Monday, August 17, 2009

...and from Shakespeare to Iris Murdoch

That which was the source for my a-ha moment I call art. And this is why I will call it art even if it is a popular movie. Even if the "elite" will label it as commercial, as mere entertainment.

Iris Murdoch considers art to be a path out of Plato's cave. Art brings us closer to the forms. Art is one of the bearers of truth (1). Reading of her stories I had been awakened to the truth beyond many other stories: some were about me, some were about ordinary people that passed through my life and some were just stories I read long ago and could not really understand until Iris Murdoch.

Dame Iris Murdoch is, of course, at best, controversial. She sets her standards high: there are Plato, Shakespeare... And she sets them in the open: a Shakespearean plot is present explicitly in most of her novels. In Bruno's Dream, two women that are close one to another, two sisters exchange places. One starts as the attractive beauty, the one that gains the passerby's attention. The other hides hers under a vail of (apparently) bitter sadness. And the two men are helpless, they can only fall in love with one, and than the other...(2)

However, Shakespeare is too much a poet, whilst Murdoch is too much of a philosopher. With time her style becomes more rigid, dry and her characters: caricatures of ideas and symbolism, much more like the ones that play in philosophical dialogues. In Bruno's Dream the molden, rotting, smelly house is a symbol of Bruno's decrepit body, a reminder of the sickness, the condition that leads us all to dead. But as symbol the description ceases to be veridical, real (3).Murdoch is correct when points that repetition, conceptualization, sound arguments and a reason belong more in the work of the philosopher than in that of the writer. The story more like life itself only reveals the truth by veiling it, I'd say.

But, in spite of these shortfalls I have to humble myself whilst reading her books. Bruno with his spiders and his obsessions is as real as you and me. The men as helpless as children when confronted by their own passions are very well sketched. She is equally convincing when drawing the black Eros as the source of major art. As for Charles Arrowby , well he is the work of a master. And the Sea, the Sea is, to quote Sam Jordison ,"at least as ludicrous as it is brilliant" (4)

I wonder how many of us had not been able to identify with at least one of her books, one of her characters? For me it is still The Bell with the controlling husband , and Michael whom learned too late that even imperfect love is love to be given and accepted, and I like Dora do look sometimes back with a certain wonder but also a sense of satisfaction because I had survived.

If it is beautiful it is art. One can recognize God in
the beauty of his creation ,
the beauty we recreate through art.

(1)Another path is philosophy. And another is goodness, but "the good are unimaginable",(the Sea, the Sea , p.441)us
Thus they pass among us unknown (see also Tolstoy: Father Sergei). and there is also religion, but in my opinion this is
the most personal path of all.
(2) see also Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream
(3) symbolic but yet real is, for example, the pine forest in Mauriac's Therese Desqueyroux


Paul said...

The aha moment, I call it the epiphanic moment, impossible to describe but great art somehow revolves around it, explicating or inducing it. I haven't read any of Iris Murdoch's books but I shall, on your recommendation.

Annamari said...

Paul, I have only read four of her books so I do not know how much my recommandation will be worth. but from these four books I read, the one that might be you is The Black Prince. Read it and let me know if I was wrong...

Julie said...

Thank you for this very thoughtful review. I am headed to my library today and will check out her books. I read Murdoch as a student, but that has been a long time ago. I remember that I was attracted to her dark humor. You have reminded me of her work, and I'm curious to see how I will respond at this stage in my life.

I like your analysis (Shakespeare as too much a poet, and Murdoch as too much a philosopher). That is an interesting thought, especially for a writer to keep in mind. The character of Bruno intrigues me.

I also like what you say about the epiphany and art as beauty. I often see the beauty in what others consider "ugly," because of the human element. You have given me many good points to ponder. Thank you!

Annamari said...

I thank you for your comment and I hope you had enjoyed Murdoch's novels again

"I often see the beauty in what others consider "ugly," because of the human element."Your writing is an example of that, you make beautiful little pieces of reality that one might consider dull and unremarkable.