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Reflecting on the work of Iris Murdoch 100 years from her birth

A new book written by an academic from Queen Mary University of London has shed fresh light on the work of novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch.

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Photograph: Iris Murdoch. Credit: Sophie Bassouls
Photograph: Iris Murdoch. Credit: Sophie Bassouls

Contemporary Cinema and the Philosophy of Iris Murdoch, by Dr Lucy Bolton from Queen Mary’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Film, is the first book of its kind to take Iris Murdoch’s philosophical work and place it in dialogue with cinema.

Morality and goodness

Iris Murdoch was one of post-war Britain’s most celebrated and prolific novelists. She was also an influential philosopher, whose work was concerned with the question of the good and how people can see their moral worlds more clearly.

Murdoch believed that paying attention to art was a way for people to become less self-centred, and this book argues that cinema is the perfect form of art to enable this.

Murdoch’s philosophy was concerned with questions of morality and goodness, and how to become a better person. Using concepts such as vision and attention, the book aims to advance understandings of how films raise questions about morality and ethics.

Ethics of humour

Bolton’s book explores Murdoch’s philosophical writings on love, goodness, art, morality, women and living in the void, or existing when in a place of extreme suffering.

It also examines the ethics of humour since Murdoch also wrote on the relationship between comedy and tragedy. Humour is often seen as a copying mechanism and the work also has relevance when the wider political context is considered. Murdoch wrote about how dictators get elected as well as the history of how totalitarian states attack the work of artists and thinkers.

“The book’s aim was to show how relevant and contemporary, and indeed prophetic, Murdoch’s philosophical thinking was, and bringing her into dialogue with cinema has really done this,” explained Dr Lucy Bolton, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies.

“Murdoch’s thinking about morality, goodness, attention to art and to others, and caring for nature and animals, makes her a profoundly relevant philosopher for our times,” she added.

More information

Dr Lucy Bolton will be discussing Iris Murdoch’s legacy on 16 July at Oxford Brookes University. Dr Bolton will also participate in a special In Conversation event at the National Portrait Gallery on 19 July.

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