Review of Iris Murdoch’s The Fire and the Sun

‘Words lead to deeds and we ought not to brutalize our minds by abusing and mocking other people.’ I don’t like making a fool of other people nor their being made fools of but I do use irony a lot and have found people amusing while keeping a straight face. “Are you laughing at me?” Mum asked. “I’m not laughing, Mum.” I certainly don’t abuse other people but one has to be able to defend oneself against abuse or others’ absurdity. A laugh can clear their minds because it makes them see from another perspective. ‘There is something anti-authoritarian about violent laughter,’ and Plato is nothing if not authoritarian and po-faced.

Plato has Socrates say that fields and trees have nothing to teach him. I exclaim at that. Fields maybe but trees?

Okay, a little bit of abuse here. ‘Philosophy is a training for death, when the soul will exist without the body.’ ‘Balls’ I’ve commented. Since the soul is what is life, when the body dies it dies with it. To think otherwise is the wishful thinking of a deflated ego wanting in importance; it’s its form of self-importance. Plato’s excuse is he’s trying to bring the stability of the eternal into the flux of life, so is making out the soul comes from wherever the eternal resides and goes back there on death. That also gives rise to the idea the body is at odds with the soul, corrupting it, when the two are in fact one in the here and now.

‘Writing spoils the direct relationship to truth in the present.’ Okay. When my man composed art from my life then, with my, Mum’s and everybody’s collaboration, it wasn’t written but in duologue form that when decades later it was realised intact from unconscious memory where it was stored and as it was being written, the writing did not spoil the direct relationship to truth in that past present and wasn’t being untrue to the present it was being realised in either. That ‘world rediscovered in anamnesis is the world of, she says Plato says, ‘the Forms’.

The soul, psyche, is equated with mind. Maybe, but not just conscious mind.

Sex or Eros is a …universal energy …which may be destructive or can be used for good. It’s the most common manifestation of the spirit, made matter so to speak, and an indication of the unity of souls with body.

Truth in art is …hard to estimate critically. This is gone into in ‘the book’ and ultimately it’s a matter for the reader to decide whether it’s true or not though any decision it’s not reflects on the reader’s inability to realise truth from writing. It’s a matter ultimately of faith.

‘There is only one true artist …and only one true work of art, the cosmos,’ which evoked from me ‘oh for god’s sake.’ That fabricator is the demiurge, who ‘is active nous, best translated as mind,’ evoking ‘oh god’. Iris Murdoch believes, ‘The image of a morally perfect but not all-powerful Goodness seems …better to express some ultimate …truth about our condition.’ She suggests the demiurge ‘realized his limitations at the start whereas Jehovah realized his later and was correspondingly bad-tempered.’ Her favourite word, ‘muddle’, makes its appearance. Either she can’t spell ‘harass’ or the OUP can’t; the misspelling occurs twice. She sells the pass, as do the religious and – god help them! – scientists by regarding us as created beings. ‘Form in art is for illusion and hides the true cosmic’ ie ordered ‘beauty and the …real forms of necessity and causality, and blurs with fantasy.’

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Review of Iris Murdoch’s Sovereignty of Good

I’d agree with Iris Murdoch ‘an unexamined life can be virtuous.’  ‘Goodness is a function of the will.’  ‘Thought cannot be thought unless it is directed towards a conclusion.’  I can’t agree it follows its own paths without the intervention of my will.  She does mean a conscious will, when the unconscious would not be engaged, and is quoting Hampshire who’s confined to consciousness.

I do identify myself with my will, my unconscious will that is, which is also myself.  I’d let someone go because he wanted to, failing to secure whom I wanted to secure as I could have once I’d got him back to the flat and had space to work in, so had a problem what to do.  It was a problem conscious thinking failed to solve and could only be resolved by my unconscious which thought it through while I attended to its thinking, which wasn’t logical, but reached a conclusion I accepted as right though it was impossible to go over the chain of its reasoning from beginning to the end, which was that I should forget who I loved until I met him again, as my unconscious reassured I would and I didn’t doubt, because it would too painful and quite pointless to be knowingly loving him in the meantime.

