20 March 2008

Quotable Iris Murdoch

I suspect Iris Murdoch generated more quotable quotes than Shakespeare, and covering more topics. A random sampling:

"paying attention in itself is a moral act" [?]

"One of my fundamental assumptions is that I have the power to seduce anyone" [1948]

 “Some subtlety can be so voluptuous.” [letter]

“You can’t write any novel without implying values.” A novelist “is, in a sense, a compulsory moralist.” [Paris Review]

"Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality... Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal." [Sovereignty of Good]

“There was something factitious and brittle and thereby utterly feminine about her charm which made me want to crush her, even to crunch her. She had a slight cast in one eye which gives her gaze a strange concentrated intensity. Her eyes sparkle, almost as if they were actually emitting sparks. She is electric. And she could run faster in very high-heeled shoes than any girl I ever met.” [The Sea, The Sea]

 "Children, if they are lucky," she said, "are invited to attend to pictures or objects, or listen quietly to music or stories or verses." "'Look, listen, isn't that pretty, isn't that nice?' Also, 'Don't touch!' This is moral training as well as preparation for a pleasurable life." [?]

Beauty is “the visible and accessible aspect of the Good" [?]

"the child who was myself" [Black Prince]

"It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." [?]

"You feel it coming in waves like a black tide" [Alzheimers?]

"every book is the wreck of a perfect idea" [The Sea, the Sea?]

"The conversation was not so much difficult as mad." [The Bell]

"Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love." [The Bell]

Consciousness is a "cloud of more or less fantastic reverie designed to protect the psyche from pain" [?]

"A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia." [?]

"One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on." [Under the Net]

"Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck"

"The pointlessness of art is not the pointlessness of a game; it is the pointlessness of life itself, and form in art is properly the simulation of the self-contained aimlessness of the universe." [?]

"Marriage is a long journey in close quarters" [Black Prince]

"He led a double life. Did that make him a liar? He did not feel a liar. He was a man of two truths." [Sacred and Profane Love Machine]

"Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture." [Existentialists and Mystics]

"How recognisable, how familiar to us is the man so beautifully portrayed [by Kant]... Free, independent, lonely, powerful, rational, responsible, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of moral philosophy." [Existentialists and Mystics]

"jealousy lasts forever — bad news for the young" []

"There are some parts of London which are necessary and others which are contingent." [Under the Net]

"Literature is meant to be grasped by enjoyment." [?]

"We defend ourselves by descriptions and tame the world by generalizing." [Black Prince]

"In philosophy, if you aren't moving at a snail's pace, you aren't moving at all." [Acastos]

"I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And this is something which we may also do deliberately: give attention to nature to clear our minds of selfish care." [Sovereignty of Good]

"His presence in the city was like that of a pop star. Chico Marx, who was there at about the same time, was less rapturously received." [Sartre: romantic rationalist]

"Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved" [Sacred and Profane Love Machine]

"The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved." [An Accidental Man]

"We can only learn to love by loving." [The Bell]

"The way is always forward" ...the "annihilating silence" [of the cloister] [The Bell]

"the theatre may have been paradise, but the audience was purgatory" "What excites me more than the philosophy itself is the extraordinary bunch of good novelists which it is inspiring." [She had "abandoned what you call my 'quaint virginity cult' some time ago & haven't regretted it for one second. There are however remarkably few men who have ever stirred me to any sort of passion. You, for reasons which I can't conceive of, were one of the few." "Shortly after I wrote to you last I tore myself away, with agonies which I could not even have conceived of a year ago, from the utterly adorable but wicked Hungarian with whom I'd been living. Now that I'm no longer bleeding at every artery I see this was a very good move." [The Writer at War]

"Great art is connected with courage and truthfulness. There is a conception of truth, a lack of illusion, an ability to overcome selfish obsessions, which goes with good art, and the artist has got to have that particular sort of moral stamina." [From a tiny corner in the house of fiction]

"Fear had entered his life, and would now be with him forever. How easy it was for the violent to win. Fear was irresistible, fear was king, he had never really known this before when he had lived free and without it. Even unreasoning fear could cripple a man forever. . . . How well he understood how dictators flourished. The little grain of fear in each life was enough to keep millions quiet." [Henry and Cato]

"A common soldier dies without fear, but Jesus died afraid." [?]

