The introduction assesses the author’s promiscuity and effect on a wartime lover. She was being honest in the letters to him I read. (I hadn’t realised Theo died shortly after as a result of Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide.)

I’ve never accepted that the labour put into a product had much to do with its value to the consumer. Her favourite word, ‘muddle’, makes an early entry and stays the course. She’s naively a communist, a useful idiot as so many of her university peers were. She writes ‘living this easy pleasant life I have a perpetual sense of guilt and desire to hurt myself,’ she does find the means to do. She’d almost given up thinking of people and actions in terms of value but her tutor makes her re-evaluate her thinking in that respect and give credence to the moral value of an inner life not subject to others’ observation. She spied for the communist party when working for the Treasury. She was onto Kierkegaard. I was too, at university before the theology students got to him in their course, and from that I found her as a philosopher, on Sartre.

She noticed a general tendency to want to be loved without reciprocating and goes on to describe what would make a good psychological novel, living with a man she didn’t love, falling in love with another a friend was ditching and causing misery bien sur to the first man, saved by the friend’s falling in love with him, while she was finding out the man she did love was the very devil and so she ended up hating him and herself but quite unable from fushionlessness to end the suffering being inflicted on all four. I can’t compete with that. Terrific and probably artistically useful. What I was doing comparably was being candidly in love with Christo de Wet in the Divinity Students Residence, defeating his god who was endorsing his impotence and exhausting myself in the process.

She’s conscripted into the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration which doesn’t have the imagination to understand what the displaced person problem really is. Her French came in handy though. Her fiancé meets somebody better and is let off the hook, leaving her relieved but with an increased horror of all ties, especially marital. He wants back but she says no. I think this may be where she gets her idea of ‘chance’ from. She might have married him, hooked by sex, as she would have the one who got himself killed or another who died just in time. It’s all looking pretty chancy. She can’t take up a fellowship at Vassar; the Americans won’t give her a visa on account she’d been a communist. She does get in later but has to apply for an eighteen month visa each occasion and on one the embassy loses her passport. That’ll larn her.

She becomes a Xian again but is persuaded to rethink her religious views by yet another charismatic man who, incidentally, thought her a British bore. The ‘net’ of the title of her first novel, ‘Under the Net’, refers to that of language Wittgenstein identified as barrier to truth and translation of thought into language. Looking for a book, under the direction of my unconscious my arm rose and hand picked out ‘Under the Net’, written by someone I’d thought of as a philosopher only.

Bad faith is defined as when someone under social forces adopts false values and forfeits his innate freedom to act authentically, a small price to pay for social acceptance I’d’ve thought like the lie of Christ resurrected.

‘I must say the thing and be rid of it,’ she says. Me too. I read out a story that moved a friend to tears, thinking I was in love when I’d written it out. Murdoch visited an abbey out of remorse and drew on her knowledge of it in writing The Bell.

Oxford gets her down because it’s so intellectual and she’s not and doesn’t like intellectuals, so she says while knowing nobody else much. When a friend calls her genteel, I’m inclined to agree. ‘Are you happy? Do you love and are you loved?’ she asks, ‘I know that compared with this jobs are as nothing.’ ‘How much I want to be admired. People said how much they’d enjoyed my voice on the radio and I felt pleased with myself.’ ‘I can certainly live without you – it’s necessary. You know what it is for one person to represent for another an absolute. There is nothing I wouldn’t give up for you if you wanted me. I know from my own experience how in a moment of need one is just as likely to rely on someone one met yesterday.’

She doesn’t meet the expectations of her publisher. Good for her. Giles Gordon, the agent, would’ve taken me on if I’d met his. I stopped CORRESPONDENCE at the printer’s because the publisher was obdurately insisting on misattributing the book. In her second novel Murdoch proffers attention to reality as the means by which obsessive masochistic fantasies may be overcome and goodness made accessible and learned, good being the object of love. The editors’ commentaries relate the fiction to the life. Murdoch championed the novel of character. A Severed Head prefigured the Profumo Affair. The intense and reckless liaisons within her novels reflected the sexual mores of the time and her own. She is she thinks like her books. Her characters are all her. ‘I can’t divide friendship from love or love from sex – or sex from love. If I care for somebody I want to caress them. I am not a lesbian, in spite of one or two unevents. I am strongly interested in men but don’t really want normal heterosexual relations. I am a male heterosexual in female guise, evident from the novels where it is male queer relations which carry the most force from the unconscious.’ She does initiate a sexual relationship with another woman to remove emotional barriers. ‘I cannot think of any corner of the universe where sex is not present.’ ‘I don’t portray real people; it would inhibit imagination.’ Magic, like sex, is everywhere ‘just over a certain borderline when a kind of will-to-power radiation takes possession of up till then innocent or harmless or spiritual images or activities or states of being,’ an intimation of the unconscious coming out and taking over perhaps.
I sent her my novel and had a critical letter in reply. I’m thinking of sending a copy of it to the editors who asked for such. She tells off a friend for making a carbon copy of a letter to her he showed to somebody else. He should not make copies of personal letters. Why not? I discarded the idea myself in writing to Betty Clark because it’d militate against spontaneity.

