cover image Existentialists and Mystics: 1writings on Philosophy and Literature

Existentialists and Mystics: 1writings on Philosophy and Literature

Iris Murdoch. Viking Books, $37.95 (576pp) ISBN 978-0-7139-9225-0

Dame Iris Murdoch not only wrote many celebrated novels like Under the Net and A Fairly Honourable Defeat, she also taught philosophy for many years at Oxford University, where she is now professor emerita. The present book, intelligently organized and presented by editor Conradi, is a selection of Murdoch's occasional essays, book reviews, speeches, transcribed interviews and creative Platonic ""dialogues."" These are grouped into subjects like ""Encountering Existentialism"" (Murdoch was an early explicator of Sartre's existentialism to the British public), ""Towards a Practical Mysticism"" and ""Re-Reading Plato."" Murdoch was drawn to Plato via the tormented French philosopher Simone Weil, who wrote on the Greek philosopher. As in her novels, Murdoch's philosophical musing revels in disturbing implications as the basis for interest and achievement in art. She states, ""Plato was notoriously hostile to art.... [T]he paradox is that Plato's work is great art in a sense which he does not theoretically recognise."" A number of these essays read like speeches in some ideally intelligent parliament, in which the author expects to be interrupted by cries of ""Hear, Hear!"" For example, she asserts that T.S. Eliot did not like prose ""except when it is used for didactic purposes,"" or that George Eliot, like Tolstoy, ""displays that godlike capacity for so respecting and loving her characters as to make them exist as free and separate beings."" Not a powerful original philosopher like Hannah Arendt or Leo Strauss, Murdoch is nevertheless a critic with considerable rhetorical punch. (Jan.)