Suspending Moral Judgement

Suspending moral judgement is not the immorality of the novel; it is its morality. The morality that stands against the ineradicable human habit of judging instantly, ceaselessly, and everyone; of judging before, and in the absence of, understanding. From the viewpoint of the novel’s wisdom, that fervid readiness to judge is the most detestable stupidity, the most pernicious evil. Not that the novelist utterly denies that moral judgment is legitimate, but that he refuses it a place in the novel. If you like, you can accuse Panurge of cowardice, accuse Emma Bovary, accuse Rastignac – that’s your business; the novelist has nothing to do with it.

Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts. trans Linda Asher. Faber and Faber, 1995 (1993).

Whether we can ever come to a novel completely free of moral values is arguable, but it must be desirable that the attempt to suspend beliefs and values is in a reader’s interest if literature is to have the potential to change us.

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