Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature

Overview

Best known as the author of twenty-six novels, Iris Murdoch has also made significant contributions to the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Collected here for the first time in one volume are her most influential literary and philosophical essays. Tracing Murdoch's journey to a modern Platonism, this volume includes incisive evaluations of the thought and writings of T. S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvior, and Elias Canetti, as well as key texts on the continuing importance of the ...

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Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature

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Overview

Best known as the author of twenty-six novels, Iris Murdoch has also made significant contributions to the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Collected here for the first time in one volume are her most influential literary and philosophical essays. Tracing Murdoch's journey to a modern Platonism, this volume includes incisive evaluations of the thought and writings of T. S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvior, and Elias Canetti, as well as key texts on the continuing importance of the sublime, on the concept of love, and the role great literature can play in curing the ills of philosophy.Existentialists and Mystics not only illuminates the mysticism and intellectual underpinnings of Murdoch's novels, but confirms her major contributions to twentieth-century thought.

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Editorial Reviews

Evans
This is that rare achievement, a collection of writings by a great mind which is not only fascinating, but accessible. . . .Murdoch her reveals herself to be an enviably fine essayist.
Observer
Observer
This is that rare achievement, a collection of writings by a great mind which is not only fascinating, but accessible. . . .Murdoch her reveals herself to be an enviably fine essayist.
Hilary Spurling
This book is Murdoch's key. . .readers will find much her to stimulate, entertain, and edify. No one conveys the beauty and excitement of philosophy better than Murdoch.
The Daily Telegraph
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 emeritus. 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.' 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 god-like 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.

Library Journal
Most readers think of Murdoch first as a novelist, but as this excellent anthology makes clear, she is an outstanding philosopher as well. After World War II, she established herself as an authority on existentialism, though she did not herself accept this doctrine, viewing it as stressing human autonomy to an undue degree. She locates a similar failing in much contemporary analytic moral philosophy. Instead, she thinks of values as objective: human beings contemplate them rather than create them. Her philosophy culminates in a nontheistic mysticism bearing strong affinities to Plato. The best introduction available to an important and unusual thinker; for all academic and most public libraries. -- David Gordon, Bowling Green State University, Ohio
Library Journal
Most readers think of Murdoch first as a novelist, but as this excellent anthology makes clear, she is an outstanding philosopher as well. After World War II, she established herself as an authority on existentialism, though she did not herself accept this doctrine, viewing it as stressing human autonomy to an undue degree. She locates a similar failing in much contemporary analytic moral philosophy. Instead, she thinks of values as objective: human beings contemplate them rather than create them. Her philosophy culminates in a nontheistic mysticism bearing strong affinities to Plato. The best introduction available to an important and unusual thinker; for all academic and most public libraries. -- David Gordon, Bowling Green State University, Ohio
Evans
This is that rare achievement, a collection of writings by a great mind which is not only fascinating, but accessible. . . .Murdoch her reveals herself to be an enviably fine essayist. -- The Observer
Stephen Mulhall
Existentialists and Mystics makes accessible the full harvest of a lifelong intellectual project. . . .Murdoch's reiterated commitment to a vision of philosophical prose as a careful, lucid and sober medium for thinking ensures that even her more professionally directed lectures and essays are a pleasure to read. -- Times Literary Supplement
Hilary Spurling
This book is Murdoch's key. . .[readers] will find much her to stimulate, entertain, and edify. No one conveys the beauty and excitement of philosophy better than Murdoch. -- The Daily Telegraph
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140264920
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/1999
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 387,148
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the most acclaimed British writers of the twentieth century. Very prolific, she wrote twenty-six novels, four books of philosophy, five plays, a volume of poetry, a libretto, and numerous essays before developing Alzheimer's disease in the mid-1990s. Her novels have won many prizes: the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Black Prince, the Whitbread Literary Award for Fiction for The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, and the Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea. She herself was also the recipient of many esteemed awards: Dame of the Order of the British Empire, the Royal Society of Literature's Companion of Literature award, and the National Arts Club's (New York) Medal of Honor for Literature.

