on iris murdoch

UrlSarah Churchwell at The Guardian:

In Iris Murdoch’s novel The Black Prince, a popular writer named Arnold Baffin defends his regular production of books he knows are not as good as he’d like them to be: “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. The years pass and one has only one life. If one has a thing at all one must do it and keep on and on and on trying to do it better.” Character here presumably speaks for author, although one also suspects that poor silly Baffin’s platonic conception of a perfect idea is probably less perfect than he thinks. It’s a good bet that Iris Murdoch’s perfect ideas were better.

A published philosopher whose first book was the first book in English on Jean-Paul Sartre, Murdoch wrote novels of ideas about love, as well as the occasional love letter to ideas. Obsession is everywhere in her fictional landscape, but characters are as likely to be obsessed with art as with sex. Adulteration is the game: nothing remains pure, certainly not fidelity to other people, or to social conventions, even the most deeply held. Her characters are most faithful to their conceptions of themselves, which are almost never shared by those around them. In her essay “The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited”, Murdoch wrote that the most important thing for a novel to reveal, “not necessarily the only thing, but incomparably the most important thing, is that other people exist”. It was a point she made repeatedly outside her fiction: “In the moral life the enemy is the fat relentless ego,” as she wrote in “On ‘God’ and ‘Good’”.

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