I’d have to disagree then ‘a decision does not turn out to be an introspectible movement’ when in the above example mine was.  It is also possible to consciously decide one way but to act contrarily and as the overriding unconscious will has decided.  ‘Something introspectible might occur but if the outward context is lacking that something cannot be called a decision.’  What if the inward movement is between one’s unconscious and another’s?  There may be an outward context: a boy asked me to join him on his way to school.  I didn’t see why I should but, within, my unconscious intervened with me and I did, asking the boy if a man – as I inwardly then saw my unconscious – had prompted him to ask.  He didn’t know about that but he knew the prompting had come from me.  Both his decision to ask and mine to comply were introspectible movements.  Murdoch also gives an example against Hampshire’s notion that ‘anything which is to count as a definite reality must be open to several observers.’  None of the several observers of the boy’s asking and my complying was party to our introspectible decisions.

‘Difficult choices often present …experience of void …of not being determined by the reasons,” conscious reasons.  My example above explains how the choice is otherwise made and why there’s no ensuing experience of void in my case or loss, angst.  Sartre who has no truck with the unconscious yet says ‘when I deliberate the die is already cast’, an indication of decision by the unconscious, as Murdoch is suggesting.  She describes angst as ‘a kind of fright the conscious will feels when it apprehends the strength and direction of the personality which is not under its immediate control.’  She suggests ‘we have to accept a darker, less fully conscious, less …rational image of the dynamics of the human personality.  With this dark entity behind us we may …decide to act …and …find as a result both energy and vision are unexpectedly given.  But if we do leap ahead of what we know we still have to try to catch up.’  No amount of understanding can replace the action of will, that of the unconscious one that is.

What does ‘good’ mean? Moore asked.  She says the answer concerns the will.  I doubted my will was good since he activated faults in others, Mrs Thompson’s jealousy of me for example which incited her son, my friend to assault me.  I didn’t want to think about it because if my man was bad so was I and my concern was to be good.   ‘Can we make ourselves morally better?’  No.  Since goodness or badness is a spiritual attribute, we can only be made better if our unconscious will is made better by a good one.  ‘Sartre can admit …we choose out of some pre-existent condition which he also …calls a choice.’  It is, if the condition is that of the unconscious will’s choice.  ‘Kant pictured the mystery [of moral choice] in terms of an indiscernible balance between a …rational agent and [a] mechanism.  We have learned from Freud to picture the mechanism as something …individual and personal which is …very powerful and not easily understood by its owner.  What we …are …is an obscure system of energy out of which choices and …acts of will emerge at intervals in ways which are often unclear and …dependent on the condition of the system in between the moments of choice.  Is there any way that when moments of choice arrive we [can] be sure of acting rightly? ’

‘Deliberately falling out of love is not a jump of the will, it is the acquiring of new objects of attention and thus of new energies as a result of refocusing,’ or using the love determinedly not on the person who invoked it but in order to make art in accordance with the choice of the unconscious will in inciting love as means to that end.

‘Explicit …willing can play some part, …as an inhibiting factor.’  My man wanted me to go to Oxford to shake the hand of a future American president.  I demurred.  He, my unconscious will, is, however, my daemon, so she is wrong to cite that of Socrates, which ‘only told him what not to do’, as substantiating inhibition by a conscious will.  Mine doesn’t tell me what to do.  It no longer speaks to me at all.

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Review of Iris Murdoch’s ‘Sartre’

This is the first book of Iris Murdoch I read except for the introduction which came later.  She says ‘Sartre attempts to see history as “driven… by human willed purposes, so that it’s explanation and being lies in a study of conscious human activity”.’  This presupposes the will is conscious whereas any drive has to be by the unconscious will consciousness need not even be aware of.  The purposive projet characteristic of consciousness is apparently an imagined future!  Would that explain Brexit?

One can live or tell; not both at once, she paraphrases Sartre’s thinking.  Maybe true to his but not to my experience.  Mum said, agreeing with Sartre, ‘life is not a play, Johnny.’  ‘No, it’s a book,’ in which she was a character and her words scripted.  She quite failed for all her clever consciousness to disprove this.  The future is not already there, Murdoch goes on paraphrasing.  It may be.  My cousin offered to show me a flip book.  ‘You’ve shown me that already.”  He hadn’t but my unconscious had in a dwam presaged his doing so.  From this Mum, another mum, realised I could see the future which is, therefore, already there, in fact remembered as past.

