She commented on the sublime in three of her important philosophical works: The sublime and the good, The sublime and the beautiful revisited and The Fire and the Sun. In the previous two centuries, critics had agreed on the idea of the sublime's being equated to the religion decayed, replacing what escapes from the highest meaning, an exciting and complex idea in fact, useful to several ideologies. On the other way round, in the Freudian interpretation, the sublime stands for a positive resolution of the Oedipus complex, requiring and nourishing a strong super-ego on which the survival of culture is based. Quite differently, in the Socratic dialogue, which she preferred, the sublime is connected to the presence of a second interlocutor who pretends weakness and humility in conversation, only to finally arrive at defeat turned into victory, with the beatifiction of weakness in fact.
For the 18th century Romantics the sublime had at its core the disarmony between mind and world, with the futility of the imaginative effort to grasp and represent the formless. Kant and Wordsworth are the best theoreticians, as well as practitioners of the sublime, the kind Murdoch also practiced. She was in favour of Kant's acting imperative and adds to it the moral law that we had better call action into the question: "who cares what sort of emotion Kant experienced in the Alps?" Murdoch would say in the interviews and she examined instead of feelings the spectacle of human life itself, as the reality of persons other than ourselves should replace the natural sublime by a humanist and moral one of action for the writer.
The writer was offended not by the world's formlessness, but by its unreasonable pecularity and, as a writer, she rejects a solipsistic self regard of the picture. The good man of her idea of sublime, a true born citizen in that principle of sublimity might feel delight, terror in what one sees before, but never superiority. For the writer, there is only the humble act of creation, never a detached superior contemplation. In that respect, the biographer believes she deliberately left even great art incomplete, more of a jumble and on better terms with the multiplicity of the topsy-turvy world, than we dare to see for the same moral intentions. To Murdoch, Plato's The Timaeus was sacred, because it is in fact a radiant myth as the Good, which is present outside the world, participates in the creation, but only part successfully.
The art work then, like the cosmos in The Timaeus, is only partly intelligible or revelated to us, because there is in it, otherwise, "too much for us." In modern times, the sublime has found a perfect habitat in both positive and negative sense versus morality. Along the idea Altus means either 'high' or 'deep,' which for criticism is translated into a superabundance of meanings in the work of art.
In the end, she took into account Socrates's aporias as undecidability of sense, but still a positive sublime. In her opinion, this positive sublime has been replaced in modern times by Derrida's theory on a negative sublime, according to which in our highest moments of expectation as readers, we feel but baffled. Therefore, she preferred Socrates's positive sublime which is connected to shattering false knowledge by 'humbling' the reason of his interlocutors in the discussion and by being in favour of the meaning beyond, while that meaning must remain nameless in fact, whereas Derrida's negative sublime was self-sufficing to her.
In her own complex view, the sublime becomes a central organizing metaphor, discernible in plotting, in her ethics, her aesthetics, and the use of her 'ordeals by love and water'. There is more of the plot that she plans for the reader to interpret in a hermeneutic way, just like Simone Weil's (a Jewish French mystic thinker, friend of Murdoch's), who believes there is love that liberates our soul from captivity in the cave experience (Plato's cave). Yes, there is beauty by means of love that works for a conclusion: "So falling-in-love, besides being ordinary and interesting in itself, and a central drama in many people's lives, is a violent mock-ascesis or false loss of self, in which the contingency of all that is unself is momentarily revealed with a glorious and ambiguously sublime radiance. The center of significance is violently ripped out of the dreamy ego and placed in another who is suddenly perceived as shokingly separate. Then--as this is false ascesis - the lover, if his love is not returned, can behave badly because of resentment at what appears a theft of his substance. Maturation in Murdoch's books is falling out of intense love" (Conradi 1986: 112). Love, like the sublime becomes in her works a matter of unselfing, which is also to be found in the ascent of the soul during its purification in The Phaedrus. Then in Plato, Longinus also found a locus classicus of the sublime wherefrom the soul sprouts both wings and soars (a pleasure and pain together for the centuries to come).
Unselfed by the sublime, Murdoch's characters are better than us and have less personality. (See also James in The Sea, the Sea who is able even to stop his heart, like a real Shakespearean Prospero). It happens in the great art works which she attempted starting with The Bell (1958). Each event takes place first in remote enclosures (the Abbey) and then a second one in the flamboyant and confused house (Imber Court), where it is disclosed. Two innocent worldlings (Toby and Dora), who may be less culpable than the murderously high minded Meade, become involved in the events and in the rescue of an agent of the numinous: the bell. Both move from summer to winter and end with death in the group and the scattering of the half-contemplatives, or with worldlings preparing themselves to discuss the story. In both, a pattern of events unconsciously repeats itself, after many years. A good man, the young one (Toby) inherits a young dog from a spoiled man (Nick) who shoots himself. In the couples there is a war between the best and the second best and in both there arrives a peripheral one, from characters unsummoned.
Among the tragic happenings, The Bell has also got comic effects and comedy undercuts tragedy offering with triumphant survival of heroes as well as a lot of destruction because that is metamorphic life for her. Still, the truth, the good, the beautiful, light as Platonic principles are revelated very much with the help of the Abbess who is a good outsider from the Imber community and insists on the ambiguities of spirit. She sustains we are all failures in love for which we have to strive more, because we have not done enough.
Michael Meade is a failed priest, failed schoolteacher and in the end, he turns out into a decent homosexual who finds a moral way in organizing the lay community in Imber Court. Catherine and Nick are demonic siblings (Nick is after all the recurrent nickname of the Devil in English) because they are said to have had incestual Byronic affairs and are opposed to Toby and Dora, the good worldlings. Dora seems to value herself in the end and learns to swim and finally leaves Imber to really love another man in silence and suffering while elevating herself, as she learns to listen to Bach instead of only Mozart.
Some critics believe the bell is a character in itself because acting more than a symbol, its presence causes a certain behaviour and apprehension of morality on behalf of characters. Therefore it can be interpreted both within the idea of the sublime, and within the novel eroticism/ sexuality, two main directions that go together with reformulated contingencies for Murdochian characters. As stated before, she reveals her humble position among her characters in a world she creates more Christlike than Godlike, disturbing for some readers but faithful to her concept of a philosophical writer in moral psychology.
Murdoch searches for a moral direction in a world vacant of God and for that she follows a way similar to Fyodor Dostoevsky in writing novels which is, according to the position of Bakhtin, the line of Christ's position in our civilization. By patterning good and evil, her works often appear old fashioned to critics, but in her actuality, she finds a graduated range between good spiritual people and those who fail to tap their goodness. So, plot and pattern are important in her novels also because the ancient Greek idea of plot is a helpful way to visualize the cave myth drama belowground and the cosmology aboveground, which actually make up the fictional world of her novels. In an interview she gave Barbara Heusel, the author mentioned Peter Brook's concept about theatre direction and a subterranean logic connecting the meanings of the ancient key concept plot.
She used to make a holograph notebook first with ground plans before writing a novel, including charts and diagrams following Plato's design of the cave map, so obvious in his Line diagram. Wittgenstein was doing the same with his word theory, consulting his diagrams all the time like the architect he had been. Murdoch's spatial sketches and cryptograms introduce her inside the process of visualizing and creating space in enclosure, thus making evrything easier for us to interpret what used to be an abstraction in her mind at the beginning of writing the text of a novel. She also considers Bakhtin presenting his chronotopes with the carnivalesque square along his space-time coordinates by which the Russian formalist critic connects the pattern of novels appearing like disguised identities in a carnival show with the agora of Ancient Greece, because there citizens like to idle, gossip, relax, show off, hunt for partners, make assignations, make business deals, make plots: "As a metaphor for interaction, in the community at all levels of age and gender, the agora comprizes hierarchies that seem always to be moral and ethical, with no emphasis on class consciousness. The Greeks saw the stage as a holy ground on which to teach fellow citizens how to behave; they considered the agora a meeting ground on which the citizens would determine the direction of the city. The standard definitions of plot not only call attention to the cultural issues of plot, drama, but also represented conflict created by the Greeks to especially tie those issues in with the tone and atmosphere of fate necessity and contingency." (Stevens Heusel 1995: 226)
In a less explicit way Murdoch replicates those places as metaphors in addition to using them literally. But the symbol connected to eroticism is still The Bell, acting both like a Freudian enclosure space and a metaphor of broader, religious implication. Critics have used labels such as 'melodramatic' or 'sensualist,' 'sensationalist,' to employ techniques of Greek comedy in her novels. The focus on low Eros that reads as incest, homosexuality, lesbianism, adultery, culminating with murder or death do not subverse the sacred novel form. On the contrary, Murdoch was both for sexual emancipation and also for the heterogenous world Bakhtin idealized in Rabelais, for instance. And she also got inspiration from the Greek's need to see all. Therefore, her architectural plots and the spaciousness of her imaginary worlds resemble the Greek way that chronologically used to influence mediaeval architecture, too. The Bell is one of the first complex novels recording scrupulously the "effects of religion or interlocked institutions: philosophy, economics, class struggle, education, marriage, family and the individual" (Stevens Heusel 1995: 234). In the novel, the author foregrounded spaces and enclosures to also demonstrate women's potential entrapment in Western culture by religion.
Deborah Johnson analyses The Bell in point of feminism (Kristeva, Irigaray) and all "womb shaped enclosures" become female centered in her criticism and from a female perspective the text reaches back to Eve and her sexuality: "Dora pushed open a heavy wooden gate in the wall and she and the mother superior came into the fruit garden. The old stone walls dry and crumbling with the long summer, covered over with brittle stonecrop and fading valerian, enclosed a large space crammed and tangled with fruit bushes. A wire cage covered an area in the far corner, and there was a glint of glass. A haze hung over the luxuriant scene, and it seemed hotter than ever within the garden. Disciplined fruit trees were spread eagled along every wall, their leaves curling in the heat" (IMB: 73). According to Johnson, the novel aquires a "Dora centered perspective" because Murdoch incorporated herself or she is immersed into the convent, through the gates of the fruit garden at Imber, restoring the bell and ringing it, too, thus uncovering the sexual secrets of the whole community. (cf. Johnson 1987)
Not without a reason did the she write in her notebook that Dora approaches the lake (Imber suggests liquid) and the enclosure itself becomes a space of her enlightenment before which she is overwhelmed with childlike awe (perhaps the same with Joyce's before Clongoves Wood College): "Dora turned back to the front and gave a gasp of surprise. An enormous house stood them from a long way away, down an avenue of trees. The avenue was dark, but the house stood beyond it with the declining sunshine slanting across its front. It was a very pale grey, and with a colourless, cloudless sky, of evening light behind it, it had the washed brilliance of a print. The facade was in three segments, a high pediment in the center behind which a green dome could be seen, and a soberly windowed square of wall on either side with a lower roof. Beneath the pediment were four large pillars, which ended at a balustrade half way down the front of the house. From here a pair of staircases descended in two flights to the ground." (cf. IMB, Murdoch's Iowa Notebook).
