Existentialists and Mystics

Existentialists and Mystics

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Best known as the author of 26 novels, Iris Murdoch was also an accomplished essayist and critic who taught philosophy for many years at Oxford University. This work gathers for the first time in one volume her most influential essays and shorter pieces. Included are her major critiques of existentialism written in the 1950s, her two Platonic dialogues on art and religion, incisive evaluations of the writings of T.S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Bauvoir, and Elias Canetti, as well as key texts on the continuing importance of the sublime, on the concept of love, and of the role great literature can play in curing the ills of philosophy. This volume confirms Iris Murdoch's major contributions to the literature and thought of the 20th century.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 576 pages
  • 148.6 x 214.1 x 18.5mm | 226.8g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0140264922
  • 9780140264920
  • 141,548

Table of contents

Part 1 Prologue: literature and philosophy - a conversation with Bryan Magee. Part 2 Nostalgia for the particular, 1951-57: thinking and language; nostalgia for the particular; metaphysics and ethics; vision and choice in morality. Part 3 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 4 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 5 Towards a practical mysticism, 1959-78: the sublime and the good; existentialists and mystics; salvation by words; art is the limitation of nature. Part 6 Can literature help cure the ills of philosophy? 1959-61: the sublime and the beautiful revisited against dryness. Part 7 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.show more

Review Text

Gathered here are essays by philosopher-novelist Murdoch, whose cool, clear thoughts on goodness and beauty offer sanctuary to all weary refugees from moral relativism. The selections, edited by Conradi (Humanities/Kingston Univ., England) and vibrantly introduced by George Steiner, span the years between 1950 and 1986, and include academic papers, radio talks, book reviews, lectures, a BBC interview, and one long essay, "The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists," issued as a book in 1977. Murdoch, a professional philosopher (Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, 1993) and author of more than 25 novels, reflects here on the moral dimensions of literature and the contrasting ethical visions of Platonic, existential, and British analytic philosophy. The existentialists of the title represent a style of moral decision-making, best illustrated by Jean-Paul Sartre, that centers on self-conscious free will; decisions within a mystical consciousness, like Plato's, flow naturally out of moral ideas, like goodness and beauty, that have enduringly focused its attention. Murdoch appreciates Sartre for employing fiction so successfully in his philosophic demonstration of self-determination, but her sympathies lie finally with Platonists and mystics, whose attentive gaze on reality reveals transcendent value. Literature (which can embody philosophic ideas) and philosophy (which is more sensual and metaphorical, and so more literary, than it lets on) are both means of extending the same gaze. Murdoch has her blind spots. Behind her dismissive remarks on literary theory and fantasy lies the long tradition of critical reflection on philosophy and art inaugurated by the early German Romantics, Schlegel, Schelling, and Novalis - arguably the ancestors of deconstructive thought today - whose names never occur in these essays. Her case for the moral truthfulness of literature needs the challenge of this less overtly moralistic tradition in esthetics. Murdoch smooths the rocky path between ethics and art, but apart from the eternal Plato, many of the choices of representative philosophers in these aging essays - Same, Smart Hampshire, Gilbert Ryle, among others - now seem quaintly dated. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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156 ratings
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