"If we are to understand someone else, we must know of what they are afraid" [?]

"Even if a dog's tooth is truly worshipped it glows with light. The venerated object is endowed with power." [?]

"I mean just that one’s ordinary tasks are usually immediate and simple and one’s own truth lives in these tasks. Not to deceive oneself, not to protect one’s pride with false ideas, never to be pretentious or bogus, always to try to be lucid and quiet. There’s a kind of pure speech of the mind which one must try to attain. To attain it is to be in the truth, one’s own truth, which needn’t mean any big apparatus of belief." [The Sacred and Profane Love Machine]

"The loss of lively and natural access to the Authorised Version of the Bible and Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer is a literary loss comparable to losing touch with Shakespeare...." [Encounter magazine?]

"We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality" [?]

"Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self." [The Nice and the Good]

"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats." [The Sea, the Sea]

Iris Murdoch said the definition of a happy life is to find 13 people you find absolutely fascinating [cite]

"We are all always deploying and directing our energy, refining or blunting it, purifying or corrupting it" [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"High morality without religion is too abstract, high morality craves for religion… Religion symbolises high moral ideals which then travel with us and are more intimately and accessibly effective than the unadorned promptings of reason." [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"Serious art is a continuous working of meaning in the light of the discovery of some truth." [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"How can we make ourselves better? is a question moral philosophers should attempt to answer." [The Sovereignty of Good]

"[There] are no adventures. Adventures are stories and one does not live a story." [Sartre, Romantic Rationalist]

"Life can be seen as full of aesthetic imaginative activity which is scarcely distinguishable from moral activity." [?]

"The sending of a letter constitutes a magical grasp upon the future" [The Philosopher's Pupil]

"When we apprehend and assess other people we do not consider only their solutions to specifiable practical problems, we consider something more elusive... their total vision of life, as shown by their mode of speech or silence, their choice of words, their assessment of others, their conception of their own lives, what they think attractive or praiseworthy, what they think funny... what, making two points in the two metaphors, one may call the texture of a man's being or the nature of his personal vision." [paper]

"One doesn't have to get anywhere in a marriage. It's not a public conveyance." [A Severed Head]

"love is the perception of the individual." [?]

"Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real." [The Sublime and the Good] very popular

the purpose of literature is to "prove that other people really exist" [?]

"All that consoles is fake." [?]

"We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality." [Times of London, April 15, 1983?]

"The world can change in 15 seconds, when you fall in love." [?]

The humble man is the "kind of man who is most likely of all to become good" [?]

"There is no substitute for the comfort supplied by the utterly taken-for-granted relationship." [A Severed Head]

"The human soul craves for the eternal of which, apart from certain mysteries of religion, only love and art can give a glimpse." [The Black Prince]

"A saint is someone who absorbs evil without passing it on." [?]

"Bad art is a lie about the world." [Existentialists and Mystics]

"Real life is so much odder than any book." [letter to Philippa Foot]

"English socialism is perfectly worthy, but it is not socialism. It's welfare capitalism" [Under the Net]

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us" [A Fairly Honourable Defeat]

"Images of light and space and movement are fundamental to our modes of cognition. Moral imagination is partly esthetic, it is a place where the esthetic is moralized." [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"Youth is a marvelous garment" [The Bell]

"Extreme love is fed by everything" [A Severed Head]

"There are few places where virtue plainly shines" [Sovereignty of Good]

"The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart." [The Red and the Green]

"Why not use one's mind in the old way, with pens, paper, notebooks, etc., instead of dazzling one's eyes staring at a glass square, which separates one from one's thoughts and gives them a premature air of completeness?" [1982]

"Oh, wonderful people of Britain! After all the ballyhoo and eyewash, they've had the guts to vote against Winston! I can't help feeling that to be young is very heaven!" [letter]

"philosophers are not often popular idols" [Sartre: Romantic Rationalist]

"the essence of love is the toleration of difference" [?]

