30 September 2022By Miles LeesonBlog

The latest Iris Murdoch Review, no. 13 (2022)

This issue of the Iris Murdoch Review opens with a philosophical colloquium, republished for the first time since 1955, which sheds light on the philosophical climate of Oxford in the mid-1950s. It is important to have this back in print as even the Bodleian Library has mislaid its copy. Hannah Marije Altorf’s introduction to the colloquium notes that this ‘is a dialogue about men by men, with Murdoch as the sole exception,’ that reinforces the privileged status of the middle-class white male philosopher of the time – a situation that has not entirely changed in the intervening seventy-odd years. Altorf highlights Murdoch’s contribution to the debate where she firmly pushes back against the charge that metaphysical arguments have no inherent value and proposes that liberalism should not be taken for granted.

The essays that follow place Murdoch in dialogue with contemporary novelists and philosophers whose views put her beliefs into sharp relief and develop conversations that have been ongoing since Murdoch’s centenary in 2019, not only concerning her status as a canonical writer and as a (non)feminist, but also with regard to her roles of student and teacher. These views are contested and controversial but the discussion of these thorny issues is important and timely. First, in her essay ‘On Iris Murdoch as a Woman Writer’ (a rejoinder to Jill Paton Walsh’s essay ‘Philosophy and the Novel’, published in Iris Murdoch Review 3), Rachel Cusk asserts that Murdoch was not a woman’s writer, but was instead a remote, distant figure: ‘a lost source of strength; a lost and gifted mother, cloistered in philosophy and academe’. No doubt this view will strike many readers as dismissive and ill-informed but it is nonetheless an important intervention in the current critical debate. Cusk’s essay merits serious consideration, especially in the light of the most recent work by Lucy Bolton on Murdoch and feminism in The Murdochian Mind, reviewed in this issue.

Following Cusk’s laying down of the feminist gauntlet, companion essays by the philosopher Fleur Jongepier and Rebecca Moden engage with another contentious area of debate that was sparked by Valentine Cunningham’s plenary lecture at the Centenary Conference (to be published in the forthcoming Palgrave collection Iris Murdoch and the Literary Imagination) concerning Murdoch’s experience of pedagogical relationships and the resulting engagement with transgressive love and affection. These essays highlight the ongoing necessity to respond to and challenge relationships that transgress healthy professional ethical boundaries. Jongepier questions how Murdoch’s focus on loving attention to the other can apply to those who break with convention and moral boundaries in teaching. Moden reflects on Murdoch’s own encounters with older male teachers, particularly her tutors Eduard Fraenkel and Donald MacKinnon, and extends the discussion to question Murdoch’s own role as an occasional boundary-crossing teacher herself. Moden asks if these ‘unsettling’ relationships and ‘diffused eroticisms’ can be excused, and concludes that they cannot. For Murdoch, the erotic life is not easily separated from the life of the mind, nor from the practice of teaching – a disturbing aspect of her life and thought.

Reviews and reports, as ever, cover a substantial amount of ground. Daniel Read’s masterly summation of Murdoch’s afterlife in ‘Murdoch and the Media’ highlights the impossibility of mentioning every webpage or printed article that discusses her legacy and impact now. We have decided therefore this year not to include a ‘Publications Update’, since there is now too much to cover; moving forward the Review will only examine Murdoch-focused works, or those that bear substantial relation to her thought. However, this year we are delighted to bring you Nikhil Krishnan’s comprehensive review of both major ‘Wartime Quartet’ biographies, alongside a review of the published Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series of 2018–2019 which featured Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Murdoch. We also have reviews of a Murdoch-centred journal, a work on Murdoch written in Spanish, a quirky account of farming and philosophy by Scott H. Moore that includes an extended essay on Murdoch’s theology, a work on Murdoch in relation to Plato and Kant as well as one in relation to Bob Dylan (her connections are eclectic!), reviews of key monographs by Gillian Dooley and by Paul Fiddes, and a review-essay of The Murdochian Mind, a landmark collection edited by Silvia Caprioglio Panizza and Mark Hopwood.

As worldwide COVID restrictions have eased over the year, we have gradually returned to in-person events, the most substantial being the recent Tenth International Iris Murdoch Conference at Chichester where I was delighted to see so many Iris Murdoch Society members, and welcome new Murdochians – two of whom, Arka Basu and Jamie Chen, have given their impressions of the conference. Other events have included an online colloquium organised by Silvia Caprioglio Panizza, an innovative exhibition at Kingston University by Carol Sommer, a walking tour of Murdoch’s Oxford, and an important collaboration between Oxford Brookes University and the Samaritans convened by Gary Browning. Dayna Miller’s report on the year in the Kingston University Archives reveals that work there is going from strength to strength, notwithstanding the pandemic problems, and we congratulate her and the team at the Archive on retaining their accredited status. We are also pleased to include two pieces on Murdoch and friendship: Frank Egerton’s memory of his connections with Iris and John, and Paul Hullah’s account of his involvement with Iris and Yozo Muroya in the development and production of their edited Poems by Iris Murdoch.

Finally, this edition could not have been produced without the tireless work of Rebecca Moden and Daniel Read. Frances and I delegated a substantial portion of the editorial process to them, primarily due to co-editing the forthcoming Iris Murdoch and the Literary Imagination and organising the recent conference. We are indebted to their good humour and superb editorial skills.

University of Chichester, August 2022

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