Monday, October 27, 2008

Speaking Bravely

Today I watched philosopher Iris Murdoch speaking to Bryan Magee on YouTube.  They spoke chiefly about philosophy and literature; their overlaps and great distances, shared longings and antipathies.

At one point, Murdoch spoke a lovely aphorism.  Philosophy, she said, "means looking at things which one takes for granted and suddenly seeing that they are very odd indeed."

Now, this isn't a particularly arresting aphorism.  Nor is it especially accurate - there's more to philosophy than 'overcoming common sense' (as Heidegger put it, in agreement).  But it's accurate enough to do its job, which is to be illuminating, clarifying, compelling.

And, together with Murdoch's uncanny, penetrating gaze, this led me to recognise the chief virtue of the aphorism: courage.

Of course the aphorist must be intelligent, articulate, and perhaps witty (but not necessarily). But the crucial thing is a certain boldness; a willingness to offer, without padding or scaffolding, a vision of the world. To aphorise is to take a risk; to gamble that the tiny, naked statement will repay you with an elegant, arresting glimpse of truth.

The aphorism is proof of this: we care enough about truth to risk our pride in discovering it.


Elisabeth said...

I listened to Iris, Damon. Fascinating stuff and all the time I think of the tragedy of what happened eventually to that fine mind.
I heard Ramona Koval on the Bookshow recently quote someone as saying that writing is a conversation with the future. I like this idea. It helps to deal with the pain of Iris Murdoch's decline into dementia. Funny that I can bear the idea of death more than I can bear dementia, which is more like a living death.

Damon said...

Yes, it's a tragic, unsettling illness, dementia - in all its forms.

But I don't think it's quite a living death. Death steals our loved-ones from us entirely, whereas dementia robs us piece by piece. But for a while, they remain with us -perhaps imperfectly, perhaps in confusion, but implacably there.

This is a naive consolation, to be sure, but it's all we have.