poetix (old content)

oh build your ship of death

Quotidien Gloom:

Cold World book cover

Another daily excerpt from Cold World

Let us now revisit our earlier assertion that the experience of the cold world brings the opposition between the worldly and the unworldly into question. In that experience, the world appears before us in a kind of disfigured objectivity. We are no longer fully immersed in it, or engaged with it; indeed, our habitual satisfactions and modes of engagement are suspended, placed beyond reach. It is at this moment, however, that the “mechanisms of power” truly become accessible to understanding. The experience of the cold world is one of dislocation, of eviction; of being eased or jiggled or jolted out of one’s place in the world. One possible, and politically significant, consequence of this is that one’s former position in the scheme of things may become apparent as a meeting-place of forces: one is separated, more or less forcefully, from what one had previously assumed and defended as one’s “interests”.

Iris Murdoch’s novels arrange moral dislocations for their characters in order that those characters should discover significant parts of themselves to be the transitory forms taken by conflicts of custom and desire rather than emanations of a dependable intrinsic selfhood, an immortal conscience reliably directing their attitudes and actions. It is straightforward enough to act with integrity when one’s decisions are circumstanced by dependable moral constraints. To be a principal character in a Murdoch novel, however, is more often than not to be thrown into a situation in which the maxims one has chosen to be bound by have ceased to be intelligible, in which one’s principles are not so much put to the test as rendered nonsensical. The canniness of the worldly is routinely disarmed by the uncanniness of desire.