Monday, March 05, 2007

Iris Murdoch

Last night I watched 2001's Iris. It's as good a movie about books and words as I've ever seen (maybe Adaptation is number 2?) I haven't actually read any of her books (I'll rectify that soon) but I'm writing about the movie here because I was so moved by certain aspects of the movie - particularly the love story of Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, and how their relationship changed after she began to suffer from Alzheimer's disease, but also by the main character's relationship to words and language. The young Iris claimed that words were so important to her because that was how she thought - that words and language literally defined her, and tragically, when she began to lose language, she lost her ability to understand her place in the world. And yet, despite losing language, and the ability to communicate, the character still found ways to enjoy the world on a completely sensory level. I've been spending much of the day wondering what it would be like to be without language, to lose it, like Murdoch, or to be pre-lingual, like a child (like my new nephew, much on my mind!)

I love words, of course (look at this AWAD from last week: omphaloskepsis (om-fuh-lo-SKEP-sis) noun, Contemplation of one's navel - Marvelous!) but I'm also a very visual person, and a tactile person. What if I lived a life just in color? At the risk of being all, if a tree fell... isn't it true that if you nuzzle the nose of a horse, even if you can't process the experience in language, it's still an amazing feeling? Well, that's what I've been thinking about today. Has anyone read Murdoch's work and can recommend one of her books? Otherwise I guess I'll start with Under the Net, selected by the American Modern Library as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. (!)

I also loved the part where Judi Dench quoted Psalms - sometimes I forget that the Bible has some really beautiful passages:
Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
Whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend unto heaven, thou art there:
If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
even there shall thy hand lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Iris sounds very good; thanks for mentioning it; I'd have missed it. I've not ready any Murdoch at all so I'll be anxious to hear what you think.

On previous posts, I should tell you that I found Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" profoundly true regarding the nature of coming to terms with cataclysmic loss. I was a bit awed of her awareness of the processes operating...in the end, I was overwhelmed by it and how so many things resonated with my experiencing the loss of my sister and the near-fatal episode for my husband last year. And how I could also identify certain things that really illuminated how my parents and my remaining sister (not to say she's a "left over" or anything.) seemed to experience it. I think I should read some more of her work.

On Foer, that man has so much talent I can't get over it. I've been laughing my arse off over "Everything is Illuminated" but struggling with the historical stuff at the beginning. I'm sure its worth the effort.

David Eggers (btw it kills me to not be able to properly italicize book names in comments) "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is off to a great start. Eggers is amazing.