By Suguna Ramanathan
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Extra info for Iris Murdoch: Figures Of Good
Corless says excellently: A wheel does not have a point at which it begins, only a point at which one starts to look at it. 33 Murdoch likewise insists on attention as the starting point for understanding the real, and corrected vision as the beginning of that obedience to reality which is freedom. She says: the true half of (freedom) is simply a name of an aspect of virtue concerned especially with the clarification of vision and the domination of selfish impulse. (SG 100) This is similar to the Buddhist stress on accurate seeing, without Introduction 33 the colour provided by falsifying mind, if one is to proceed from avidya, ignorance, to vidya, knowledge, to asamskrta, the unconditioned state.
The history of Christianity comes between us and Christ, and Murdoch's piercing through the rich fabric to the pure essence affords a contemporary version of faith. Christ is important because he is the most intense picture of love, of that in us which loves a good greater than ourselves. The reinterpreted meaning of Christ is thrown into relief by the traditional response to him as an object of attention. Cato' s mistaken emotionalism; Fr Bernard Jacoby's elaborate worship; Barney's tearful masses; Anne's need for a miracle, and Fr McAlister's brooding over the mysteries are all shown as obstruc- Introduction 25 tions in the way of clear understanding.
There is ironic play on traditional religious interpretation, but concurrently, the scene suggests powerfully what is to happen to Cato, the extreme pain through which he has to relearn (if he ever does or can) what it is to accept Christ. II While Brendan is the crystalline realisation of the Christian understanding of good, he can be fully appreciated and understood only in the light of Cato's conversion and subsequent loss of faith. Cato is a priest who is mistaken in his apprehension of God and good, and the contrast between him and Brendan serves to clarify the dangers and opacity in an enclosure (the religious order) judged by the world to be automatically good or absolutely absurd.
Iris Murdoch: Figures Of Good by Suguna Ramanathan