Dora's knowledgeable husband in manuscripts and buildings is comically interpreted with Murdoch's spatial pattern because he takes the architecture of the establishment for a Palladian design, whereas the enclosures are opposite and the fence bordered by trees is hiding the nuns from the lay males that live in the other house.
The characters populating both the Abbey and Imber Court remind us of Plato's heroes, described as humans nevertheless, though they may act like marionettes, object creatures, dangling from strings of pleasure and pain. The writer enlarged the chronotope of the novel into the spaciousness of the myth of Western culture in which she crowds the people she imagines for characters. As a writer, she wanted to give free rein in this dangerous world of the novel to characters who start behaving like people in a carnivalesque square. Heusal demonstrates Murdoch's creating dialogic, not monologic totalities in the novel, even though she may have not got the ambition to cover all contradictions over because she is intent on mostly empowering inconsistency and contingency. One must use a holistic approach to comment her novels because she was complex in techniques and whichever method she employed, it was not for the sensational effect in fiction, rather she was for creating serious fiction. On the contrary, she employed methods to demonstrate that good artistic form reflects life's inexplicable complexity.
Aesthetically Murdoch also satisfied her need of the sublime in two epiphanic revelations of the literary text. One appears early in Dora's relationship with Imber Court when she feels terribly attracted by the National Gallery in London and where she has a premonition of her travel through the woods and enlightenment in the religious establishment on seeing Gainsborough's paintings. The picture she is staring at shows two sisters coming out of the forest, the painter's daughters.
The need of a sister is translated into Murdoch's Freudian building of characters because she had been longing for one, herself, as she was the only child. In the text, epiphanies and sublimity stand for Dora's doubling consciousness and her hesitations to order or sort out her life.
Epiphany stands for Dora's revelation of both timelessness and transcendence over true art. In Gainsborough's painting there is much more to understand besides a beautiful picture, or it is the the Beauty in the Platonic sense, besides the dry solipsism of someone's mediocrity (Stoenescu 2002: 392). Only afterwards is Dora able to aesthetically listen to a Bach concert and not only a Mozart one. Her trying to intake the beauty of a butterfly and keep it longer with her in her palms in the train compartment also has got epiphanic values before the artefact, only this time it is God's artefact and creature in the butterfly.
But the highest dazzling with epiphany appears in contact with the Bell's own being, a moment when Dora, using her own tense body, decides to ring the bell by night and afterwards giving voice to an entire coral hymn in the rhythm of its song, when the party is being celebrated both with profane and religious songs or dances. Even upright and puritanly-sacred Bishop, James Typer Payce comes to the party. It is high time the Baptism for the second Bell took place, which really happens by its falling into the very same lake where the old bell, now taken to the British Museum, had stayed so long: "The choir broke into song. The more ambitious music was being reserved for the climax at the Abbey gate. Bob's wishes had been over-ridden by local sentiment: Lift it gently to the steeple/Let our bell be set on high/There fulfill its daily mission/Midway 'twixt the earth and sky/As the birds sing ealry matins/To the God of nature's praise/This is nobler daily music/To the God of Grace shall raize/And when evening shadows soften / Chancel cross and tower and aisle/It shall blend its vesper summous/With the day's departing smile." Not everyone is very comfortable with Murdoch's sometimes exaggerated and symbolic pairs for artefact, considering the bells rather artificially planted in the text, as well as uncomfortable with symmetrical couples, even twins in the novel, to serve her morality, but in the end we have to accept, any fiction has its own degree of artificiality. (cf Byatt 1965)
The novel is a long combination of sex versus virtue in the religious sense that assigns for Murdoch's own renowned fame of being both an artist and a saint. In the same direction of sublimity, the Abbey's high Eros for God might be viewed. Ethics gets in front line for being an unquestionable matter. During two of his sermons, he even alludes to The Bell and cherishing innocence for people orbiting Imber he refers to the bell's emblem of innocence because it has no hidden mechanism in it. But for mother superior, who acts as the second best in the religious Eros, she becomes the most authoritative voice in the book in order to suggest to people at Imber Court a proper balance of sympathies, or rather she inspires love in the worthest part of the souls that need improvement: "Our duty is not necessarily to seek the highest regardless of the realities of our spiritual life as it in fact is, but to seek that place, that task, those people, which will make our spiritual life most constantly grow and flourish; and in this search we must make use of a divine cunning 'As wise as serpents, as harmless as doves'." (IMB: 81)
Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected, but perfected. The way is always forward, never back. The Abbess makes the compromise about her practical advice for Meade, or about the idea of perfection in moral life which in fact reflect her views expressed in The sovereignty of good. Ascesis really happens in the case of Dora and Toby, when the latter accidentally reaches the core of love in the center of the enclosure and then he enters the happy cemetery with the laughing nuns right in the middle of the story. The reader is impressed by the scenery Murdoch borrowed from Plato's Phaedo where there are four rivers and where the funeral of the philosophy is being stated, though the lake and causeway ferry may also be inspired from Dante's Inferno. (cf. Conradi 1986: 116) The aerial map of Imber shows three sets of walls, which make it resemble a dart board. The enter circle is the wall of half stripped Imber Court, the next the wall of the wholley austere Abbey and the last of the three concentric rings, the hortus conclusus containing the happy cemetery with its laughing nuns: "It is a Platonic map of degrees of unselfing. Only Toby penetrates by mistake to the centre, and in fact no gate is locked. That this spiritual symmetry does not obtrude may have something to do with the fact that Murdoch calls the religious symbols and institutions involved which are both established and discredited in our minds. The map seems a public one in the text." (cf. Conradi 1986)
The ending of the novel, as do many of her books, presents new contingencies in her fictional world for the triumphant survival of the personality, the devious tenacity and resilience of the self. The book is made up of all those taken together "with its consistent wit and good humour, a comedy, albeit a moving and sometimes grim one" (Conradi 1986: 121). Nevertheless, against the causality of the plot, there stands the bell itself, a thing from another world. Its incompleteness and clumsiness are deliberate in Murdoch's view because she had always complained about a wariness in introducing a symbol so that the aesthetic center it represents should be resisted by a competing force within the characters. And the bell in the text seems to be connected both with Murdoch's idea of religiousness as well as her mixed Eros, requiring patient purification. That is why the inscription on the beautiful old bell is Gabriel's saying Ego Vox Amoris Sum, acting for the very best of the two artefacts, while the second best is reflected by the motto Amor Vita Mea on the medallion of once worldly Imber Court before disintegration. The echo between them is the continuity of the heterogeneus world masterfully created in the novel with its postmodern dwindling piety. Still, Platonic and Christian Good is now falling in showers over Murdochian people in her first great complex, symbolic and emotional novel. (Stoenescu 2002: 371)
The Sea, the Sea: the artist as alazon
In Western Europe in mid 1970s, there was a change of forms in life from the paradigm of dominant patriarchal reductive consumerist model to engagement with principles such as mercy, compassion and right action. Looking back, there started a decade of hope as the world entered the Reagan--Thatcher years, but hope was soon lost because there was not so much ground for hope.
The 1980s came with much more numerous problems to face, continuing pollution of the land, of the oceans or near space, cynical wars and presentation of triumph instead of values in political life, problems which urged the world into a need for change of the old order, to impose a new one.
In point of spiritual life, there was a shift towards a twofold orientation: on the one hand a modification of religious ideas as the spiritual component was reduced to a series of products (self-help books, celebrity videos and publications for New Age beliefs) and on the other hand, a denial of the soul sickness that was real and used to lie at the heart of the competitive, poisoned and overcrowded society. The only sphere of authenticity in the 1980s was to be found in the personal sphere because "the public realm, the political and social, appears to have become corrupted beyond redemption" (Burnside 1999: IX). In such circumstances, the form of treatable neuroses appeared with individuals that wished to withdraw, to be quiet, to have some controlable space at stake and in general to long for authenticity. For most of the members of society, the trouble was manifest in the work--related phenomenon under the form of stress or depression, against which doctors rushed to recommend drugs, exercise, diets that make the individual get out more of his efforts. What people did for themselves is to offer a surrogate rather than a path, entertainment rather than thought and tideness rather than order.
Individuals under strain work out a way towards detachment in their real dispair, which says from any spiritual aesthetic practice have recommended for centuries: the Platonists' pursuit of the Good, the Buddhists' disciplined search for right action, the early Christians' caritas, all become detachment as a recurrent theme. Detachment for the Eastern thought is represented by a sort of quietism, an attitude practiced by those who feel somehow superior to the ordinary run of human affairs (Burnside 1999: IX). Still in being detached, one can be passionately involved and at the same time practice detachment, aloofness. Detachment becomes central to the work of the artist when there appears a split in his being, so that the Self and the desire for various rewards are set aside, which happen temporarly, in pursuit of an illusive excellence. Writers of the time reconsider the ideas of good and bad from a new perspective, in a world torn apart, ever more skeptical, in the absence of God. They would say: "If I do good, I am blessed, whether any bless me or not and, if I do ill I am cursed." For many of the writers such ideas come to the Western thought through the Indian sources (The Bhagavad Gita): "when work is done as sacred work, unselfishly, with a peaceful mind, without lust or hate, with no desire for reward, then the work is pure. But when work is done with selfish desire, or feeling it is an effort, or thinking it is sacrifice, than the work is impure. And that work which is done with a confused mind, without considering what may follow, or one's own powers, or the harm done to others, or one's own loss, is work of darkness."
In seclusion, heading a saint-like life would be too easy and wise a departure from the problems of life, for involved writers like Iris Murdoch. More often than not, the daemons of our nature come to the surface and torment us in recluse. Consequently, one cannot imagine oneself away, withdrawn from society to find peace, or wisdom, or detachment. That is a mistake for the world around as well as for the individual who becomes inappropriate, selfish, even cowardly. The only valid gowing away is the temporary one, in which the human being recollects spiritually, only to come back to the bustle of existance afterwards. In the Buddhist countries, a person may retire in a temple for a year, or some time, which means the person is taking a refuge to live in the outside world, when afterwards one brings a fresh strength and compassion to the relation with others. And because only very few are fit for the life of a monk or a saint, the retreat that one practises is spiritually, morally and physically beneficial, it has been practised in society for ages. Nevertheless, the temptation to withdraw and achieve a seeming detachment, to be above the agitating world may be an attractive one, but it does not offer a spiritual path, a search for meditation, wisdom and not in the least saintliness. Generally, to practice detachment means to be impassionately detached, to be in the world, in the chaos of needs, emotions, conflicts experienced by people, in the ordinary life. If that kind of life is hard and full of disappointments, then it means it is a just life.