‘The relation of …words to their context of application is shifting and arbitrary.’  I didn’t understand the word ‘and’.  I no longer knew what it meant, what it did.  I could see it was made up of three letters which might as well be in a different order of combination or a permutation of a different no of different letters or no letters at all for all the enlightenment they brought to bear on what together they meant and function served.  There was no necessary relation between letters, word and meaning.  This apparently old and familiar metaphysical doubt lasted from school to past the railings I wasn’t sure of either.  ‘What does exist is brute and nameless, …it escapes from language and science.’  She regards the rationality of science of a limited kind but so is her admirable philosophical rationality which is restricted, quite properly in this context, to conscious thinking.

‘The subject is the final arbiter, Sartre argues.  Sartre thus rejects the idea of the unconscious mind.’  Oh!  I didn’t go on to think how can so clever a man be so stupid because Murdoch does immediately go on, ‘but has his own substitute for it in the notion of the half-conscious, unreflective self-deception which he calls “bad faith”.’  That could be consistent with an unconscious having its way with a consciousness it must act through.  Without an unconscious, it’s the reflective consciousness that’s thought of by Sartre as imagining.  He describes ‘imagination as a spontanéité envoûté.’  Bewitched? By what?  By something coming from within the writer’s consciousness is aware of but that didn’t originate in it.  Using the word, ‘bewitched’, is an act of glib bad faith by both his consciousness and unconscious for the former to take all credit for a joint act while maintaining its ignorance of an unconscious that doesn’t want to be known to it.

‘What the aspiring spirit… desires is complete stillness,’ which can only come through unconscious communication without any use of consciousness except on an interface with the unconscious that would render it also unconscious but able to be realised from unconscious memory.  The ideal of an aspiring spirit would not be that of the silence of consciousness.  That’s simply a side-effect.

Sartre treats ‘personal relationships at the level of the psychological casebook.’  I may do too.  At least that’s how Betty Clark described me as doing, as seeing people as psychological cases.  “Is that bad?”  She thought not.  Iris Murdoch thinks it is, in Sartre’s case.

Sartre does not view consciousness as what Ryle has called ‘the ghost in the machine.’  I thought by ghost in the machine what was meant was spirit, not consciousness.

She says, ‘Serious reflexion about one’s own character will often induce a curious sense of one’s emptiness.’  Really?  ‘Our consciousness of how other people label us …and how they see us is often very acute.’  Really?  Maybe I’ve achieved the desideratum of self-completion without experiencing ennui or être-pour-autrui respectively.  I like that ‘autrui’ is indefinable in French.

Kant believed the rational will, which alone was good, remained separate from the world of empirical phenomenon and [was] unseen in its operation.  That, I wrote in the margin, sounds like my unconscious will.  His he’d think was conscious.  She, paraphrasing what he’d think, says ‘I do not know the working of the rational will in myself.’  That sounds like the view of a consciousness of its unconscious will it’s ignorant of.  My unconscious will is rational.  Other people’s aren’t so much, not when they’re attributing to themselves that they’re the absolute centre of the universe, that they’re the king, while their father’s alive etc as explanations by their unconsciouses to themselves why they’re important.  Such irrationality need never surface into consciousness.  I never did work out if by keeping his eyes on me, whether Rich was conferring reality on me or only felt real if I were keeping my eyes on him.  ‘Stability derives ..from the steady adoring gaze of the lover, caught in which the beloved feels full, compact and justified.’  Sartre wishes …to preserve the sovereignty of the individual psyche as a source of meaning.  ‘For him the psyche is coextensive with consciousness.’  He’d nowhere else he could consciously think to put it.

Sartre says no good novel could be written in praise of anti-Semitism.  How does he know? Murdoch asks.  Wasn’t Celine of his time a good novelist?

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Grouting

John said Manuel had gone through all of us for sex, that I was dancing reluctantly with him.  I have only the most skiting recollection of this but, on telling Adrian what John said, he remembered I had, latterly to stop Manuel stumbling, obviously to no avail.  John saw the fight starting outside on the balcony when he came back to return Adrian’s card.  Adrian has no memory of this.  He said he put Manuel in a taxi.  Oleg went to Rich who went back with him to Adrian’s to supervise them, in bed when I pressed the bell.  The gravel underfoot John thought, on our conjecture it was Oleg being proved wrong, that it might’ve been his throwing up for access when the buzzer wasn’t working.

