode of depravity rightly to be condemned. But, as it is well known, literature ceases to be literature when it commits itself to moral uplift; it becomes moral philosophy or some such dull thing. Let us then, in the interest of allaying the boredom of this our life, agree to our complementary damnations. My damnation is, of course, greater than yours, since I am the initiator and you are merely the receptor of evil recordings. Moreover, you may throw this book into the fire if your disgust becomes too great; I am committed to writing it. Take another cup of wine and accept that we human beings are a bad lot.

The Kingdom of the Wicked, Anthony Burgess
The Kingdom of the Wicked, Anthony Burgess

My father was Azor the son of Sadoc, and I am Sadoc the son of, necessarily, Azor. In our family there has always been a feeble alternation of names, grandfather tossing the ball to grandson, and the custom goes back to time’s mists. Looking like want of imagination, it probably has more to do with ancient spells, taboos, threats, conditions of inheritance, pacts with gods. I have no legitimate sons, nor have I much respect for tradition, but, were I to be a wave of the onflowing family river and not its ultimate dam, I would feel a certain superstitious fear about breaking the binary heritage. Names in our family, anyway, have always been the dull meat which we have left to others to sauce with sobriquets. My short fat father, in many ways the unluckiest man alive, was called Psilos, tall, Leptos, thin, and, which means primarily fortunate, Makarios. I have been nicknamed in my time Megas, big, and Onigros, donkey, both in reference to an endowment it would be unseemly to specify here. Having spent much of my life as a shipping clerk, headachy with manifests, squinty with the damnable green sea our wicked stepmother beyond the godowns, my spare time consumed in the, alas, overly promiscuous exploitation of the endowment and another activity, more of a passivity, which earned me the nickname of Dipsa, I have come, my yapping pack of diseases in a tow, to retire far inland. I live in a rundown villa on an upland over a lake in the province of Helvetia, where the agencies of Domitian’s bad version of empire leave me alone, save for an annual visit from the tax collector. For him I must convert one of my sheep or goats to sesterces and slaughter another one for his entertainment. »

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