It is true, in withdrawal, one can have the illusion of self-governance, order, peace, but it is a mere illusion, not worthwhile for most of us, but for egoists. In the Bodhisattvas or Sufi practices they keep asking themselves "How can I enjoy my peace, if others are confused, hurt and in need?" For the Bodhisattva practices, beings do not leave the circle until all sentient beings attain enlightenment; the saint who has got rid of the world illusion, returns to the same world in order to save the others. The return is not of an aloof, detached, cool person, but a return to the chaos and pity of the human condition; "To accept imperfection is the key. To engage, with compassion, in the serious game of being, in the only acceptable choice." The practice of the Bodhisattva, Sufi sages comes very near to Shakespeare's Prospero in The Tempest, otherwise great Will used to say the world must be peopled. (Burnside 1999: XI)
In this respect should be considered Murdoch's intention to write The Sea, the Sea, and create the figure of a new Prospero, finally a failed one, for the British world of the 1980s. Charles Arrowby is the ex-director of a London theatre, a man approaching the retiring age who wishes to go away from the bustle of life in the capital and especially from friends, relatives and just be by himself at the seaside for a time. He therefore buys a damp, grim cottage at Shruff End by the seaside and first takes great plesure in learning the labirynth of the house, full of rodents or the neighbourhood full of insects, rock, and ... the sea!
The novel is structured in three parts, Prehistory, History and a short postscript, called Life goes on. Soon the reader discovers Charles is a complex, rather strange hero who is in fact running away from his egoism. At the seaside he has no chance of remaining by himself, for being a public figure, people look for his company and friends or women he used to love, are chasing him in that village. Soon we discover Charles starts writing a diary, an autobiography, a memoir or such a work of art, in the pages of which his entire life before, his background and accomplishments should pass the test of time. And from the very beginning the reader marks Charles' intention to change the writing about himself into a novel, a kind of philosophical journal.
Murdoch created a comedy for Charles to be able to develop as a writer that Hague features as the Alazon archetype, or a pretended writer of the distinction Aristotle had made in the beginning of theatre, opposed to the Eiron archetype, or the true writer (Hague 1984). We have seen the author preferred to create her new contingencies for the themes she constructed in fictional reality as comedies, rather than tragedies, as she knew a lot about the Classical mind. Ancients used to produce tragedies with linear events and spilt away passion consuming the protagonists along the story, versus comedies that easily shift reality for illusion, allowing characters to change, develop, read just to life tragedy and manipulate language in numberless comic effects. Generally, satyricals used to follow the tragical show for the pleasure of the spectators in ancient Greece, bringing theme back to reality and life with the help of ancient Hellequins/ modern harlequins. She also made use of the carnivalesque space that Bakhtin found most complex in his classification of chronotopes when reinterpreting Rabelais' works and she now had the hero by the chaotic sea-space representing the lower classes, opposed to the space of the upper ones. We have already noticed Murdoch in the comedies of her networklike world that she created before the 1980s. Now in this way, the comic tone of The Sea, the Sea is felt by the reader from the beginning of Charles Arrowby's diary, when he is presented as a false or pretended writer, an Alazon archetype, or in the long-debated talks on food by which he ironically challenges his group in Prehistory; or in his meeting people as if on the stage. "My paternal grandfather was a market gardiner in Lincolnshire. (There, quite suddenly I have started to write my autobiography, and what a splendid opening sentence! I knew it would happen if I just waited)." (MSS: 22)
Charles Arrowby gets more and more excited to cast people round him into the drama of his new contingency, or in the experience, he has by the seaside, he finds himself as if he were rehearsing roles with actors, arranging roles for the spectators, just like in his management of the London theatre before. Moreover, he acts as if making anyone round him see that he is still in power and they all should fear him. Ironically, he quotes from Shakespeare's Henry IV: "This is the English, not the Turkish court!"
The comedy arizes from the discrepancy between the character's interpretation of his situation and the reader's perception of it, and the comic potential of uncounscious self-exposure is even greater when the hero narrates his own fiction. He intends to be an Eiron who builds an imaginative world for himself, but ends like an Alazon who usually fails to learn more about himself by the end of the story. For that, she made her sixty years old character/ protagonist embark upon a romantic quest for Hartley, a woman he used to love forty years before, only rarely acknowledging that his obsession may have a humorous dimension.
Hague analyses Arrowby, not only as a false Prospero in the Shakespearean world of the 1980s, but also in point of comic archetypes that critics have classified. Therefore, Charles Arrowby, the director Alazon passes from a mysterious and unrealistic man to a magician in the middle of some occult phenomena. He embodies either the fisher king hero that turns revigorated, or an impotent king in the assault for a younger woman for his rejuvenation. (cf. Frye 1957)
Mary Hartley Fitch is a woman in full menopause, greesy and fat, totally unattractive, whom Arrowby loved in adolescence but who had left him for her present husband, whom she does not intend to leave. Charles never rediscovers his lost innocence and his emotional impotence are not healed by the assault on Hartley's life. Other characters, Hartley included, try in vain to tell Charles he lives in a world of dream. It is that world of dream he wants to obstinately depict in the novel, but which he fails to understand even in the postscript after History and its tragedies, in spite of his metamorphosis or the others'. Still, he always makes use of a sarcastic style to write the text and manipulates characters of the romantic mode for ironic purposes, with disastrous results.
There appear tragic, unexpected events, which Charles fails to get a right meaning from, as for instance Hartley's almost breaking her marriage, her stepson's death by drowning into the sea, his Buddhist cousin's death, James, right after having saved Charles from drowning and having left him a comfortable flat for him to retreat to East End, a fashionable London district, in the middle of Indian things and healing Yoga atmosphere. James is actually the real force behind Charles' weakness, but whom the latter in the beginning despises, though James has got the real power to master occult forces, he is a true Prospero. Charles, a pretended, failed one, is always mastered by his daemons that in the story appear under the form of a serpent coming out of the sea and hypnotically attracting him for a swim in dangerous waters, where he almost dies.
In pursuing a bride to save him from egoism, Charles refers to himself as a king, but in return, he is called the king of shadows, troubled by his repeated sightings of a sea monster that comes under the theme of dragon killing for the fair-lady, and which in fact stands for his uncontrolled jealousy. He wants to recreate Hartley by force and thus he becomes an antagonist to his quest, a farmakon, or a negative archetype of comedy. Depending on the presence of occult and marvelous elements, Arrowby creates instead a Gothiclike atmosphere in his text, which also provides Murdoch's novel with the the most magical quality. In her intention, Arrowby both creates a world of illusion for his imagination and allows accult phenomena enter the wet house or his new labyrinth at the seaside, too: "a senzitized plate which intermittently registered things which had happened in the past--or it now occurred to me for the first time, were going to happen in the future." (MSS: 78)
In an interview, Murdoch explained her use of demonology that interferes with the perception of the other, of one another in life: "This notion of the intrusion of daemons--well, I feel this is something that happens in life. Not necessarily that people really are daemons, but that they play the role of daemons for other people ... people are often looking for a god or ready to cast somebody in the role of a daemon." (Rose 1968: 17)
Being overwhelmed with daemons, it is but natural for Charles Arrowby as he is being persistently chased by Lizzie, his former lover at the theatre whom he conceitedly characterizes in terms of Shakespeare shows he had staged and she once again misses her love for Peregrine. "She fell in love with me during Romeo and Juliet, she revealed her love during Twelfth Night, we got to know each other during A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then (but that was later) I began to love her during The Tempest, and (but that was later still) I felt her during Measure for Measure (when Aloysius Bull was playing the Duke)" (MSS: 49). Hague believes Arrowby always obscures the truth by leading the discussion either into points convenient for his certain acting roles of his life, or being perceived through convenient perspectives.
By creating new contingencies for a new Prospero in her time, she had a main focus: just to represent a comic reality in which characters undergo lots of metamorphic processes, but in fact little change is obtained within their structure, or in other words the price is too dear for those like Narcissistic and egoistical Arrowby who confuse art to life, by committing a moral error. She was even uneasy about the fact that the artist must impose form upon the work of art, a distrust she remembered from Plato's banishing the poets out of The Republic: "I think art's a kind of a temptation in a way. I mean art is a harmless activity, but it represents a sort of temptation, a temptation to impose form where perhaps it isn't always appropriate. Morality has to do with not imposing form, except appropriately and cautiously, and carefully and with attention to appropriate detail, and I think truth is very fundamental here. Art can subtly tamper with truth to a great degree because art is enjoyment. People persist in being artists against every possible discouragement and disappointment because it's a marvellous activity, a gratification of the ego, and a free, omnipotent imposition of form; unless this is constantly being, as it were, pulled at by the value of truth, the artwork itself may not be as good as the artist may be simply using art as a form of self indulgence. So I think in art itself there is this conflict between the form maker and the truthful, formless figure. This happens in art as well as in life" (Bellamy 1977: 135). In Against dryness, she also discusses the temptation of form.
The writer chose to write fiction for she was aware poetry and drama, by being highly symbolical and dramatic, cannot express the formless nature of reality. So in her text, Charles Arrowby is unable to leave the stage behind him and though having been warned, he cannot help directing life off stage and impose a form on people's destiny, because there is too much habit of artificiality and dramatic structure in his personality.
In The Sea, the Sea, heroes continue to have strong relationships with roles they used to play as actors, or roles Charles mistakenly gives to fit them in. Peregrine tries to murder Charles for having stolen Lizzie from him. Gilbert and Rosina also play parallel parts from the stage with their every day life. In this respect Charles takes his aesthetic views one step further and in the group by the seaside, he once again stages The Tempest, keeping for himself the Prospero part, much encouraged by the critics who had been praizing the trickeries of his staged performance in London.
The people surrounding Charles have different opinions on the last drama of his life. That is why he is in the middle of multiple points of view, one more critical than the other, contributing to emphasize the comic of the situation, the corrosive irony of the text. Lizzie Scherer calls him a 'rapacious magician.' Rosina angrily labels his machinations of 'a facile sorcerer,' to finally being called a 'failed magician' by Peregrine. The people orbiting him say no at his attempt of imposing a new direction to their lives. In the text of his novel, Charles wonders about his ability of changing magic into spirit both in reality and in fiction, revealing his aesthetic intentions that verge too much on the amoral: "What suits me best is the drama of separation of looking forward to assignations and rendezvous. I cannot prefer the awful eternal presence of marriage to the magic of meetings and partings. I do not even care for sharing a bed and I rarely want to spend the whole night with a woman I have made love to, in the morning she looks to me like a whore." (MSS: 52)
His rationale for being the non marital person insist on misleading life into art when all women in his biography get compared to Shakespeare's heroines and always fail the standard, except Hartley. Like that, Charles starts making a sum total of faults for her husband and their supposed marital difficulties, fighting for an illusion that James calls phantom Helen and whom Charles as an Alazon writer, seeks to turn her fabricated images into a false story: "It was only now clear to me how very much I had made that image, and yet I could not feel that it was anything like a fiction. It was more like a special sort of truth, almost a touchstone; as if a thought of mine could become a thing, and at the same time be truth." (MSS: 428)
Arrowby admits his fetish image of Hartley in the middle section History and towards the end of the novel he even regrets turning his love for her into an object of desire, an end in itself, no longer possible: "But supposing it should turn out in the end that such a love should lose its object, could it, whatever happened, lose its object? ... Would I at last absolutely lose Hartley because of a treachery or desertion on her part which should turn my love into hate? Could I begin to see her as cold, heartless, uncanny, a witch, a sorceress? I felt that this could never be and I felt it is an achievement, almost as a mode of possession. As James said 'if even a dog's tooth is truly worshipped, it glows with light'. My love for Hartley was very nearly an end in itself. Twist and turn as she might, whatever happened, she could not escape me now." (MSS: 430)
Already the reader can sense Charles Arrowby is on the way of getting reconciled with people's lives going on as well as his, admitting he is no Prospero and having no real magic power, the quest for the physical presence with Hartley is in fact very much a need to have her in his imagination (Burdescu 1996: 87): "I was all the time gazing with a kind of creative passion in her candle lit face, like some god resembling her beauty for my own purposes" (MSS: 221). Murdoch obtained a new comic effect in her fiction by the unconscious "self exposure of the narrator in the context" (Hague 1984: 130). As readers, we can follow and grasp Arrowby's ridiculous and tragic events that he himself engineers, for instance Hartley's coming to him to get help in finding her step son, whereas Charles takes it for an avowal of love and desire to run off with him, as if to carry off his old love were possible by some miracle.
