Stories shape what we see the world and how we value it
Ok G.M. I'm hooked (yes, that means I will try a novel or two of yours). Though this piece immediately brought to mind Conrad's "Preface," you retained your focus on promoting a type of fiction that you want to see created and read. It is interesting writing and well done! I have one thing that I would like you to clear up for me: the first time I encountered the phrase "moral-weight," the story in my brain shouted "importance!" After that, every time I saw the phrase, I was seeing my own yellow phone case: "importance." You obviously chose the phrase carefully. What does it add? (If you answer "moral weight" I'll be laughing my friend).
Thanks for another meaty read, Mark. Not convinced by ‘contemplative realism’. I think the quandary/conversation is about what actually counts as real. Stories present visions and it’s hard to judge just how popular a countercultural vision is going to be. I’m personally more concerned with trying to reveal what cannot be seen by what can (as per Flannery) - I think there’s still miles to go in unpacking this.
The whole "contemplative realism" thing made me think of a book sample I tried reading years ago (I can't remember the title) where the author took multiple pages to recount walking a path through a hedgerow and described each leaf, insect, bird, pebble, dapple of sunshine, and every imaginable emotional and physical sensation associated with the above to the point of ridiculousness. There was a self-indulgence to it that I found really tiresome and, frankly, unrealistic. There is such a thing as too much "seeing."
You make a convincing argument with regard to moral weight and selective attention. I've thought something similar about my own writing choices for a while now. Why I choose to focus on certain topics, themes, characters, or details while excluding others is a bit of a mystery, but it's something I've chosen not to fight because I assume it's part of my "vision" (for lack of a better word, though that sounds pretentious... ;-) It's much the same as painting in oils. I can't depict every detail in a painting; I have to filter for the ones I feel are essential to the image I'm creating, while de-emphasizing others. We're always prioritizing some details over others. It's also largely why I'm drawn to or turned off by other writing, as with the piece referenced above. So there must be an element of moral compatibility about it.
I'm not totally convinced that stories alone can (or should) deliberately "change" culture. There's an effort underway to do just that and it's not doing literature any favors. But there's certainly nothing wrong with writers filtering for their essentials in their work and letting readers decide if they like what they see.