As you re-read Flight from the Enchanter, there are moments when you can’t stop yourself from checking its original date of publication. How could this have been written 70 years ago? A press baron trying to take over a small publication, for example? Or the opening paragraph of Chapter 25, which recounts parliamentary questions about migrants and hostile news coverage the following day? Weren’t they just last week?
Murdoch’s philosophy of ‘unselfing’ was first coined in The Sovereignty of Good in the 1970s. While the term itself was original, Murdoch’s attempts to grapple with concepts related to the morality of the self followed a trajectory laid down by centuries of her predecessors. One cannot fail to see parallels with the likes of Keats, for example, whose theory of ‘Negative Capability’, an idea that argued for attention to beauty and the freedom of the imagination, was epitomised in his poem Ode to a Nightingale.
Murdoch’s notable 1961 essay ‘Against Dryness’ introduces the idea of the ‘written’ novel – a line of argument that is an instance of the ‘confident, ambitious breadth of reference’ Peter J. Conradi mentions in his preface to Existentialists and Mystics:
Most modern English novels indeed are not written. One feels they could slip into some other medium without much loss. It takes a foreigner like Nabokov or an Irishman like Beckett to animate prose language into an imaginative stuff in its own right.