In his generally despising attitude, Charles casts no higher light on her, no appreciation, because Hartley becomes little by little to him and his fiction the beggar maid in need to be rescued by a king that proves he will never change from the egoistical man he has always been. Only he grows more aware about his wrong ideal and treatment of life, real life. She is in fact an aging woman whose body and appearance are in visible degradation with fat, moustache, wrinkles, snors and even a foul odour in her room. Rosina is more realistic when she calls her 'an old woman who simply wants to rest,' but whom Charles, ironically calls 'girl,' a comic situation in fact always reflected in the text.
In Arrowby's literary text there appears his appreciation of language power and of the use of dialogue. Nevertheless, in his subsequent memoir, he admits the text and its discourse are deceitful as much as the drama is for the audience assigning for her interest in the word philosophy and Wittgenstein's especially: "It has only just now occurred to me that really I could write all sorts of fantastic nonsense about my wife in these memoirs and everybody will believe it! Such is human credulity, the power of the printed word and of any well known name or slow business personality. Even if the readers claim that they take it with a grain of salt, they do not really. They yearn to believe and they believe because believing is easier than disbelieving and because anything which is written down is likely to be true in a way." (MSS: 76)
In a world without religion, at the end of the century, Murdoch anticipates the audience's craving for belief, as well as their incredulity in any kind of discourse. Plato's disbelief in poets' works in The Republic is also implied in The Sea, the Sea, the true logos being that of philosophy, turned, in Arrowby's case, into a manipulation of truth rather than an enlightenment through art. Perfectly suited to his egoistical writing of the novel, the Alazon writer in Charles creates a smug tone adding to the burlesque comic of the book in some parts, especially in those dealing with gourmet digressions and food, considered by her physical matters, far from the spiritual ones. Charles develops a "self-satisfied tone" and a "detached style" in the end of the novel, especially in the postscript Life goes on. (Hague 1984: 135)
The more we pursue Arrowby's writing memoirs, the more obvious is Plato's symbolism in Murdoch's novel. The symbolism of the cave and of light, so much insisted upon Murdoch's The Fire and the Sun, appears in the cavities and labyrinths that Arrowby and the people round him live in, the theatre stage, the house by the seaside and finally the Buddhist kind of residence that Charles is offered for the meditation he will make on reality, back in London and for which the postscript is patterned. Not only epiphany and a sense revelation are offered to Charles, the same selfish protagonist in the end, but also a sense of magic for the entire novel that becomes in fact a novel within a novel, thus turning The Sea, the Sea into a more profound work of art. (Bradbury 1993:76)
The magic of the book unfolds in the Shakespearean resonance that pervades the text, in the practically numberless allusions to his works. Not only Prospero's show in Arrowby enhances the sense of magic, but also the heroes' preference for Buddhist practices, or just for objects of magic, such as pink stones in Hartley's case or black in Charles's. The very strange light effects by day or by night recall either the intensity of the sun (transcendence) or of the stars (demonic, sexual implications). Love itself is viewed in the Shakespearean influence from the perspective of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which characters take different new identities because they are all in a carnivalesque holiday.
The symbolism of the cave, a hidden limited space, is opposed throughout the text to that of the vast, unlimited sea. Jealousy as guilt is a major theme of the book. Master images of the box versus the sea have a huge force in both literal and metaphoric sense, and calling them only symbols could prove rather demeaning. They seem more like concrete metaphors. Both Charles and James speak in the tone of her own Freudianized Platonism, of the mind as a cavern with variously available light sources. What Charles had done in self-defence against the pain of loving Hartley, can be taken as a mistake of his, because she is mixed up with one great light, that is the Good itself in the Platonic view: "All forms of absolute metaphysics in Murdoch's works are as vulnerable as in life. Charles has the special defensive poignancy of young love fetishised. The contrast between the force of this love and its object, the frail over imaginative old moustached woman that Hartley now is, is awesome." (Conradi 1986: 245)
Now the power of the image of the box, which is both the extremely dark, entirely empty enclosed inner room without outside windows in the cottage and also the cavern of his own mind, relies in that Charles has locked up a simulacrum of Hartley's in his own mind and is to act out this incarceration in reality. That makes him believe Hartley as imprisoned within the cave of her marriage, too. On one page the word 'cage' appears three times repeated and afterwards he decides to encage her, himself. The box also stands for the unconscious part of the mind in particular that perceiving time and space. Only for Murdoch obsessive love seems vulnerable and impermanent, the best love would be impossessive.
James is the other protagonist in the story, a true artist, the Eiron archetype and a true Prospero acting in the novel both as Charles' cosubstantial cousin, whom in the beginning the latter rejects in an Oedipus complex (having too much loved his mother he also refused staying with any woman in a proper relationship), and as a Buddhism practitioner who rescues Charles in the end.
Again language asserted with Murdoch the absolute importance of the inner world, as well as the fantastic nature of much human action. Therefore, James reminds Charles of the Trojans' fighting for phantom Helen and speaks of the ontological proof: "The worshipper endows the worshipped object with power, real power, not imaginary power, that is the ontological proof one of the most ambiguous ideas, clever men even thought of. But this power is dreadful stuff. Our lasts our attachments compose our god." (Conradi 1986: 250)
While critics of Murdoch's works absolutize the difference between fantasy and imagination, she asserted the continuity of the two. The man who might have the power to perceive--or imagine--the true as opposed to the phantom Helen is the man who has purified lusts and attachments that include guilt, revenge, jealously. Such a man could worship purely, but unless he were a great artist, would be unable to tell us what he could see, since it lies beyond the realm of images. That world which lies beyond the images, from which all forms come and return, is partly figured in the text, by the sea.
In the novel, James appears to master the sea, whereas Charles fails to do so. Our lesson from the text is that monsters do not exist without our deep complicity and cannot play their roles unaided, so white demons are present in Charles's mind. But the monster may appear in his case with half his mind wish for our help in finding a new role, and find that help unforthcoming. The strange things happen right for helping Charles figure out his guilt. First someone pushes him into Minn's Cauldron, a lethally enclosed deep whirlpool, with steep and polished sides from which James mysteriously rescues Charles: "Thus James must have loved Charles and stayed in his mind though realizing late, James is a catalogue of eccentricities and was equipped with various small signs or stigmata of his spiritual status." On the other side, James proves himself a true Buddhism lover for he is a great admirer of Milarepa's poems (Milarepa is a great sinner turned into a saint of Boudhishatva philosophy).
The law governing the book is Karma or fate for Indians, called by James 'spiritual causality,' by which we pay inexorably for every thought as well as every action. Charles imagines now he can step outside experience to contemplate it calmly, but in fact he is only now about to start paying for being the tyrant and false artist he is. The sea monster, the serpent appearing to Charles is interpreted as "possibly the post eidetic image of a lugworm at which he was staring, or the recurrence of a bad trip he once made." (Conradi 1986:238)
We know the sublime comes in Murdoch from Kant and the moral law within: two wonders. In the text both sea scape and star scape become conventional triggers of the sublime and which here might be defined by its opposition to the box of obsession. It casts both to dwarf Charles's pain about Hartley and about his life. Pains speak of multiplicity and disorder of natural worlds, too. Charles had given Hartley states of absolute being in his life, whereas images of sea and stars decree that such incarnate absolute must be delusive: "Charles has been a philosophical Monnist with Hartley as the point of total connection. In this private religion the sea is changing from second to second, while he watches it, mocks such transcendence, declares it premature. Like that, Charles inundation is again both real and figurative." (Conradi 1986: 246)
In further commenting on the metaphor of the sea, there is the freedom, because nearly half of the Judaic and Greek creation--that she had loved since her studies of the ancients--is concerned with God's struggle in which water plays a most important role. Thus, the sea contains and stands for everything, gathering within a symbol for the uncoerced, unconscious source of all other symbols from which identity comes and to which it returns. Conradi calls it 'the mother of forms' and it becomes for the author an ideal metaphor for the zone of contingency: "My imagination lives near the sea she used to declare in interviews--and under the sea, because first, my people lived by the river."
In The Sea, the Sea Charles grows into a figure of impermanence because human arrangements like his are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to control us. And along the demonstration, her fiction is also a great example of anti-Modernism finding impermanence of life itself, or rather cliches of existence without focus. In Murdoch, the use of metaphor and myth is deliberately incomplete, though provisional. Like all her other novels, The Sea, the Sea contains no exploration of the unconscious, and while Charles manifests one, the book as a whole does not. Here, character psychology precedes myth and examines a mad condition, too, struck with love. It is true, Shakespeare never presents love from only one angle and falling in love, for the Renaissance naughty playwright that he used to be, happens from another comic perspective all the times: "Falling in love is for many people the most extraordinary and most revealing experience of their lives, whereby the center of significance is suddenly ripped off of the self, and the dreamy ego is shocked into awareness of an entirely separate reality. Love in this form may be somehow an ambiguous instructor. Plato had admired that Eros is a bit of a sophist. The desire of the sturdy ego ... to dominate and possess the beloved, rather than to serve and adore him, may be overwhelmingly strong. We want to derealize the other, devour and absorbe him, subject him to the mechanism of the fantasy." (Murdoch 1977: 36)
Let us now compare Murdoch's with Arrowby's analysis of his obssessive irrationality in trying to love Hartley or his quest for an illusion: "I was in a state which I well knew was close to a sort of madness, and yet I was not mad. Some kinds of obsession, of which being in love is one, paralyse the ordinary free-wheeling of the mind, its natural open interested curious mode of being, which is sometimes persuasively defined as rationality. I was sane enough to know that I was in a state of total obsession and that I could only think, over and over again, certain agonizing thoughts, could only run continually along the same rat paths of fantasy and intent" (MSS: 391). By this rather lucid and detached, though humorous, self-analysis, Charles appears to have arrived at an understanding and acceptance of his experiences and, on trying to sleep, he has the revelation of the seals, calm and dear animals he had been looking for throughout the story: "Murdoch cannot bear, however, to end the narrative on this serious note. Always intent on forcing her fiction back to her conception of reality as messy, continually expanding, and shapeless, she adds a postscript by the narrator, appropiately entitled Life goes on which begins with Charles's suddenly mocking both the conclusion of the novel and the pretence of art that attempts to impose conclusions and final interpretations upon the fluidity of real life." (Hague 1984: 137)
Murdoch grants a credible finale for Charles, who gets his lecture from his final, pushing experience to model others' lives, which is in fact to be seen in his very refusal to arrive at any conclusion: "If this diary is waiting for some final clarifactory statement which I am to make about Hartley, it may have to wait forever." By entering the Protean and relative life of such a complex character as Charles Arrowby, she in fact enters the very cavern of his mind, his mentality of a god or king who, instead of presenting reality in art, brings art to reality by imposing a wrong form on the latter. Nevertheless, his refusing to abjure magic is not enough to save him from a false artist he turns into, because in his sixties he is still adolescently, amorally wishing to meet a sixteen years old girl who wants an illegitimate son of him, which turns out to be highly unrealistic, while his fame as a director quickly disappears.
