Iris Theoretical Essays

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(These stories are very often funny, incidentally.) So in a way as word-users we all exist in a literary atmosphere, we live and breathe literature, we are all literary artists, we are constantly employing language to make interesting forms out of experience which perhaps originally seemed dull or incoherent.Most of the time we fail to see the big wide real world at all because we are blinded by obsession, anxiety, envy, resentment, fear.We make a small personal world in which we remain enclosed.Art “holds the mirror up to nature.” Of course this reflection or “imitation”” does not mean slavish or photographic copying.But it is important to hold on to the idea that art is about the world, it exists for us standing out against a background of our ordinary knowledge.We enjoy art, even simple art, because it disturbs us in deep often incomprehensible ways; and this is one reason why it is good for us when it is good and bad for us when it is bad.Art is mimesis and good art is, to use another Platonic term, anamnesis, “memory” of what we did not know we knew…Because self-knowledge is the most difficult of the arts of living, because understanding ourselves is a prerequisite for understanding anybody else, and because we can hardly fathom the reality of another without first plumbing our own depths, art is what makes us not only human but humane.That is what the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch (July 15, 1919–February 8, 1999) — one of the most lucid and luminous minds of the twentieth century — explored in a long, deep, immensely insightful 1977 conversation with the British broadcaster and philosopher Bryan Mc Gee, which aired on Mc Gee’s television series Literary writing is an art, an aspect of an art form.Art may extend this knowledge but is also tested by it.There is always more bad art around than good art, and more people like bad art than like good art.

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