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Impromptu

Couldn’t sleep for resenting John’s foisting himself on me for Xmas to avoid providing for himself in his new home which has had a fridge with nothing in it and a cooker unused from the beginning of the week while he brings glutenous fish pies and a liver and bacon I can’t eat for me to bake in my oven! and complains the top isn’t clean.

I put this and more to him as lightly as I could when he called in next morning, Saturday.  He described it as an attack which might drive him to heroin and shoplifting.  He’d brought the fish pie to save me the expense of feeding him.  “I know that.”  He thought he was doing well, acquiring furniture and such.  “You are.”  He was.  He wouldn’t visit me again.  I was to be banned.  His cutting off his nose to spite his face I could accept though it meant my failure too to keep him out of prison but I didn’t want not to see him again unless he was reincarcerated whereupon I wouldn’t.  Tears came to my eyes I thought sincerely since I hadn’t cried in ages but could prove all the more effective for that.  It was hard to say, put on by my unconscious anyway, whether it was being deliberately manipulative or not.  Knowing my unconscious, probably.  My eyes wet a second time as John back-pedalled, if not without a look of animosity, and I was going for a third when he asked what was wrong.  “I’m sad.”  To sum up: I’d confronted the issue without any really bad consequences.  He would ask his mum and friend about it.  “Should you do that?  They’re going to agree I’m right,” he shouldn’t bring food I can’t eat with him for me to cook when he’d an oven of his own.   He’d start providing for himself beyond coffee and honey, buy another pint of milk to put in the fridge.  Even buy bread?  Have breakfast. Go back for lunch between times I suggested.  Finally there was eight weeks to go before Xmas, time enough to see how well he was doing and if he was up to having Xmas in his own home.  The foisting was rescinded.

We took his kindle he’d been given to communicate with the landlord online to the library which had wifi to see how it might be worked.  His favourite librarian facilitated.  After, we wandered through town and into Virginia Woolf’s old garden, finding the gate to it open.  A neighbour other side the wall surprised us in it.

Adrian texted me: could he visit with Oleg?  Sure.  He brought two bottles of what he called Spanish champagne.  Prosecco.  I hadn’t, John had, met Oleg before.  Oleg couldn’t remember.  Adrian explained where, at a bus stop, when they were going to the pictures.  Oleg remembered enthusiastically, shaking John’s hand.  Shoes were doffed out of respect for my new rug.  They smoked outside on the balcony, Oleg told just to flick the ash on to the gravel beneath.  In the room I said John had only just learned he’d German antecedents despite having an uncle, Fritz, and aunt, Heidi, as well as a dog called Heinz.  John got back with my being Scottish and not British as I am.  Oleg thought if I spoke like a cultured Scot, I was, despite being born in England.  He thought the Scots pronounced bus boos.  Born in Latvia, he didn’t speak Latvian.  “You’re British,” I said to Adrian, born in Cuba, “like me,” near enough.  I said Adrian had unfriended me three times on Facebook.  Oleg said he’d been unfriended twenty-five times and had a friend request.  We were getting on so well we were planning to go to Liverpool, Oleg driving.  John didn’t have a licence.  Adrian answered his phone and asked could Manuel join us.  Sure.  He went off to meet him and did on the street outside.

I asked Manuel if we’d met before.  I’d met a Manuel with Adrian in Richmond station.  He said not.  I didn’t pursue it.  Oleg criticised Manuel’s poor English.  Adrian texted me from the balcony Oleg, with me inside, was hungry.  I read the text out.  Oleg denied he was.  I provided smoked salmon with a dill sauce, beef pieces and biscuits.  Oleg wasn’t hungry.  I also provided more sparkling wine and vodka from the wine cellar or shed.  John said what a good host I was.  Adrian dispensed the spirit from plastic shot glasses straight into one’s mouth and a sniff of cocaine from the end of a stick to one’s left nostril, to no discernible effect.  He wanted a coffee, with milk.  I made him a cappuccino and whenever I saw it neglected insisted he drink up.  Adrian told the others to look how slim I was.  I wished I’d shaved.  I reciprocated how slim he was though I also liked his belly plump, how slim Manuel was, Oleg.  Manuel spilt John’s red wine on my curtain Adrian promptly salted with cooking salt from a kitchen cupboard, and the carpet beneath.  No glass was broken.  Manuel then stayed in the swivel chair he’d presumed to move for his and social convenience.  John said he’d be staying the night.