The Sea, the Sea contains a main symbol of the novel and the sea stands both for Murdoch's fictional world, as suggested to the readers, and for her literary discourse. In interviews, she always explained frankly and fairly personal views on poetics, criticism, personal likes and dislikes. But where does the title come from ? In being a great admirer of antiquity heroes, she first thought of Alexander the Great's Anabasis [Oh, The Ocean/Sea] while plodding his way through the hot desert towards India. Then, her deep and all encompassing mind was thinking of Paul Valery and his Cimetiere marin with a view to matching the sea symbol perfectly with a failed magician of her universe. And then, perhaps carrying Shakespearean memories with her in all the waters she had been bathing into, it was the sea itself which gave her the idea not only of water, a lower level of existence, but also a soothing and rejuvenating medium wherefrom life first sprang. She had been very inspired and showing much artistic gift in the 1970s for The Sea, the Sea brought her the most coveted prize for a writer alive, The Booker Prize and the respect of the critics with it.
The Sea, the Sea is the greatest of Murdoch's novels because it has been built to last, and has an exemplary universality. The house by the sea, the life of the theatre, its erotic obsession, the contrast of simple and sophisticate, the artist versus the ascetic soldier, the different women, its 'types' have the durability and strength of great art. To possess a personality is by definition to be built from such apparently timeless moments of pain and pleasure as Charles's and also to be forced to learn to distance himself from. Charles' story is in this sense everyman's (Conradi 1986: 231). Malcohm Bradbury saw it as a merciless and painful book when it appeared, Gabriele Annan finally as a 'comedy with portholes for looking out at the cosmos'. The mixture of pain and comedy here reaches some high point. In my opinion it did deserve the great acclaim and Booker Prize which is won.
The Black Prince: word philosophy
If in Murdoch's view, the 20th century novel should be a world for three-dimensional characters--able to evolve freely from their author's will, sometimes taking even their creator by surprise, then it should have an articulate and complex plot and its narrator will sit in the position of a judge, to order the conflicts and confrontations in their deployment. At the end of the century, the novel language is no longer the determining element--as formalist structuralists used to sustain--but, quite the contrary, language should become transparent and instrumental enabling us the access into a parallel world of illusion. (Stoenescu 2002: 274)
It is interesting for the reader to notice the most successful is male first person narration in the Murdochian fiction. The black Prince was written in 1973, when she was in full Shakespearean interest and, after having put on the mask of a Demiurge and Prospero in the previous worlds commented so far, she now felt inclined to put on Hamlet's mask or further investigate the Apollo-Marsyas myth underpinning the story of Bradley Pearson the writer with a postmodern prince of words in the fiction. Now the neutral voice of the dramatic medium seems to be able to accomplish more effortlessly the discourse in the fiction than the voice of the narrator used to do before. The complexity of the point of view in The Black Prince recalls Jane Austin's wideness and fullness, interestingly to be compared with Henry James's Strether in The Ambassadors. Her accomplishment in the novelistic discourse in the present book is due to her high consideration for Shakespeare's aesthetics of imperfection and also for the poetics of plausibility in the Jamesian novel, rather than linguistic experiments she had left out, from the already classical stream of consciousness technique for being too simple. There is a brief, but tantalizingly vague remark at the end of her article Agaist dryness: "Perhaps only Shakespeare manages to create at the highest level both images and people; and even Hamlet looks second rate compared with Lear."
In The sovereignty of Good, she started arguing the question as follows: "Art presents the most comprehensible examples of the almost irresistible human tendency to seek consolation in fantasy and also of the effort to resist this and the vision of reality which comes with success. Success in fact is rare. Almost all art is a form of fantasy, consolation and few artists can be readily, and is naturally employed to produce a picture whose purpose is the consolation and aggrandizement of its author and the projection of his personal obsessions and wishes. To silence and expel self, to contemplate and delineate nature with a clear eye is not easy and demands a moral discipline." (Murdoch 1971: 64)
Murdoch's intention was to produce good art that should be impersonal in the way in which it avoids projecting the creator's personal obsessions and wishes. She learnt it from Shakespeare, who rarely used to have a special style. He rather showed us "the world as it is, in a great impersonal style." (Todd 1979: 29)
She did not pronounce outright at any stage in her essays a classification between Hamlet and King Lear in point of the writer's sadomasochist presence in language manipulation and she leaves Bradley Pearson, the curiously perceptive, though deluded narrator to account for the second rateness of Hamlet. Pearson's own name shows the critic's sophistication in re-reading the handling of narrative in Shakespeare's Sonnets versus Hamlet and for which we have to admit Great Will's obsession as well as Murdoch's with language are astonishngly skillful. We learn nothing from the Sonnets in Bradley's text--but we learn about Hamlet a lot, which is a revelation of Shakeapeare himself and also extremely difficult an allusion to it in Murdoch's novel.
Bradley Pearson is directly associated with Hamlet, or with Julian Baffin--the twenty-year-old daughter of Pearson's friend and literary protege, Arnold Baffin. Pearson falls in love with her, which complicates too much his often described apprehension of hers as an object of desire, as a fetish: it is transparent that she played the part of Hamlet, because Pearson falls in love with her, while dressed in the hero's clothes, that would account for the dream of any actor to identify himself by playing that role. Now Julian's androgyny shows her to be the master-mistress of Pearson's passion.
Francis Marlo is a degenerated brother-in law for Pearson who enters into the story to tell Baffin in the end that Pearson has taken Julian away for the honeymoon, although he had known about the death of his own sister, Priscilla Francis. Baffin manages to announce Pearson about his sister's death and on the latter's arrival he finds Julian dressed as Hamlet. At this point, Richard Todd agrees the reader might sympathyze with Pearson because of his confrontation with the dark god Eros, in postmodern dimension, but still one can recognize the allusion to the clown in Shakespeare's All's well that ends well. To the reader, Pearson appears liberated, but further still we get the idea of the elderly writer being actually invigorated after Priscilla's death. The whole story begins to look suspiciously the sexual gratification of an elderly man who happens to inevitably deceive Julian over his age. His brief and glorious moment of potency is over, and he has been completely unmanned by Arnold, on being revealed he had known about the death: "Julian, I was going to tell you tomorrow, I was going to tell you everything tomorrow I had to stay today. You saw how it was. We were both possessed, we were held here, we couldn't have gone. It had to happen as it did." (MBP: 287)
Julian is now seen as Hamlet and through Pearson's contact with her there is a temporary invigorating role providing him the energy to resolve a writer's block. Yet, Pearson always delays embarking upon his writing, which strikingly resembles the pattern of Hamlet's delay in acting. Hamlet's confrontation with death: his father's, Ophelia's, Polonius's and the meeting with Laertes at Ophelia's grave take him out of irresoluteness. In The Black Prince two pairs of characters are linked in a comparable way through the central character. Pearson and Priscilla get linked by the former's ex-wife, Christina and her brother, Francis.
But in her fiction, there is much more economy than in Shakespeare's, and the relationship among characters does not enable Pearson to quickly get his resolution in perspective. The task is left for Priscilla's ex-husband, young Roger and his much younger girl-friend Marigold. Pearson now notes down in his own narrative what he sees as the ludicrousness of the general stereotype and the effect of observation is firstly to get him in a state of anger, and later to help him forget about Priscilla's death and start writing his work. He is a fine observer of Roger and Marigold's couple relationship, but cannot transfer any of their serenity over to him and Julian. He does not act like Hamlet finally, but rather allows himself to relapse in self-pity and ends by being a failed prince of words, himself.
Pearson is utterly at the center of his narrative (unlike Hamlet who fails taking up action in front of the players' speech). Moreover, the Editor's postscripts made up from four of the characters' remarks have Pearson at their center. The extremely complicated plot is left behind because The Postscripts "undermine any claim to veracity of Pearson's own narrative" and more than that, they undermine each other. R. Todd believes Hamlet's concern is that Horatio "should report me and my cause right/To the unsatisfied, " while Pearson makes a similar plea through his narrative (Todd 1979: 34). And instead, after the narrative's delusions, a pitiless attitude towards Pearson is inflicted. And this gets also obvious by contrasting more Pearson's with Shakespeare's characters. For instance, Hamlet's sickly complaint about smells can be read as neurosis caused by shocking experiences in later events, dramatically presented "his father's death, his mother's remarriage, its overhasty nature contrasted with Hamlet's own tendency to procrastinate and later horribly underlined by confirmations of her sexual submission to the murderer of Hamlet's father." In Pearson, the disgust at the older women in his narrative is to be taken as operative, more as an obsessive neurosis that makes him tutorial about Julian's young age. But for the reader it can be mistakenly represented as a confusion between love and sex, thinking only of the room in which the Hamlet tutorial takes place in the text, described as very hot, and with sexual allusions "I had closed the book and had laid my two hands flat on the table. I stared at the girl. She smiled, and then when I did not, giggled and blushed, thrusting back her hair with a crooked finger. I wasn t very good. I say, Bradley, do my feet smell? Yes, but it is charming." (MBP: 164)
For critics, the word "charm" generates something interpreted as absolute charm, because in love everything is possible. The reader cannot make out whether that kind of charm liberates Pearson sexually from his neurosis and selfhood, or it is real love for Julian. Until Pearson's masochistic showdown with Arnold, the smell stereotype is working for love, but after that, it has the effect of turning Julian against him. Murdoch had several artists for protagonists in other novels. But Pearson appears to be her expression against the theme of this kind of sexual infatuation (she used to be called 'a saint' while theaching at Oxford) and more importantly in this highly complex novel she voices the moral demands which such infatuation imposes. In addition, Pearson's editor, P. Loxias, would dismiss this as unworthy because art to him means adventure stories, giving credit to such an adventure story which only appears as such in an ordinarily dull life. As a result, Pearson's life often appears dull, which is remarked in more than one Postscript, but never in Pearson's own narrative of himself: the character is apprehended in an obsessive neurosis about smells revealing the masochistic light cast on him. From that perspective, Pearson often contemplates Hamlet. (Todd 1979: 37)
The author intends to go further into commenting form in art, by allowing Pearson to refer to the 'purified language' of the drama. For Murdoch, "Hamlet" and Hamlet (the hero) are both linguistic triumphs: "Hamlet" is words, and so is Hamlet. Pearson becomes now identified with both artefact and character, which cannot be verified, though he may call Shakespeare's play a "monument of words." The play gets accessible to everyone, it is always quoted and it is, at the same time a particular obsession in Shakespeare's mind. The playwright has a particular attitude in Hamlet, towards the language of dramatic convention. Good art for Murdoch, like in Pearson's narrative, induces quite functionally the simultaneous access both of public and private visions. In the light of theoretical remarks (The sovereignty of Good), the idea of reading Pearson and his relationship with Julian through this illuminating line of pursuing the Good, reveals the text as more clear and its morality as well.