She says Islam is a rotten religion which owes much of its popularity to its absolute and fundamental degradation of women. Ireland likewise is an awful country, of bogus charm, although she regards herself as an Anglo-Irish Protestant. She loathes the IRA and objects to American support for a united Ireland. She’d be a Leaver on the grounds of our sovereignty that we’ve had for a very long time whereas France and Germany want to run Europe between them.

While with a nail unpicking at the seal,
tearing to check the wrapping paper –
for recycling – I went into the room
where John was seated. “That’s the first time
I’ve seen you undo a bar of soap,”
with delight at something new, of me, he knew,
I was revealing.

Murdoch says, in a revised conversation with Magee, ‘any artist must be at least half in love with his unconscious mind which after all provides his motive force and does a great deal of his work.’ Mine was behind Sketch of a Just Man, An instance from which telepathy can be proved..., the poems, The Man Who Stopped Time, where it took over my writing hand to achieve exactly the effect it wanted, CORRESPONDENCE of John Cairns with Betty Clark (Joan Ure), Phoenixflower, Dark Side of the Moon, the lot. Murdoch didn’t want to be obviously present in her artistic work. ‘Literature could be called a disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions. If nothing sensuous is present no art is present. Art is close with unconscious forces. Art is mimesis and good art is... anamnesis, memory of what we did not know we knew.’ That about sums up ‘the book’, lived by unconscious direction and realised at unconscious instigation from its intact memory. ‘The unconscious mind is not a philosopher,’ she says. It’s not a mind either but a spirit informing the mind, both the unconscious and conscious mind. Art, she thinks, is a battle with obsessive unconscious forces... although the unconscious... is also the source of art. Mine liked I didn’t let consciousness get in his way whereas Betty Clark inhibited his and her unconscious’s expression. Art goes deeper than philosophy, she writes. Formalists want to cure us of the realistic fallacy of imagining we look through language into a separate world beyond, like taking what the writer is imagining in words as depicting what’s there, I suppose. When Johnson kicked the stone to refute Berkeley he was protesting against the latter’s metaphysical attempt to remove a necessary distinction between self and the world. She thinks words should be seen as a medium through which one relates to the world, whatever that world is, including that of works of art. The world of people, and things, is more malleable than she thinks. Art is truth as well as form, she says, representational as well as autonomous, suggesting a relative truth, true to something other. Art has got to have form, she avers, life need not. It may. Mine did.

I was interested in what she had to say about truth in art. She says literature is often criticised for being in some sense untruthful, using words like sentimental, pretentious, self-indulgent, trivial, vulgar, banal but primarily fantasy, to impute some kind of falsehood. The Greeks exonerated fiction from being a lie but she’s defining truth in art from what falsifies it. I’m no clearer knowing how it can be true except to a writer’s unalloyed imagination recognized as true by an appreciative reader, a not very convincing criterion. She later writes the good artist is a vehicle of truth in that he formulates ideas which otherwise would remain vague and focuses attention on facts which can then no longer be ignored, without exemplifying this contention. The artist must tell the truth about something he has understood. The paradox of art is that the work itself may have to invent the methods by which we verify it, to erect its own interior standards of truthfulness. Hmm.

Modern writing is more ironical and less confident than that of the nineteenth century, the story more narrowly connected with the consciousness of the author who narrates through the consciousness of a character, without direct judging or description by the author as an external authoritative intelligence. To write like a nineteenth century novelist now would seem like a literary device. In a novel the conflict between the representational and formal may appear as that between characters and plot. A bad writer gives way to personal obsession, exalting some characters, demeaning others, without concern for truth or justice ie without a suitable aesthetic explanation.

