Book II Chapter Seven — Iris Murdoch
It is one of those mornings where one knows everything is perfect. It is the acceptance of this fact which aids in the growth and development of inspiration. When I know the perfect exists in everything, I can create without either judgement, fear, or shame. The imperfect does not exist or as my friend Miles (Davis) says, “Don’t fear mistakes – there are none!”
I feel charged this morning. A while back some of the female guests asked if they could have use of an old barn structure on the north end of the property to use as a special retreat center for women only. It is the building from my dream which brought about this magical place and started these writings. It was the first building on the property. The original structure will be maintained but they would like to add some skylights and convert some of the rooms to be used for various individual crafts.
The structure is solid and built over our natural hot springs. The plan is for part of the building to be used as a bath house for female guests and staff. The windmill near the old barn is being repaired and will be used to pump water from the hot springs into the bath house. The group, represented by Iris Murdoch, was pleased the Providers okayed the plan. Each guest has inspirational control over his or her individual living space but because this was an original building of the property, all plans have to be approved.
As I approach the grounds, I see the old building and the windmill under repair and I begin to relive the dream of how this all started when I dreamed of a place …
“Good Morning Socrates. I interrupted your memory. Please accept my apology.”
“No apology is necessary Iris. It is a sound and pleasant memory. I am never without it. How are you my dear friend?”
“Life is very good Socrates.”
“Yes it is, Iris. We both feel and appreciate that. It is also important to verbalize it whenever the opportunity presents itself… Life is good.”
“On behalf of the women here, I want to thank you for your kindness and generosity. We are all so excited about our new space of inspiration and creativity. The addition of the bath house is icing on the cake.”
“It is my pleasure always, Iris. Would you care to give me a tour and discuss your plans for the old structure?”
“Yes, but first will you tell me why I am here. I mean. Why did you invite me to be a part of this wonderful existence?”
“Are you wondering if it were chance or causality?”
Iris responds, “Causality and chance … are the same things looked at two ways. Of course we are rather mechanical, and psychoanalysis can offer us some useful generalities about ourselves. But everything that is important and valuable and good belongs with the little piece of us which is not mechanical and no one who is not bemused by philosophy or a youthful mood really doubts the existence of this piece.”
“Yes Iris. That is why you are here. We are those pieces. You and I are both philosophers, poets and writers. This paradise is the dream which allows me to have conversations with the people who have influenced my life. Your influence came as a mirror in many ways. Here, we are the characters of our own fiction experiencing the goodness of life.”
“Plato remarks in The Republic that bad characters are volatile and interesting, whereas good characters are dull and always the same. This certainly indicates a literary problem. It is difficult in life to be good, and difficult in art to portray goodness. Perhaps we don’t know much about goodness. Attractive bad characters in fiction may corrupt people, who think, “So that’s OK.” Inspiration from good characters may be rarer and harder, yet Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov and the grandmother in Proust’s novel exist. So I musk ask Socrates. Are we the good and dull or the bad and volatile?”
“That is a good question Iris, and it is one for which I do not have an answer. I think this is the reason I prefer philosophy to writing fiction but you have done well combining the two.”
“Both art and philosophy constantly re-create themselves by returning to the deep and obvious and ordinary things of human existence and making there a place for cool speech and wit and serious unforced reflection. Long may this central area remain to us, the homeland of freedom and of art. The great artist, like the great saint, calms us by a kind of unassuming simple lucidity, he speaks with the voice that we hear in Homer and in Shakespeare and in the Gospels. This is the human language of which, whenever we write, as artists or as word-users of any other kind, we should endeavour to be worthy.”
“Amen to that Iris!”
“Great art is liberating, it enables us to see and take pleasure in what is not ourselves. Literature stirs and satisfies our curiosity, it interests us in other people and other scenes, and helps us to be tolerant and generous. Art is informative. And even mediocre art can tell us something, for instance about how other people live. But to say this is not to hold a utilitarian or didactic view of art. Art is larger than such narrow ideas.”
“So what is the role of the tyrant in art and truth? Can they coexist?
“Tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify. The good artist is a vehicle of truth, he formulates ideas which would otherwise remain vague and focuses attention upon facts which can then no longer be ignored. The tyrant persecutes the artist by silencing him or by attempting to degrade or buy him. This has always been so.”
“And regarding truth?” I continue.
“Some philosophers tell us that the self is discontinuous and some writers explore this idea, but the writing (and the philosophy) takes place in a world where we have good reasons for assuming the self to be continuous. Of course this is not a plea for ‘realistic’ writing. It is to say that the artist cannot avoid the demands of truth, and that his decision about how to tell truth in his art is his most important decision.”
“Is this where morality enters?”
“Life is soaked in the moral, literature is soaked in the moral. If we attempted to describe this room our descriptions would naturally carry all sorts of values. Value is only artificially and with difficulty expelled from language for scientific purposes. So the novelist is revealing his values by any sort of writing which he may do. He is particularly bound to make moral judgements in so far as his subject matter is the behaviour of human beings… The author’s moral judgement is the air which the reader breathes.”
“Very well stated Iris. As writers and philosophers we must always be conscious of the affects of our words upon the reader.”
“Yes, very true Socrates.”
As I turn toward Iris to ask another question, I hear women’s voices in the distance. “Tell me Iris. Have you thought of a name for the structure? We can’t keep referring to it as Socrates’s dream castle.”
She takes my hand and leads me to the area between the windmill at the north shore of the lake. The is a bonfire burning and women are dancing and singing around the fire. Joyful and happy. There are the two Simones, Susan, Virginia, Anaïs and Mary… all the women.
“Yes we have Socrates. It is named ‘The House Of The Fire Dragon’ in honor and memory of Ursula (K LeGuin) and, of course, your first book.”
“My first book? In The House of The Fire Dragon, Lives a Gentle Man. You read it?”
“Yes. With attention and love.”
“You must be one of the few. I think I only made twelve copies of the book. It was all done by hand.”
“No Socrates. I was one of the fortunate. It was my pleasure.”
The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Book II Chapter Eight — Bertrand Russell will be published on Sunday, October 06, 2019.