There are critics who consider The Black Prince to be Murdoch's highest novel, more important than the atmospheric novel, The Sea, the Sea. Perhaps in introducing her fictional aesthetics, this book has a higher rank than the world for the masked Prospero she is about to create in The Sea, the Sea. But unfortunately, The Black Prince does not reveal itself to the uninformed audience, partly because of its composition, partly because of the writer's relativizing absoluteness in handling language. As a matter of fact, she never cared about bad reviews or misinterpretations of her books/works, much assured because she used to hold council with her husband Bayley, a critic and prose writer himself. Along these lines, I try to further clear out details both of novel composition and of philosophical, culturally rich basis, underpinning Murdoch's outstanding text of this novel.
As a prose writer she had written composite and heterogeneous novels before The Black Prince, so to speak unattentive of a style (believing, like Shakespeare, that her style is reality, contingency), giving life to the baroqueness of her intricate plots, only in his own narrative within Murdoch's novel, now Pearson's vision of Hamlet makes him arrive at a conclusion about Shakespeare's special style. Though a masochist in handling words, Shakespeare's "God is a real god and not an eidolon of private fantasy." To Pearson, Hamlet becomes supreme because it has come out of Shakespeare's apprehension of reality, which is so rare, and that enables him to invent language, as if for the first time. For Hamlet language does not 'signify,' but 'is.' Then, form as art form in Hamlet is presented as reality. Murdoch agreed with Pearson on the Shakespearean ideal relationship between the form of art and the contingency of character, between images and real people. (Todd 1979: 38)
On the other side, that ideal fails both Murdoch and Pearson as artists, because since Shakespeare's time, no one seems to have been able to integrate pattern, plot with form. Therefore, both Pearson and Murdoch detect in "Hamlet" a purification of language. Hamlet looks not at revenge but in fact at the concept of revenge for the dramatic rhetoric. And consequently, language is exceedingly exploited in Shakespeare's play. For instance, Hamlet's addressing the ghost makes a special opportunity for Shakespeare to express his doubt on the murder case. Later on, the roles of player and actor are deliberately confused in the show before the king. Afterwards, concept and image are united in the only character, Hamlet, allowing Pearson to notice both the functionality of the device and himself reflected in Shakespeare's doing it because that play "was about someone Shakespeare was in love with." (MBP: 166)
In the 20th century, Murdoch complains of a loss in the richness of language, of its general referential quality. She finds it a miracle for Shakespeare to have been able to master a kind of language which can be regarded as a matrix, but not cramp the style of individual characters. From Murdoch's Shakespearean influence, there evolves most importantly the combination between character and pattern in Bradley Pearson's case.
More recent critical works find a clear Wittgensteinean voice in Murdoch's word philosophy as well as in the novels based on it. Heusal regards her characters during moments of enlightenment as they climb towards the sun. In this respect, her play with visual perspectives goes beyond the obvious metaphorical analogies such as world as cave, network as logic, movement up and out as good or light, movement in and down as evil dark. For her--the philosophical writer--seeing requires the mind to participate both in being and in becoming, which are also important in Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophical system. In order to avoid misunderstanding, Murdoch just like Wittgenstein requested re-seeing (we also remember it from Plato) for the characters, which become important ontologically and epistemologically, as well. In the slight revising, she creates the necessary inconsistencies to allow for cacophony, thereby destabilizing the novel form. For example, in The Black Prince she plans to "absurdify Francis" (as written in her notebook), which is translated by her intention of not rendering the reader everything for granted. (Stevens Heusel 1995: 247)
Murdoch's goal is again that of placing side by side a series of disjunctive ideas and allow them to enter the dialogic play. Such juxtaposition brings about either a gradual continuum as in the line of the cave myth or an abruptness. Her novels are unique products of eclectism allowing the characters the exploration of paradox. She also uses perceptual phenomena analyses in her Gestalt psychology like those discussed by Wittgenstein (whom she had visited and talked to as a student in Oxbridge) in his Philosophical Investigations, because that gives an explicit orientation to names of sudden disorientation she needs for vital human experience: a switch or shift of Gestalt. In fiction, she can dramatize it and also cause the character's orientation towards the sun.
In The Black Prince, after repeating on two pages about Pearson's disorientation, he falls in love so a switch in Gestalt precedes the character's moment towards the sun. Or in the text: "Strewing flowers upon the roadway [actually they were paper pieces] like a Hindu priest", is another Gestalt that intervenes for sensory information, until Pearson realizes he was "pondering a woman." Then the narrator's voice would continue one page further: "only now I realized with yet another shift of gestalt that the whirling white blobs were not petals at all, but fragments of paper." (MBP: 56)
One can remember Joyce also had used the duck-rabbit figure from Wittgenstein's Philosophical investigations to call up the visualization of parallax or the stereoscope that is the same outline can be perceived as different alternate figures, with very different shapes: "Furthermore, if the human mind perceives the energies of the physical world, not as atomistic sensations, but as configurations, in the way that Gestalt psychology proposes, then each work of art is a configuration of ideas, themes and details organized in potentially meaningful wholes that viewers will perceive differently, depending on their perspective and their proclivity to look at the figure or at the ground." (Stevens Heusel 1995: 249)
Murdoch found significant a switch in Gestalt at visual, mental and moral levels. She created a world shocking her characters not only into seeing visual phenomena, but also into what she made use of as her own concept of unselfing when often a "sudden beautiful reality impinges on characters." By 'unselfing' she meant seeing and responding to the real world in the light of a "virtuous consciousness" without any "solipsism of the ego" (cf. Raducanu 2004). In other words, loving for love, with no egoistic drive in it.
With regard to postmodern indeterminacy in The black prince, she obtained it by means of irony and contingency, openness and improvisation. For example, she combined modernist fragmentation of characters and truths with indeterminacy in the structure of the novel. "The novel itself, of course, the whole world of the novel is the expression of a world outlook any novelist produces a moral world and there's a kind of world outlook which can be deduced from each of the novels" (Conradi 1986: 8). She patterned the story of Pearson so that the reader must analize his life and/or his novel in discrete pieces. As the postscripts demonstrate, the result or conclusion are bizarre ways in which reality is being distorted, each one added in the end and presenting a new, Protean configuration of reality.
None of the perspectives from any 'dramatis personae' can be trusted, though each may be partly valid. For example, such recalling of the story tends to insinuate Bradley Pearson's potential for homosexuality. The different voices employ different device to dramatize the relationship between seeing and understanding or representation. Loxias himself, as the editor of the author's narrative, has an indeterminate identity suggested even by his name (a licentious combination from the Latin verb locvor, to speak) very much similar to the perversity in Joyce's Ulysses.
Because each of these writers in the book is willing to mix conventions, their unorthodox methods teach readers to see, to listen and to read in a new way. In The Black Prince, the author feels the need of going back and forth between modern and more conventional device and she questions in this novel (exactly like Joyce), the human desire for centeredness. She introduces characters mysteriously (Joyce is doing the same with his), and they are juxtaposed to realism in the same way. She creates realist fiction, but contradictory to Aristotelian identity, with substance and causality and which have been worldwidely known to be at the novel centre before. Only her characters, especially philosophers or psychoanalists are looking for magic: but it is the magic which no one can find and is also able both to fill the void and refer back to a centre. (Stevens Heusel 1986: 254)
Though disconcerting for the reader, Murdoch's methods, no matter how bizzare they might be, are intended to prepare the reader for strange unveilings of reality that occur in life by all means. Heusal believes that while both Joyce and Murdoch deployed disturbing cultural paradoxes of birth, death and rebirth, her texts describe uncategorizable forms embedded with her visions, by far more experimental than Joyce's in that respect. For both of them, masochism is a crucial issue and thus they give too few perspectives on the subject. For example in the Marsyas myth (which Joyce misses as a cultural icon), appropriated by the author in The Black Prince, she succeeded in making her characters more ardent in their desire to escape the slavery inherent in their system. That becomes an imitation (stimulation) of human life to escape the masochism resulting from total acceptance of the ideology of any culture.
In the interview she gave for BBC on the occasion of her receiving The Booker Prize, which she had got for The Sea, the Sea, one could also observe the paradoxical complexity Murdoch achieved in another novel written before the prized one, The Black Prince, by having Bradley Pearson's skin flayed. And she also introduced more light on the motif of the 1993 novel. Mentioning the impression Titian's painting The slaying of Marsyas made on her, in the interview she proved in fact the many conflicting device she used to hold together both herself and the idea of an artist in suspension when creating the novel.
From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable we learn Marsyas in the mythology was the Phrygian flute player who challenged Apollo to a contest of skill, and being beaten by the god, was flayed alive for his presumption. From his blood arose the river so called. The flute on which Marsyas played had been discarded by Minerva and, being filled with the breath of the goddess, discoursed most beautiful music. The interpretation of this fable is as follows: The Dorian Mode, employed in the worship of Apollo, was performed on lutes; and the Phrygian Mode, employed in the rites of Cybele, was executed by flutes, the reeds of which grew on The River Marsyas. As the Dorian mode was preferred by the Greeks, they say that Apollo beat the flute-player.
Conradi comes closer as an exegete to the Faustian searches in life Murdoch had to make/ to lead the readers into grasping them. Somehow she even became dangerous with her negative sublime theory and her conclusions upon man's limited nature to create the Good: "Suppose the truth were awful, suppose it was just a black pit, suppose only evil were real, who could face this ? The philosophers never even tried. All philosophy has taught a facile optimism, even Plato did so ... All altruism feeds the fat ego ... We do not know the truth because as I told you, it cannot be endured. People will endlessly conceal from themselves that good is only good if one is good for nothing ... one must be good for nothing ... That in why goodness is impossible for all human beings." (Conradi 1986: 163-165)
Critics seem to agree Murdoch was among the very few, very complex fiction writers of the end of the 20th century British literature to let her characters enter the paradoxical she experiments with form and narrative effects, but The Black Prince is supreme as a dialogical work, to demonstrate both her subversive philosophy and her writing process together. Sometimes her narrative techniques are created with a new view to recording mental and perceptual changes in her characters, which get atomistically perceived by some critics. What we need, perhaps, is a holistic approach to explore the novels.
