Kevin Power at The Dublin Review of Books:
‘True art,’ he says, ‘is by its nature moral. We recognise true art by its careful, thoroughly honest search for and analysis of values […] moral art tests values and rouses trustworthy feelings about the better and the worse in human action.’
Moral art is opposed to ‘[t]hat art which tends toward destruction, the art of nihilists, cynics, and merdistes’, which ‘is not properly art at all. Art is essentially serious and beneficial, a game played against chaos and death, against entropy.’ By merdistes, Gardner meant artists who used their art to say that everything was shit. According to On Moral Fiction, this included most of the American novelists who happened to be publishing at the same time as Gardner.
Alfred A Knopf, the firm that published Gardner’s novels, wouldn’t touch On Moral Fiction. It was brought out by Basic Books, which had no novelists on its list. Knopf’s qualms had to do with how Gardner’s polemic went about its business. In other words, Gardner named names.