Oleg outside on the balcony said he wanted hash but Adrian didn’t whereas inside Adrian did, saying Oleg didn’t and its being bought was to be kept secret from him.  John was to buy it on my assurance he could be trusted and Adrian gave him card and pin no to extract the £40, surprising me he did so with such ease.  I’d expected money drawn from pocket.  John also otiosely assured him he was to be trusted, casting doubt.  John went to pick it up from an East End dealer driving in to supply Richmond.

Manuel was ensconced semi-comatose in the swivel chair, unmoving apart from when he leant forward to be sick on the rug and sideways to be sick again on the carpet and rug.  I swept the small-grained spew into a pan, none of the salmon or beef bits evident, and applied Vanish, as much as I could quickly do, reassuring Manuel it didn’t matter.  It didn’t, and not because I was anaesthetised, though it might later.  He wanted his phone recharged, leaving it on to play pop music or something in conflict with the music I had playing.  I wanted it off.  Manuel shook his head.  Adrian didn’t know how to switch it off either.

Adrian, from the balcony, had blood on his shirt from god knows where I diluted with cold water in the bathroom sink before consigning it and white undershirt to the laundry basket and supplying Adrian with a black silk t-shirt from the airing cupboard.

Oleg and Adrian, coming in, were verbally spatting in the hall or little lobby between outside door and room, with bathroom one side and doorless kitchen on the other where Adrian was standing, telling Oleg, “You’re a loser.”  Oleg went for him and they fought in kitchen and minuscule hall while I interposed my person, emitting “Stop it,” reminiscent of what I’d told the psychopath fracturing a friend’s skull before thinking so to act; I must’ve judged this was a lot less dangerous, and did succeed in holding Oleg to a halt, whereupon Adrian, taking advantage of the opportunity, from where he was then, in the room doorway, launched himself at Oleg and they were at it for a second round of the kitchen and maybe hall because I subsequently saw an oblong of black silk on the floor though that could’ve been detached during the first round.  Again I stopped the fight.  Adrian went off, bare flank showing.  I recradled the entry phone.

Oleg was weeping from a bruised eye I put ice cubes in a plastic food bag for but he refused to use it and threw it into the hedge bordering the gravel pit of a garden.  He went off.  Adrian came back.  I applied dermatological cream to his face and neck, and the lump on his forehead.  I asked if he’d call the police, saying the first thing they’d ask would be had he retaliated, so avoiding having to charge anybody.  He didn’t know how it’d started.  I told him what I’d heard.  See above.  “Did I!” he said.  “You did.”  He said John had been gone two hours and wouldn’t be back, implying with the money.  That long?

He moved Manuel who was promptly sick again on the centre of the last stain.  I said to leave him.  In which case, Adrian made sure I’d condoms.  I did have though couldn’t offhand think where.  Adrian, however, persisted with moving Manuel as far as the kitchen.  I looked at the two shoes, thinking he’d have difficulty getting Manuel in them.  I was wrong.  I saw John below sitting on a tenant’s garden chair berating the dealer by mob as Adrian was escorting Manuel down the stairs.  I went down myself, going out the back, to ask John for the money to give back to Adrian who was going out the front door of the block.  John was reluctant to since the dealer would be arriving in ten minutes and from his swift departure with Manuel I could tell Adrian wasn’t interested in getting his money back.

We passed a stationary car on the way to the station John wasn’t recognising but went back to.  Two girls were having a contretemps with an occupant who parleyed with John on the pavement as I strolled back, watching them embrace.  The Pakistani returned to the car on a friendly leave-taking from John.  “That was not what he was saying earlier.”

John took a small cut and asked for a bag to put the drug bag in, unnecessarily as I thought.  It’d be otiose to use ‘otiosely’ there.  I put this through Adrian’s letter box after getting no response.  A light went on.  I returned to address not Adrian but Rich, his ex, “It’s for Adrian.”  “What is it?”  “Hash.”

The kitchen sill was full of empty wine bottles, two vodka and a whisky, a tonic and a plastic soda.

Coming back with the Sunday paper I noticed underfoot was gravel, all along my bit of the balcony.  This concurred with the thump from the stairwell and tapping on the door during the night though I’d seen nobody outside reflected from the windows opposite or anybody through my own door.  We conjectured Oleg had come back and not known the no to buzz.

On putting them away, I noticed one of my glasses was missing in action, presumed dead.