In paraphrasing Ayer on the mind she refers to overt public conventions she defines as what govern the inward utterance of words which is all that ‘thinking’ can properly consist of, as if all thinking is conscious and uses language. The Turk didn’t speak English nor I Turkish yet... I stopped and turned to look back to see how far we’d come down the slipway all the while fluently communicating without vocalising. The slipway, of course, would be physical symbol of what we’d been doing and I wouldn’t have been thinking ‘fluently communicating’ or ‘vocalising’, more likely ‘talking’ and ‘without speaking’ ie communicating without verbalising. In that mode of communicating he asked if I wanted to go back to my friends, so interpreting my stopping and looking back. No. What I was unconsciously doing was raising a buoy to the surface so that on looking back I’d see something there, look at it more closely and pull on the line, bringing memory after attached memory up into consciousness until I’d realised the incident from unconscious memory. I’ve put it metaphorically. At the time I realised we hadn’t been actually talking, stopped and looked back, measuring how far we’d come while communicating without using language. I’d avoided using the word ‘realised’ before because it’d convey consciousness and I’d still be unconscious but perhaps nearing the interface of the unconscious with consciousness. The young Turk probably got the gist at the time or later forgot it entirely because unconscious then. The means to an end wouldn’t interest him anyway. I can’t myself be that interested in a conscious thinking which excludes that of the unconscious and presumes therefore that all thinking is done linguistically, in English, French, Turkish or whatever.

Morality is pictured without any transcendent background because there are no metaphysical entities, though will is. In our society we believe in judging a man by his conduct, she says. He’s not fully conscious of what he is. The current view is his moral life is a series of overt choices and acts. She holds it’s not only his choices but his vision that constitutes his morality. Marxists, Xians, Moslems believe we are immersed in a reality which transcends us and moral progress consists in awareness of this reality and submission to its purpose.

She defines Sartre’s idea of consciousness, that it’s for itself ie nothing although the source of all meaning. Its nothingness is freedom that it has to realise in contention with things that exist in themselves and with other selves making an object, a thing, of it. Sartre refuses to accept that emotion consciousness is aware of has a meaning of which it is unconscious. It is that we are not reflectively aware of the configuration we have consciously framed to achieve the purpose of the emotion. No wonder she thinks Sartre stupid. If freedom founds all values why, she asks, ought she to will it for herself and others? If it’s to be defined in terms of what she chooses, does not that imply making a distinction between true and false values which can’t be derived from free choice? Sartre’s man inhabits a universe which contains no transcendent objective truth. Man is an emptiness between two inaccessible totalities, of an impenetrable world of objects and an unattainable world of intelligible being. He wants to be a living transparent consciousness and simultaneously a stable opaque being, impossibly contradictory. It’s an aspiration to be god but no project satisfies him, all tending to fall dead into the region of the reified, thus all projects are equally vain: ‘ça revient au meme de s’enivrer solitairement ou de conduire les peuples.’ Nothing from the outside confers sense on one’s actions. Bad faith, the illusion one can be something in a thinglike manner, comes from consciousness’s wish to be in-itself, rendering sincerity impossible.

Murdoch says Hampshire argues will is dependent on desires, some of which are dependent on beliefs, in turn dependent on thinking. It’s true mother and I could think ourselves into emotion but not I don’t think into beliefs – belief a form of thinking – and on to will. In any case, if from thinking, all this is to do with consciousness as if because one is aware of emotion it is attributable to consciousness, engendered by it. It’s only if an unconscious, trapped inside and only able to act through consciousness, is reinforcing conscious will that the latter has any emotional heft eg I had the intimation of a Greek looking over his shoulder at his unconscious, protesting he was heterosexual when she wanted him to take an interest in me. He went along with it because any direction from within was also of his self and therefore acceptable. I received this intimation from my man, my unconscious will, who put it pictorially to my inner eye. I was imagining it. Unconscious thinking uses the same ways as imagination. It’s an exercise of will. The unconscious will comes first and puts on desire, love or emotion to make one focus and do what it wants, bait on the hook, and it is transcendent.

Jim took me to Lawrence’s trial at Richmond magistrates’. I cowered beside Jim until I realised Lawrence didn’t know me. I wanted nothing to do with him! My man told me, ‘It’s your job.’ Whereupon I wouldn’t mind the odd buffet or two since I didn’t see how I could treat him with policemen on either side restraining his arms. My man assured me I wouldn’t be hurt. Jim brought a reluctant Lawrence to me after stealing booze from Marks. Within twenty minutes Lawrence wanted me. That desire would alter his will but it was my transcendent will preceded and brought that situation about.

Love, she says, is the imaginative recognition of ie respect for the otherness of an irreducibly dissimilar individual. I’d go further: it’s the acceptance of an alternative criterion for oneself always provided the other decides for one.