"Most artists understand their own weaknesses far better than the critics do" [Black Prince]

"Good art is anamnesis... 'memory' of what we did not know we knew." [Plato?]

"'I don't want a loan, father. I want a great deal of money, not on loan. Nothing else will do.'" [Unofficial Rose]

"Our destiny can be examined, but it cannot be justified or totally explained. We are simply here." [The Sovereignty of Good]

"All artists dream of a silence which they must enter, as some creatures return to the sea to spawn." [The Black Prince]

"Human affairs are not serious, but they have to be taken seriously." [Henry and Cato]

"I dare say everything can be made holy by being sincerely worshipped." [?]

"Falling out of love is chiefly a matter of forgetting how charming someone is." [A Severed Head]

"Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out." [Italian proverb?]

“Education doesn’t make you happy – nor does freedom. We don’t become happy just because we’re free – if we are – or because we’ve been educated – if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realise we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking, convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever, that of the mind, and gives us the assurance – the confidence – to walk the path our mind, our educated mind, offers.” [?]

"...at crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over." [The Sovereignty of Good]

Early Greek history "sets a special challenge to the disciplined mind. It is a game with very few pieces, where the skill of the players lies in complicating the rules" [The Nice and the Good]

"socialist movement... moral void in the life of the country" [Existentialists and Mystics]

"Our life problem is one of the transformation of energy." [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"You see, love is energy. The soul is a huge vast place, and lots of it is dark, and it's full of energy and power, and this can be bad, but it can be good, and that's the work, to change bad energy into good, when we desire good things and are attracted magnetically by them." [Above the Gods]

Love is "the painful realisation that something other than myself exists" [cite]

"The quality of our attachments is the quality of our understanding." [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"Art, especially literature, is a great hall of reflection where we can all meet and where everything under the sun can be examined and considered" [The Fire and the Sun]

"Better to have fewer and more worthy readers." [?]

"In the strange cosmic astronomy of the wandering zeitgeist we are closer to Plato now than in many previous centuries." [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

"You may know a truth, but [if it's at all complicated] you must be either a poet or an artist not to utter it as a lie." [An Accidental Man]

"loving attention" [A Fairly Honourable Defeat]

"Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger." [The Sea, the Sea]

"I think being a woman is like being Irish. Everyone says you're important and nice, but you take second place all the time." [The Red and the Green]

Iris Murdoch said of anti-gay bias that "the facts which will cure this prejudice belong to the ordinary talk of ordinary people." [The Ladder, 1964?]

"Great art is connected with courage and truthfulness. There is a conception of truth, a lack of illusion, an ability to overcome selfish obsessions, which goes with good art, and the artist has got to have that particular sort of moral stamina. Good art, whatever its style, has qualities of hardness, firmness, realism, clarity, detachment, justice, truth. It is the work of a free, unfettered, uncorrupted imagination. Whereas bad art is the soft, messy self-indulgent work of an enslaved fantasy." [Paris Review interview]

Early Greek history "sets a special challenge to the disciplined mind. It is a game with very few pieces, where the skill of the players lies in complicating the rules." [The Nice and the Good]

of learning a language (Russian, in her case): "I am confronted by an authoritative structure which commands my respect . . . My work is a progressive revelation of something which exists independently of me." Even better is her annexation of art within the realm of a selfless surrender to external reality: good art "resists the easy patterns of the fantasy, whereas there is nothing mysterious about the forms of bad art since they are the recognisable and familiar rat-runs of selfish daydream". [The Sovereignty of Good]

Pubs are "universal places, like churches, hallowed meeting places of mankind" []

literary composition is [a period of invention followed by a period of composition] [?]

“One should sit quietly and let the thing invent itself.” [cite]

the reason she kept writing books was that she hoped each new one would exonerate her for the ones that went before [?]

[As philosophy becomes] "increasingly a matter for highly trained experts, it separates itself from, and discourages, the vaguer and more generally comprehensible theorising which it used to nourish and be nourished by." [Existentialists and mystics]