Behind the cushion of the swivel chair, I found an emptied packet of Kamiagra – the name suggesting viagra – lozenges.  Had he taken all four?  Could they make someone sick?

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Review of Iris Murdoch’s Nuns and Soldiers

Out of kindness a woman character gives a feckless young man of her family circle a job, that of looking after her holiday home in France, and then, because of circumstances, decides she has to get away herself and ends up there. Put like that, any reader might suspect ulterior motive on her part. Maybe so, but unknown to her. The author is implying an unconscious at work through the character’s consciousness, which has of course quite other rationalisations for her behaviour, to achieve its ends. You might think the like for the young man who went to her on the unlikely chance of financial aid in the first place, that he too is unknowingly driven. There follows one of the most rousing depictions of sexual love I’ve read, as good as any soft porn as I suppose art is.

The not quite accurate quote is from Julian of Norwich perhaps via TS Eliot.

A note from I presumed the feckless young man’s girlfriend he has thought malicious tells the circle of the affair the two lovers had agreed to keep secret, a mistake you might think, a too great concern for what others think but that is rather the point of the circle’s existence, isn’t it? The woman’s love is found wanting, on being found out, and the feckless young man does the honourable thing, leaving her to go back to his old girlfriend. Well, what’s a man supposed to do! Any old port in a storm.

I should’ve known the quote was from The Twa Corbies makin a mane.

Tim, the feckless young man, wouldn’t have expected Daisy, the long-term girlfriend, to be that vindictive, to have threatened his love. I think she could. What do you think? She’s a woman! She’s got him back. Then the totally unexpected happens.

Another character, an ex-nun, considers Tim’s fall would grieve no one. Poor Tim, it grieved me. ‘He lay down on the floor …and howled.’ Poor Tim! She says he’s a sort of moral imbecile but I like him. Her friend, the woman lover, bitterly resents him for his unspeakable treachery which wasn’t that bad in my opinion and for her own offensiveness to the shade of a male character, a shade! I don’t think so. How can you be offensive to a shade! Yet another character, the Count, agrees with me, ‘Poor Tim,’

who accuses Daisy of vindictiveness. She denies it and the author intervenes, in parentheses, to say it was another, very minor character whose drunken disclosure had been a piece of impromptu random societal spite.

Words like ‘integrity’ and ‘honour’, new to him, occur to Tim and he wonders if they hadn’t got into his head from the Count’s. Could words do that? he asks himself. Not as such. If one is telepathising with a foreigner who doesn’t speak English, he will understand you and you him, though you might not speak Turkish, say, because telepathy is unconscious communication too fast for language though language has something to do with it because if you think to him he’s looking ill he might receive that as he’s bad looking and take offence and revenge by telling somebody else he’d had you sexually. Tch! Men! They turn nasty on a sixpence. But not to worry. You know you can deal with anything the conscious however clever can come up with, they’re so slow. There’s no realisation by Tim of any occasion of unconscious communication with the Count and none by the Count. That pretty well means there wasn’t or the author would surely indicate when by some oddness of situation between them. She doesn’t quite have the hang of telepathy or of the unconscious, thus her invoking of Eros.

‘Oh great!’ I wrote in the margin when Tim receives a letter that precipitates him into action. ‘Tim really knew in coming to France he had decided to see Gertrude.’ (That’s her name. Murdoch has a thing about Hamlet though it’d be stretching it to think Tim is.) ‘It was just that the decision was so awful it had to be taken in two halves, one conscious and one unconscious.’ I like that though the author puts the conscious half first. ‘But now he was here, he knew he had to…’ like me going to Bonser Rd. Once there, I rationalise I might as well knock on Rich’s door and face whatever comes. ‘Oh no!’ I wrote in the margin beside ‘He decided to turn to the right and go to the canal. ‘Oh no!’ as ‘Tim slipped head first into the stream.’ ‘No!’ at ‘He was fully conscious he was about to die.’ Finally Murdoch has done it for me; I was so moved my head prickled. You can’t say better than that.

‘Eheu fugaces….’ – Alas fleeting…. – is a quote from Horace as are the others.
Twice Hannibal’s failure to march on Rome is referred to. He may not have had enough men for a siege but he should have risked it after his colossal victory at Cannae and in all probability would have taken a demoralised city.