Goodness, she says Moore says, is a function of the will. Mine is. The psychopath’s badness was a function of his in taking being good at menace as good though it hurt his soul and made for an unhappiness he didn’t know how to mitigate. She thinks goodness is connected to knowledge,... a refined and honest perception of what is really the case. That would be quite beyond the psychopath who was dim and drunk all the time so his unconscious might be out causing havoc. It wasn’t necessarily beyond me in dealing with his case. He liked me because I wasn’t afraid of him. “I am,” I said, giving hostage to fortune. The fear had to be suppressed for me to function, as I may also very well have told him. Angst she would describe as a kind of fright which the conscious will feels when it apprehends the strength and direction of the personality not under its immediate control. She actually believes the will is conscious and that’s it. Even if her unconscious will were acting on and through consciousness she wouldn’t know it was but take it as conscious because conscious of it though not enough to know a difference in her willing when her unconscious will was engaged. It may be when she attends properly and has no choices, the ultimate condition she aimed for. Freedom’s not having multiple possibilities of action; the ideal situation is represented as a kind of necessity, that would be when there’s only the one. Good she thinks is indefinable because of the infinite difficulty of apprehending a magnetic and inexhaustible reality. No magnetic good for the psychopath unless mine. Good, not will, is transcendent, she emphasises, but then she only knows of conscious will which can’t be. As far as she can see there is no metaphysical unity in life, which is subject to chance. I have a metaphysical unity, that of my unconscious will, and if I do, so must you, from yours, like the psychopath had unhappily from his and, less unhappily, after I and mine had effected a correction to it. Patently that metaphysical unity need not be good. When true good is loved, the quality of love is refined, she says. It wasn’t my active unconscious will the psychopath loved but my receptive will, let’s say my soul or that half of my soul, and his love was refined by love; he wouldn’t hit me in my room because I felt safe there and only lightly because he didn’t think I could take too much. What was most for his good was his irretrievable loss of me.

Steiner gives biographical details. She exemplifies her philosophy not from life but art, a procedure she defends as valid. She analyses Plato and her philosophy is summed up in her two Platonic dialogues.

Why all that about Jackson? I asked myself. To establish him, of course, after a late entry, but would dinner guests spend all that time talking of a servant? The host character is working on Heidegger who quotes from Heraclitus, ‘How can one hide from that which never sets?” and the wannabe philosopher wonders what it all means. The question evokes a sun, one which doesn’t set, but what might Heraclitus think such a sun might be symbol of? A god of light? Of truth? Of life? Not Christ anyway. More than by Heidegger, the host is perturbed by his servant. What!

The relationship is gone into from the start. The host’s resistant, Jackson persistent. Why persist? I asked myself, in the margin, and also how he knew the new address, a question the resister also asks himself. Anyway, the relationship does begin. But why! I asked. The author does eventually answer that question.

The characters are prone to think they are at fault and blame themselves for what hardly is their fault even if they may have to take some responsibility. There’s a lot of presumptuous guilt going on. A female character has found somebody other than the one she’s committed to, whom she betrays therefore, and that is bad but she reverts. I thought she was pregnant.

‘The Last Ride Together’ is by Browning.

The suggestion is the female character was drugged but that’s just to excuse her. Maybe by love.

I didn’t expect the author to monitor Jackson’s mind because usually she doesn’t, to maintain mystery in the male character focussed upon, but she does. It’s a distinctive characterisation but no more different from the others as the others from each other, I’d’ve thought. I may have to read it again. He lies effortlessly. Somebody good wouldn’t. When mum realised I told the truth she was inclined to teach me to lie, as mothers do to give their children every advantage in the world, but further realised I’d ways round it, one of which was conveniently forgetting. I’ve noticed recently other people share this attribute. After all, if you analyse remembering, there’s no direct connection between one bit of consciousness and the next. The connection is within. The unconscious may choose not to prompt but block. That may be hard to convey in art by an author who extends consciousness into the unconscious without any intervening realisation as if that’s how it could be.

Jackson is likened to many things, including a horse. Asked his age he wonders which of his ages he should offer. What is the implication of that? He’s instrumental in resolving things satisfactorily if not necessarily, certainly not explicitly, the executor of fate as my man was for Denise.
Another female character parallels Jackson’s persistence while a male character resists.

This novel is sparer than previous ones, a lot less description of clothing.

I’m like Jackson; like him I think I’ve lost my powers, his wasted on the rich. A like example of mine to his might be on my finishing Isobil’s horoscope taking it out with me shopping and on coming across her handing it over as somehow arranged. How did Jackson have his ex-employer come to him? There is only one possible explanation the author doesn’t give because she doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t have to.

The snow’s gone, as has John,
not that I’m likening him
to the evanescent whitening.
He’s not that. His visiting
would incur diminishing
in the nature of things – snow too,
which lacks the effort of love.
I’ve thought of going to him –
I have several hours to spare –
but inertia, present warmth take over
and... he might think what propels
is a want of forgiveness when
I didn’t do him wrong, so leave it;
he may visit again, or not, as he pleases,
and our love sublime away, yes, like snow.

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