She was born in Dublin, Ireland, on July 15, 1919, the only child of Anglo-Irish parents. Her father was a bookish civil servant who had served as a cavalry officer during World War I; her mother had trained as an opera singer before marrying. The love of both literature and music instilled in her by her parents proved to be powerful formative influences, and she reportedly began writing at the age of nine. The family moved to London in Iris's childhood and she grew up in the western suburbs of Hammersmith and Chiswich. The 1940s saw Iris receive a first-class degree in classics from Oxford, briefly become a member of the Communist Party (from which she resigned in disappointment), work in Belgian and Austrian refugee camps for the United Nations Rehabilitation and Relief Program, and befriend Jean-Paul Sartre, on whom she wrote what was to be her first published work, a critical study entitled Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953). In 1947 she took up a postgraduate studentship at Cambridge, studying philosophy under none other than Ludwig Wittgenstein. The fruits of these philosophical encounters went on to form an important part of her fertile talent as a novelist.

With three previous novels unpublished, Murdoch made her fiction-writing debut in 1954. Under the Net is a picaresque existentialist adventure set in London and Paris's Left Bank that displays many of the traits for which her later work is so admired: a fast-paced plot, finely wrought settings, imaginatively developed characters, and a strong philosophical concern with moral issues and ethical crises. Surpassing the somewhat derivative existentialist strictures of this nevertheless stunning debut, Murdoch published almost a novel per year throughout the 1950s, '60s, and '70s and continued at a slightly less feverish pace throughout the '80s and early '90s. With each book, she displayed her unique talent for combining a lively, comic touch in characterization and plot with a serious concern for such profound themes as the nature of goodness and human freedom. A novelist and philosopher rolled into one, Iris Murdoch declared in her famous essay "Against Dryness" (1961) that literature "has taken over some of the tasks formerly performed by philosophy." However, she never allowed her novels or her characters to become abstract stand-ins for philosophical viewpoints, asserting in the same essay that the novel should be "a fit house for free characters to live in."

Producing romances such as The Sandcastle (1957), religious fables such as The Bell (1958), and fantasies such as The Unicorn (1963), she ranged widely across genres and settings. A Severed Head (1961)later made into both a play and a filmtakes on Jungian archetypes and Freud's theories about masculine sexuality, while in The Red and the Green (1965), Murdoch, in her only foray into historical fiction, delved into the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. Her calling cards became the intoxicating combination of love, marriage, adultery, sexuality, and religion, as well as the inventive use of gothic elements. In The Time of Angels (1966), for instance, the protagonist is an atheist Anglican priest in an impoverished inner-city parish who engages in black magicand through whom Murdoch explored the central question of the role of morality after the death of God.

From the 1970s into the 1990s, international acclaim and recognition
coincided with the publication of some of her finest work, including an
experimental novel of love gone mad, The Black Prince (1973), her popular and highly esteemed The Sea, The Sea (1978), and a Platonic investigation
of morality, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992), one of her most acclaimed nonfiction writings. Her last novel, Jackson's Dilemma (1995),
was published just as Alzheimer's began to take its toll. She died in Oxford on February 8, 1999, survived by her husband, John Bayley.







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Table of Contents

Existentialists and Mystics Foreword
Editor's Preface
Part One: Prologue
Literature and Philosophy: A Conversation with Bryan Magee
Part Two: Nostalgia for the Particular, 1951-57
Thinking and Language
Nostalgia for the Particular
Metaphysics and Ethics
Vision and Choice in Morality
Part Three: Encountering Existentialism, 1950-59
The Novelist as Metaphysician
The Existentialist Hero
Sartre's The Emotions: Outline of a Theory
De Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity
The Image of Mind
The Existentialist Political Myth
Hegel in Modern Dress
Existentialist Bite
Part Four: The Need for Theory, 1956-66
Knowing the Void
T. S. Eliot as a Moralist
A House of Theory
Mass, Might and Myth
The Darkness of Practical Reason
Part Five: Towards a Practical Mysticism, 1959-78
The Sublime and the Good
Existentialists and Mystics
Salvation by Words
Art is the Imitation of Nature
Part Six: Can Literature Help Cure The Ills of Philosophy? 1959-61
The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited
Against Dryness
Part Seven: Re-reading Plato, 1964-86
The Idea of Perfection
On "God" and "Good"
The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts
The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists
Art and Eros: A Dialogue about Art
Above the Gods: A Dialogue about Religion
Acknowledgments and Sources
Index

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