Let us now look closer at the text in point of her word philosophy and concentrate on the text analysis in one fragment from The Black Prince: "Does this background forbid refinement in morals ? How often, my dear friend, have we not talked of this. And shall the artist have no cakes and ale ? Must he who makes happy be a liar, and can the spirit that sees the truth also speak it? What is, what can be, the range of the sufficiently serios heart? Must we be always drying these tears, or at least aware of them, or stand condemned? I have no answer to give here to these questions. Perhaps there is a very lenghthy answer or perhaps none at all. The question itself will remain, as long as our planet remains (which may not in fact be long) to bedevil our wise men, indeed quite literally sometimes to make demons of them. Must not the response to such a problem be demonic? How God must laugh (Himself a demon). This prelude, dear friend, my apologia, offered to you not for the first time, concerning this love story. The pains of love? Pooh! And yet: the ecstasy of love, the glory of love. Plato lay with a beautiful boy and thought it no shame to see here the beginning of the path to the sun. Happy love undoes the self and makes the world visible. Unhappy love is, or can be, a revelation of pure suffering. Too often of course our reverses are clouded and embittered by jealousy, remorse, hatred, the mean and servile if onlys of a peevish spirit. But there can be intuitions even here of a more sublime agony. And who can say that this is not in some way a fellow feeling with those quite (...) when they say, mocks lovers' oaths, and we covertly smile even while we sympathize with the love-lorn, especially if they are young. We believe they will recover. Perhaps they will, whatever recovery may be. But there are times of suffering which remain in our lives like black absolutes and are not blotted out. Fortunate are those for whom these black stars shed some sort of light." (MBP: 248)
The novel brings several new things in the technique Iris Murdoch used, opening with a confusing atempt at arranging in chronological order the story that Bradley Pearson narrates or better decides to narrate, unaware ahead of four other possible points of view being printed with his editor's publishing the text postscripts. From the very beginning, the reader comes across a story that proposes a vision gettting larger and larger in scope, until it reaches a complex ending towards relativizing everything.
This first-person male narrator triggers curious reactions as the plot unwinds, focusing on illusions, partial understanding and self-deception. This complicated path brings along the ardent problems of the artist and art, of the truth and real life, and most of all of love, be it purifying love or black love, calling forth death.
Any reader familiar with Shakespeare will identify at once the character envisaged in the title; the only famous black prince is Hamlet, the tragical prince of Denmark, caught between love and revenge, moral duties and death. This is indeed "a meditation on Hamlet, as well as her most 'metafictional' novel, containing various narrators and narrative deceptions, and six different and self-contradicting postcripts." (Bradbury 1993: 371)
Re-reading familiar yarns, Iris Murdoch knows how to give them new life and astounding interpratations, in a dialogue across the ages with old master Will in this novel, more than any other, the man who knew how to enchant the words and the audience with extraordinary productions. Shakespeare is the dream of any self-respecting writer, he embodies the perfect Artist, the only one who succeeded in combining a stupendous prolificity with the wonderfully wrought writings that meet all the demands of a critic.
The relationship between Bradley Pearson and Arnold Baffin splits into two paradigms of the Elizabethan master, and is seen against a surprising background, that of the modern times, when man is alienated from the world and from himself, and desperately attempts to find himself in chaos. Both the outer and the inner realities are in a hopeless agitation and confusion, all that the reader will get is a Blick ins Chaos, to cite Herman Hesse. This momentary revelation opens a gate towards both worlds and helps to explore not only literary archetypes but also archetypes that were born at the dawn of humanity.
Bradley Pearson is drawn towards an aesthetic of silence, "a belief that speech is necessarily impure, fictive, or egocentric" (Byatt 1977: 1). The countless thoughts and events will convince him to renounce his silence and write a novel good and in complete opposition with the works of Arnold Baffin, the writer with an easy pen, considered by Pearson as an author of bad art.
In Iris Murdoch, the philosophical writer likes to split hairs in debates hence the profound meanings behind the apparently simple ideas and gestures. The question asked at a certain moment "And shall the artist have no cakes and ale?", invites the reader to the hunting grounds of the considerations about art and the artist. The familiar phrase 'have no cakes and ale' plunges the discourse into a possible reality, not so far away from the princeps edition. It begins thus a journey one way outside and then back to the reality from which it all started. The cycle is less conspicuous and needs a close examination.
What meets the eye is the ancient resonance attached to the predicate, 'shall the artist,' underlining the rhetoric ring that impresses the ear and betrays the orator who had practised for a long time at home, in front of a mirror. The rehearsed style becomes then a second nature of the speaker, plunging the audience back to the Middle Ages, and back to a certain attitude towards love and death and morals.
The address of the narrator continues with another relevant question: "Must he who makes happy be a liar, and can the spirit that sees the truth also speak it?" These two qualities, to make people happy and to try to utter the truths, are in fact ascribed to the Fool/Clown in the Shakespearean tragedies. Truth is not always rewarding, therefore sometimes the artist has to be a liar, distorting reality to please somebody else, in a word, creating an illusion. Deforming reality by seeing it through egocentric fantasy is what happens here in the novel; the artist-Pearson is continually doing this in a world where the "conventional definitions provided by religion, philosophy and art require a fresh examination." (Bradbury 1973: 372)
But twisting the reality means at the same time twisting the vision of the truth that lies beyond all our aspirations. And with that, man loses sight of it for ever, caught in a maze of questions and doubts, unable to extricate himself out of it without paying a dear price, sometimes his own life, other times his most cherished ideals. The simple act of questioning, however, throws the culprit into the dark side of life, far away from the embodiment of the Good, the Real, and the True: God.
The narrator asks the fatal questions, and finds no answer: "I have no answer to give here to these questions." Already the distorsion of reality is at work, since it is the narrator the one who says that in his first person male narrator's voice. "Man finds the answers, while he, the God does not give them; and give them to whom?" The pondering resumes with a tentative to embrace in a unitary vision both extremes: yes and no expressed with the same art that characterises the questions: "Perhaps there is a very lengthy answer or perhaps none at all." Man is lost in the maze and all he can do is speculate over possibilities. The only reality that remains eternal is the question itself: "The question itself will remain as long as our planet remains."
However, all the fine reasoning ends in a terrible conclusion: "How God must laugh! (Himself a demon)." The blending of the Greek myths with the unique God of Christianity gives unexpected turns to the text interpretation, as for instance is the case of The Black Prince. He is an object for love and terror, a composite god-demon in the book. He is both serene Apollo, the god of light and art, and at the same time he is the cruel god who punished the faun, Marsyas, by flaying him for daring to compete with him as an artist (Kembach 1985: 27). He has become now Love, and Death and Art together.
Taking these into consideration, it can be noticed at once that love is closely linked with death, a strange feeling. Love means life, and it also means death. Only in the proximity of death can the artist express best the speech in the raison d 'etre of the artist, likewise is the writer (cf. Byatt 1965), in Bradley's love for Julian, which is partly a love for Death. That love is suffering despite the ecstasy of love, the glory of love. In the essay The sovereignty of good, in the chapter on God and good, Iris Murdoch commented that "the idea of suffering confuses the mind and can masquerade as a purification. It is rarely this, for unless it is very intense indeed it is far too interesting. Plato does not say that philosophy is the study of suffering, he says it is the study of death."
All the thoughts and considerations about love have as a starting point the same example of Plato, beginning with a non-conventional 'apologia' a term that prepares the ground for the intervention of Plato in the logical train of thoughts. Plato lay with a beautiful boy and thought it no shame to see here the beginning of the path to the sun is a statement which brings forth the image of a different kind of love, the homosexual one and one moreover in pedophilia, strongly condemned by the social conventions in Murdoch's postmodern Britain. But that appears to be necessarily in the author's mind for the sexual accomplishment because (after all Pearson's drive towards Hamlet--character, play - also alludes to his own and also to Hamlet, the hero's inclination towards being gay) by persuing androgyny, the artist further creates energy for producing the work of art. Here Pearson proves not only knowledgeable in Plato's theory on art and artists, no longer banished from his Republic, but also has at the back Murdoch's own view in favour of any social emancipation or tolerance with people in her time, especially artists, quaint creatures for the benefit of producing art. It is then a sort of fronde that the artist may attempt at, even through she had got such an attitude supported by classical references.
It is then worth mentioning the fact that the young girl Pearson is in love with, has an ambiguous name, Julian, applicable to man or woman. What is more, she has the initiative of dressing as Hamlet, including the skull, reversing thus the situation from Shakespeares's plays where the part of a woman used to be played by a young man. It is an androgyny that sends the reader back to the Greek/Christian myths of the beginning of the world, and also to the myths of art creation. Love can be seen as "the beginning of the path to the sun" (illumination), here a phrase with double interpretation since it focuses on the symbol of the celestial body chosen to represent eternity, beauty, and power in the wholeness of art, represented by spiritual Apollo. Therefore the sun here stands for the positive kind of love which makes man better and more sensitive to the beauty of nature: "Happy love undoes the self and makes the world visible." Its counterpoint is yet the unhappy love (carnal negative love) crucial though, for that lover sees at the end of its path the black stars, thus naming art versus death quite a reversed image of what usually a star is as a symbol of light and life.
The sun has been turned into a star lost in the immensity of the galaxy, revolving at the same edge of the cluster of stars. The apparent contradiction in terms, the black stars, can be solved if one thinks about the folk mythology where there is the tragedy of star-crossed lovers. Once again suffering invades the front stage and concentrates the speech on an important premise: Unhappy love is, or can be, a sado-masochistic revelation of pure suffering. For Iris Murdoch suffering is a kind of death since it kills slowly all the good that is in man, together with other fellings that enrich man's life: joy, satisfaction, pleasure, tenderness. Bradley Pearson talks about the possibility of identifying this "suffering with a higher concept introduced in language power, in the logos: But there can be intuitions even here of a more sublime agony." Agony and ecstasy, both belong to a vision of love that has ceased for a long time to follow the path of conventions and "Bradley Pearson, at the end of his trial has been privileged enough to have an ordeal which is in some way a guarantee of true vision in art" (cf. Byatt 1965), channeling the discourse towards the idea of truth; the true artist seeks the truth in order to create valid works of art, capable of withstanding the passage of time.
The very process of creation has the foundation in love, but in the process of giving life and expression to ideas, there can be suffering, pain, a prolongued agony that enshrines the truth on a pedestal from where it cannot step down; in this way it becomes untouchable, a mirage that undermines even the artist's efforts to reach it. Iris Murdoch argued that the most difficult thing both for a writer and for a reader, is to see or represent truthfully or clearly that distinct separate being of other people in their subjectivity, in their 'fat ego.' Bradley tries to do that, while his outer and inner worlds also seem dominated by his ego, "entangled into the intricate plot and precipitation of events of his Hamletian drama: the suicide of his wife pushes him to the forefront, so does the murder" of Arnold Baffin, though he is not the real assassin, or his sudden romance with Julian, Arnold's daughter. And slowly but definitely, Truth fares away out of his reach.
