Murdoch’s great love of the Flaying of Marsyas ignited Phillips’ inspiration. ‘When the National Portrait Gallery commissioned me to paint her portrait I recalled our conversation’, he said, and he ‘started a fairly hasty copy of the picture to act as a backdrop so that she might sit in front of the head of Marsyas.’ Phillips sketched in the Titian with broad brushstrokes; in contrast, he rendered the image of Murdoch herself with great precision and imbued it with a translucent, otherworldly light
We met at a previous Iris Murdoch conference. We both had papers at the conference, in 2019. We discovered that we share a mutual love of Murdoch as a philosopher and that there was some kinship and affinity in the themes of our papers and so we came up with the proposal to read something by Murdoch that is challenging to read on your own. Thus, we set out to read Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals together.
Iris Murdoch, who lived for much of her childhood in Chiswick, was one of the best and most influential writers of the twentieth century. Iris was the only child of doting parents who married after a rather whirlwind romance.
In the years since I became a Quaker by convincement, no one has ever mentioned Iris Murdoch as a representative Quaker sensibility and thinker. In that same period of time I’ve also been convinced that the, shall we say, post-supernatural, post-fundamentalist condition is naturally Quaker, and is a reasonable contradiction of Sigmund Freud’s position that there’s no future for ‘illusions’ of the religious sort.
I don’t know whether Murdoch is right about God, but I’m pretty sure that she’d have struggled to understand my reasons for getting up at 6 a.m. to watch soccer. Unlike the old lady in her story, I’m under no illusions. The empty stadiums and canned crowd noise of the pandemic might have brought it home more forcefully, but on some level I’ve always known the game is just a dog’s tooth. The interesting question is why that doesn’t stop it from glowing.
Iris Murdoch met the painter Harry Weinberger (1924-2009) by chance in the mid-1970s and in him she instantly recognised a kindred spirit. For more than two decades, they maintained an intimate friendship and rigorous intellectual discourse, centred on sustained discussion of the practice, teaching and morality of art.