Iris Murdoch

To repent of egoism: is autobiography the best method? Possibly. If I attempt honesty, I am confronted with questions, inconsistencies, things done wrong and done to others’ harm, which once you took for exercise of virtue… unconscious acts, whose motivation may never come to light; and can only attain truth if I surrender the need not to be repulsed by it; and then Love it.

By being willing to accept the demons and gods and goddesses as they are, Milarepa transmuted them. They became dakinis, or the energies of life.

So far, so clear. This is my spiritual understanding- teach me to care and not to care etc.

I read almost all of Iris Murdoch’s novels about ten years ago, struggling through some, loving moments from them- like that first sentence has caught me now, from The Sea The Sea. At first it seems ridiculous, then the contrast becomes richer and more ambiguous as I contemplate it. I remember Mor cycling home, always wanting to pedal to the top of the hill, always getting off at the same point. I thought at the time that The Green Knight was wonderfully ambiguous: one could see a character as an angel, intervening for Good, or as a series of accidents. Both interpretations worked, I remember it seemed, though I cannot remember any of the plot to argue this. I remembered Julius King, a destructive force playing on people’s illusions to make them suffer, purely for the fun of it, and Tallis, who cares, and seeks to do the right thing- who knows it better than anyone- yet who fails. Tallis’ house is disgusting: there are loving descriptions of half-empty milk bottles with horrid things inside, newspaper laid on the damp floor still there and black days later, of vermin. What are we to make of Julius cleaning Tallis’ kitchen?

I started The Sea The Sea in 2000, before deciding to transition, and could not get anywhere with it. I saw a character I could not admire, doing foolish, embarrassing things, which might endanger him, deluded, and gave up after hardly beginning. I could tolerate a character having a hard time, but not someone so pointlessly disgusting. I liked my novels to be elevating and cheering, of good people overcoming difficulty.

A man called Emma in a swimming pool, in the heating system, which somehow seems to be vast, over many storeys’ height: being trapped there in the dark and falling through it could kill him. I have a vague idea he attained Enlightenment, as did the man who fell down a drain like a flume and rode the stinking black water, without hope, until it disgorged him. Now, possibly, I think only the death of hope can bring enlightenment- and my despair is not the same thing. Hope and despair dance, both linked to illusory concepts of how something ought to be. I have a few confused memories of the novels- the man in the West of Ireland sinking into a peat bog like quicksand, there’s another-

having reread A Fairly Honourable Defeat and enjoyed it, I now turn to TS,TS. I will allow it to be what it is. Or not, and stop.

Ingres, Belle Zélie

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