The introducer thinks the denial of self by the likes of nuns and soldiers effects a transcendence that gives a sense of eternity and infinity in our mortal life. I have to disagree with that. You get it when your unconscious is thinking infinitely fast in communication with another, if it can that is.

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Review of Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince

The author covers the rationale of the book’s being written chronologically without that narrative being affected by the outcome in a foreword by the narrator. He contends life is utterly unlike art.  Not necessarily, not if you have the kind of will that makes art of life and you make an exact written impression of it.  The narrator says art isn’t the reproduction of oddments of life.  His fellow writer adjures him to ‘let cheerfulness break in,’ an allusion to Oliver Edwards’ explanation why he couldn’t be a philosopher.  The Shakespeare quote is from Merchant of Venice.  The narrator doesn’t see himself as a writer but an artist.

 

He’s intending to go away but inexplicably delays his departure that I’d put down to his unconscious will ensuring he doesn’t miss out on events rather like I didn’t offer to put somebody up because I’d need the room to put up my brother I didn’t consciously know was coming. The narrator’s intention is to go away to write the book he feels coming on but his unconscious has another if related use for where he’s going, for this book, The Black Prince, to be that book.  ‘One perceives a subterranean current, one feels the grip of destiny, striking coincidences occur and the world is full of signs: such things… can indeed be the shadows of a real and not yet apprehended metamorphosis,’ he writes, ‘like me,’ I wrote in the margin, ‘on the Highland holiday’, when my unconscious manifested itself in a love high as a spiritual reality to be kept in mind even as I bounced down from the clouds.

 

His fellow writer’s daughter inveigles her way into his curmudgeonly life.  In his disquisition on Hamlet he says ‘pure ignorant young girls cannot save complicated neurotic over-educated older men from disaster, however much they kid themselves that they can.’  She was asking how Ophelia couldn’t Hamlet but, without knowing it, he’s saying she won’t him.  Murdoch is emulating Shakespeare here in being in relation to the narrator, Bradley Pearson, much as Shakespeare is to Hamlet since, Bradley asserts, the play is about Shakespeare’s own identity though she doesn’t go as far as I would in my analysis of it.

 

I anticipated, ‘he’s fallen in love,’ just before he writes, ‘what it was that had happened the percipient reader will not need to be told.’  I dispute his ‘Time had already become eternity’ because there can be no filling of the moment with infinity without the other in colloquy, there can be no time stoppage.

 

‘I lied about my age.’  Oh, oh, I anticipated, that’d come back to haunt him.  It does but not critically.  ‘The future had passed through the present like a sword.’  He has no more specific prescience, however.  He wishes time to cease.  ‘Often indeed… it is miraculously slowed.’  His unconscious engaged, he’s thinking faster.  The transformation of him by love without losing character is well conveyed.  At least the beloved didn’t go with her father.  I’d’ve thought the less of her if she had.  One hopes against expectation for the continuation of love.  The self-deception on separation is also well conveyed and explained in a good sentence, ‘I felt that if I could not build a pattern of at least plausible beliefs to make some just bearable sense out of what had happened I should die.’  Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead is alluded to.  I googled the Dante quote.

The beloved’s mother tells him, “Only the insane think that there are planes which are quite separate from other planes.”  When I was with my beloved within easy physical distance of a woman who’d brought me up, the idea of introducing one to the other horrified me as of two separate worlds impossibly colliding.  You get a good impression of hanging on to one reality while another erodes it or tries to.  The beloved’s letter is great.  The narrator has prescience, ‘in a black vision I apprehended the future.  I saw this book, which I have written.’  He does not put this down to his own unconscious will possessing the beloved for its artistic purpose but to a possessing spirit, ‘every single thing was not just predestined but somehow actively at the moment of its occurrence thought by a divine power which held me in its talons.’  The beloved denies his book can be good art since ‘the demon of love is not the demon of art.’  He is but you can’t have both since the love needed to write the book uses the love that would be expended on the beloved if the demon didn’t take good care to make sure it didn’t.

One postscript conveys the character’s viciousness behind the hypocritical appearance she wishes to be believed true.  I did think Bradley should not be wiping clean the poker but that he did was daemonically necessary to the book’s being written as art as indeed it is.   I had no anticipation of the denouement.

The introducer put me off by misspelling ‘climactic’.  In a quotation from the text is another misspelling I can’t credit Iris Murdoch with making.

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