But this is something that is well explained in the Freudian theory, too, and Iris Murdoch comments on it that: "Freud takes a thoroughly pessimistic view of human nature. He sees the psyche as an egocentric system of quasimechanical energy, largely determined by its own individual history, whose natural attachements are sexual, ambiguous, and hard for the subject to understand or control. Introspection reveals only the deep tissue of ambivalent motive and fantasy is a stronger force than reason."
The clarity of vision fades away, or with a term from the novel, gets 'blotted out' by the human fantasy which deforms reality. The statement: "Fortunate are those for whom these black stars shed some sort of light" confusses again the established polarity, in favour of carnal negative love sort, once again blurring the clear-cut distinction mentioned previously, thus playing a trick of perspective that creates again the semblance of chaos with which the novel playfully opened.
Iris Murdoch, Dame of the British Empire, is perhaps the greatest novelist of the British fiction at the close of the 20th century, mirroring both the English and the American societies, worlds that echo Dostoevsky's famous saying "All is permitted." Readers have been used to meeting egoistical celebrities and can be taken by surprise in front of her humility because her freedom in writing demands a moral philosophy. Her moral vision, her intellectual tough mindedness and success as a storyteller could have brought her the Nobel candidacy, only Murdoch chose to write outside of language experiments, in a rather traditional yet most complex nineteenth century manner, that won only the coveted Booker Prize in 1978 for her.
She had the courage of retracing the history of the novel form, bringing back to life techniques now considered outfashioned if not non-novelistic. She refuses to console her audience with fulfilled expectations whether those be modernist or postmodernist ones, because she is able to decree, like a miraculous Demiurge, ineluctable forms, desires and hopes in characters which often puzzle the reader.
In the study, we discuss Murdoch's independence and security as a thinker that give her full authority to subvert and enrich the realistic novel with forms specific to other genres. A former philosophy don at Oxford, she has produced twenty-five novels, three philosophical essays, two dialogues (plays) on Ancient philosophy, five other plays, poetry, criticism in some uncollected articles. Inspired from the British intellectual discourse but also from fairy tales or psychological drama, Murdoch interjects a powerful, irreverent, carnivalesque air into the fiction, resorting to the analogical to destabilize Aristotelian logic, thus opening a new life and a new breathing into her books.
In fact, she never changed her principles articulated in the 1950s, only she would enrich and make them ampler, more explicit in the following four decades on literary composition, introducing the poetics/aesthetics of her novel. My research focuses on her philosophical essays: The Fire and the Sun: why Plato banished the artists, Sartre, romantic rationalist and Metaphysics as a guide to morals as well as on her article Against dryness, to further develop principles of novel composition created by Murdoch's philosophical thinking. The interest follows the philosophical writer concept with an intention to clearing more the difficult and complex work of a writer worthy of highest appreciation.
Indeed, a Protestant herself, and a friend of Jewish French mystic Simone Weil, under the spell of Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Hegel, Sartre, Heidegger, Adorno, Wittgenstein or Freud, a lover of people for whom she generously offered her works and even money sponsorship for those in need, made everyone, especially her husband, John Bayley (they remained together within admiration for left politics) call her a saint in the Oxford teaching period.
Her own morality and philosophical background got mirrored in the fiction, enabling distinguished critics to call her both a saint and an artist, among whom: Antonia Byatt and Harold Bloom, Peter J. Conradi and Frank Kermode, Elisabeth Dipple and John Fletcher, Richard Todd and Barbara Heusal, Deborah Johnson and Angela Hague, Stefan Stoenescu and Virgil Stanciu, Donna Garnstenberger.
The magnificent complexity of murdochian novels is a problem for some. She was so gently ironic that some readers may fail it, because multigenre approach can be distracting to them or they might not grasp the middle class are being lovingly flayed in her novels (The Marsyas myth is extended to all British culture). Most decidedly the intellectuals are being 'peeled back the skin' in her comedies. As stated in the chapters, Murdoch's goal was to create a fictional house/ world fit for free characters to live in. Then she strove to find methods of literary patterning to allow her characters maximum freedom which can challenge even her own authority.
She employs methods requiring contingency (characters' reactions facing fictional reality) and having lived with Platonic-Wittgensteinean thought, Murdoch is aware the latter's analogic methods are partly intended to preserve mystery, therefore she plans for the fictional world a logic approach for an analogical device by focusing on the correspondence between equivalent entities. (cf. Heusal)
There are certain conventional methods which the author deploys after having appreciated Shakespeare for his genius as a narrator (the maturing writer archetype). Then, she finds a proper rhythm for her own patterning the novelistic universe: repetition of parallels, and ironic/parodic juxtapositions, jarring all allusions, and suprizing syntax. Surely she has got irreconciable wishes for her characters that generate further contingency in the novels. (cf. Heusal)
Her novels are also tied to paradoxical form: as a result she still explores the possibility of morality in the British postmodernism, but in her stance as religious agnostic, she demonstrates what it means "to come from luckier, stable societies or sections within that society in an unlucky century", but "avoid false piety about either that luck or that misfortune." (cf. Conradi)
What makes her unique? The aesthetic puzzle is whether the comic puzzle and the Platonic kernal can be hold together by her archaic stance as an authorial will. And so far no other contemporary British novelist seems to be of Murdoch's eminence at the end of the 20th century. Criticism of Murdoch is still at a naive stage and there have been made efforts of validating the difficult works of such a complex writer (Dipple). In fiction composition she has been rightly called the most since George Eliot or the only Henry James the twentieth century deserves or is likely to produce, because both her essays and fiction can help readers "move beyond a naive stag"e or interpret what she calls form in art to be properly the "self contained aimlessness of the universe." (cf. Murdoch 1971)
By looking into three most important novels of Murdoch's: The Bell (1958), The Sea, the Sea (1978) and The Black Prince (1973) I have intended to further read her boundaries of the novel of formal realism in which the writer addresses moral issues, still unresolved in the beginning of the twenty-first century.
As introduced in the chapters, within the Platonic-Wittgensteinean outlook of her academic studies, further enriched with existentialist works and Freudian perspectives, Murdoch struggled against Aristotelianism to use analogical thought with a view to ignoring clear causes, fixed referents and essence. With no casual connection, she first set items side by side (never in a binary opposition) and rather putting each item in a continuum near something else, Murdoch multipled her choices for "author, characters and readers. (cf. Heusel)
Apparently without the help of logic, she selected her heroes from the (upper) middle classes she has been much living with and tried to create characters with depth, and ordinariness and accidentalness (cf. Murdoch--Interviews). She fully allowed them to develop their own problems in her imagination. From her populating the heterogenous novel of comedy and contingency in The Bell, I refer to the philosophical writer behind the Demiurge mask, creating the topsy-turvy world in 1958. Then I follow the Alazon archetype of writer behind the failed Prospero mask in the prized and atmospheric novel The Sea, the Sea in 1978, to finally concentrate on Murdoch's writer as language manipulator, behind the failed Hamlet/Eros mask, also called her postmodern prince of words in The Black Prince (1973) and which some critics take for the highest accomplishment in her art form.
Along the Platonic tradition seeing/ understanding/re-seeing, Murdoch discussed how important vision is in her fiction as well as in the reader-writer relationship. The hermeneut is supposed to help readers into the artist's vision on reality in her new contingencies, so her task both as a writer and as a critic is to finally attract the readers into the terrifying drama of reality by filling the literary text with confusion, passion, incompleteness. The critic in Murdoch strived for the training of the audience on their seeing more, through the eyes/perception of the artist/writer.
On the other way round, the philosopher's task in writing fiction in her view is that one should "interject reality distortion" so that readers may perceive correct reality through the pigeonwholes, while she gives no explanations (Wittgensteinian tradition has no attempt at synthesis or explanation either, just language acts), therefore reality is to be introduced in slices preserving its mysteries as well as its bits of truth. (cf Heusal)
In her particular technique and style, Murdoch made the readers get closer to see the sun/truth and experience repetitions, parallels, similarities in contingencies, and/or themes, characters, incidents. She achieves both horizontal experiences in labirynth-like patterns of life and vertical ones, more meaningful, in theatrical dramatic-like ones inspired from drama direction (Peter Brook shows).
The writer is kept the role of re-creating patterns first, to visualize the moral-aesthetic continuum behind the Demiurge mask in The Bell. Murdoch combined bizarre elements, in more than a single voice introduced to unveil reality, a self reflexive artist in young age, full of pathos and romaticism, willing to offer readers an inteligent toy (the novel) to play with, because art is playful. Nevertheless, Murdoch's intentions to decree literary worlds by introspecting on ethical imperatives remain obvious.
In her maturing age, she put on the mask of Prospero, in a male first person narrtive, juxtaposing much suffering with comedy in life complexity. She declared her drawing near to Simone Weil's religious ascesis, which Murdoch imparted as "difficulty of breathing, a voice closing about the heart." There is also a multigeneric approach in the novels of the 1970s, of which supreme is The Sea, the Sea as it brought her the Booker Prize, highest for a British writer alive. Both Murdoch's classical and modern background add to the novel complexity, highlighting ist special symbols, epiphanies and sublimity inspired from the Greek Drama as well as Shakespeare.
Glades of illusion are cast on the worlds of her novels in all periods of creation. But in the 1980s, more exactly in 1973, Murdoch's aesthetic urges made her give life to other disorientations and rapid visual changes along the reinterpretation manipulation of language. The concepts on art, love, language are revised within Shakespearean interest and Wittgensteinean voice that she never left out (the sadomasochistic approach on language and Gestalt theory). The character in The Black Prince produces the language of a failed prince of words and/ or a failed writer, too, confronted with the language dryness Murdoch also complains of in the close of her age.
Critics have sometimes belittled her novels, for depending on sensational effects, or lacking depth of characterization, for inciting nonstandard language and for accomplishing frivolous ends for her novels. Sometimes even readers do not value her surprises, abrupt movements of the plots. But John Fowls, for instance, a famous contemporary of hers, begins The Magus with a dinner party conversation in Greece:
"Has anyone read Murdoch's latest?"
"Couldn't stand it."
"Oh, I rather enjoyed it!" with reference to her novel The unicorn, debating whether Murdoch is writing fiction "for a lady's magazine or really first rate fiction," whether she is a "philosopher addicted to old fashioned narrative, or an authentic intellectual novelist..."
Fowles is gently poking fun at her, but by using the Murdochian stycomithic dialogue in his own fiction, considered her invention, too, he is doing it in high praize of professional recognition. (cf. Heusal)
Along the several years spent together with Murdoch's novels/works of the future, with her Shakespearean-Marquezian, or Bakhtinian imaginative aesthetics of the possible which have paradoxically sprung from her morally motivated forma mentis, that of a complex writer, I have come to hope some of the readers' mis-seeing or misinterpreting her works would be cleared into a more correct grasping of the text. And from within philosophically painful time of exegesis spent for some years in the company of the flower named writer often jealous of Bayley! and feeling sorry, why had she to die of Alzheimer like Kant before?, my highest appreciation for Murdoch's unusual gift, critical-annalytical spirit and her moral humility, rarest with a writer's alchemy in that age.
University of Craiova
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|Title Annotation:||p. 75-100; Iris Murdoch|
|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2015|
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