Brockwood Park 1984
Brockwood Park 1st Conversation with Iris Murdoch 18th October 1984
K: How are we going to start? Will you please ask?
IM: Well I have a lot of questions, I have got notes of them here which I will consult if I may from time to time.
K: I think you had better speak a little louder.
IM: All right. And I will just start with one that interests me and we will see where we go because there is a lot that I would like to ask.
It is about the word 'experience' which you sometimes use in your writings as representing something which you think we should in some sense overcome. And you seem to connect the idea of experience with the notion of preconceived attitudes or dogmas or beliefs, which impede a kind of being which you would connect with a creative present existence. I don't entirely understand this. It seems to me that it is impossible entirely to...
K: ...wipe out experience...
IM: ...discount or escape from experience. But I would like just to stick to the term experience because it is such a very general world, perhaps there is a particular sense you want to attach to it, it seems to describe the continuity of consciousness which is simply characteristic of being human. Perhaps you could say something about that.
K: I don't know quite what you mean by experience. One can experience what one desires.
IM: You mean imagining it?
K: Yes. And also one can experience according to your conditioning. If I am a Buddhist, and a devout Buddhist, I can experience the state of that consciousness which was supposed to have been Buddha's.
IM: Well this is a rather special sort of experience isn't it?
K: Yes. So I am just questioning what we mean by experience. I can experience anger. Is there a difference between the experience and the experiencer?
IM: Well this is a difficult question about how one is going to use the concept because the word experience in English describes something fairly vague. It can mean either, I had a strange experience yesterday, or it can mean the continuity of your conscious life and your relationship to your past. Or it can mean something momentarily. But I think what you are wanting to mean by it is something which connects your past as it were, and at one point I think you describe desire as experience, whereas love is not experience.
K: Love cannot be experienced.
IM: Could you just explain what the distinction is.
K: Could we go into the question of who experiences the whole thing, anything, whether it is the experience of something imagined, or experience your past tradition and images, past figures and so on? You understand?
IM: You say, who is the experiencer?
K: Who is experiencing?
IM: Well this is a difficult question too, isn't it? If one were to ask a passer-by in the street he would say the individual.
K: Yes, I am experiencing.
IM: Yes these experiences belong to me.
K: I had an experience of an accident this morning in a car. I experience so many things.
IM: But then, I mean, if one were to pursue the matter beyond that kind of answer, one might say well of course one must distinguish between different kinds of experience, and one would then, I think, I mean let's say I can think of say three kinds immediately: there is the experience of my past life, you say of somebody, "He is an experienced man" meaning he has lot of experiences of some kind perhaps, and then you would say that experience is just the continuity of my consciousness, going away into the past.
K: Or continuity of one's consciousness. What do you mean by the word 'consciousness'?
IM: Well then let's pursue the matter in this way, in that one would say consciousness differs at different times. And the word experience I would think would differ whether you were talking about just ordinary life. Let's put it this way: partly you were sort of imposing yourself on the world and you say "I am doing this", "I am doing that", and this would be perhaps experience. But also there could be an experience where you aren't really present.
K: That's it, that's just it. Where the experiencer is not is there an experience, which you can then remember and say "This is it"?
IM: Well I would think that people have what I would call selfless experience when - well for instance when they are looking at a great work of art.
IM: I am not sure about whether if they are with somebody they loved very much, whether one could say this, perhaps. I think these two cases are very different. But what do you think?
K: I would like to go into this question, if I may, who is experiencing all this? Whether it is the ordinary things, or the most complicated forms of experiences, or so-called spiritual experiences. Right? Who is it that is always experiencing? Is the experiencer different from the experience?
IM: Well we would normally say so wouldn't we because one may believe in the continuity of an individual person.
K: Yes, that is what is commonly held. Now we are going to question that. That is, is the experiencer, or the thinker different from his thoughts?
IM: Well again we would usually say so because one could say. "I order my thoughts". This assumes that I am deciding, I collect my thoughts.
K: Yes. But is that I, who orders his thoughts, different from his thoughts? He may order them, he may discipline them, he may control them, he might say, "This is right", "This is wrong", "This must be done", "That must not be done", but is the controller, the person who disciplines, brings order, is he different from the things which he is ordering about?
IM: Well, let's make a distinction here between ordinary language where one speaks about, I mean in a Law Court, or something, somebody is responsible for something they have done. They can't say, "Well I am a different person now" or something. In the ordinary sense of the continuity of the individual and somebody being the subject. But leaving that aside, I mean one doesn't have to be philosopher or hold a religious view to think that one is divided, one is a divided person.
K: That's it.
IM: And there are times when one part of you disapproves of another part.
K: This dualistic process, is there a difference between - we come back to the old question - the good and the bad?
IM: Well nothing could be more fundamental, yes.
K: It comes to that.
IM: I mean this seems to me the nature of the real world.
K: I know. The real world is we have divided the good and the bad, and the thinker, the experiencer from the experience.
IM: Yes, this would follow in that if you condemn yourself for doing something then you are divided.
K: I should not, I must, I will become, and all the rest of it, it breeds division in oneself. I would like to ask, if I may, is that experiencer, or the thinker different from the thing he is experiencing or the thinker different from his thoughts?
IM: Well if this is an appeal - the word experience comes up to my mind - if this is an appeal to how I think about myself, I would say, leaving aside the common sense, the ordinary language, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. I mean that sometimes one is consciously judging oneself, dividing oneself, sometimes there is nothing except a single something or other.
K: A single movement.
IM: A single being or something.
K: So is not the experiencer the same as the experience?
IM: Well it sometimes seems so.
K: So when we say. "I am envious", then there is a division.
K: Then I try to control my envy, or rationalize my envy, or justify, or suppress and so on, but the 'I' is envy not separate from it.
IM: Well I would have thought it is and it isn't. There are two things that you say in what I have read and what I understood from our last conversation, perhaps I can put it this way. There are two things which you seem to me to say which I don't understand how they connect or harmonize. I mean one of the things is I think, which I liked very much, you said that if I think that I am - if I condemn myself - well put it this way: if I think that I am envious, say, now the word 'envy' suggests something which is bad so one wants not to be envious perhaps. If I see this I must start, not in a kind of ideal selfish way that doesn't exist but in my real being which is the envious person. I feel great sympathy with this. But then you also say that there is no process, I must be good, not become good, the idea of becoming good is in some way an illusion.
K: That's right.
IM: Perhaps you could explain, I mean it seems to me that in the one case you are suggesting that I must start from a goal which is a long way from my conclusion, my conclusion would be to become non-envious. The other way you are saying that there is no process of becoming.
K: For me there is no psychological becoming at all.
IM: Yes, well this is what I don't understand because... go on.
K: Go into it. First of all let's come to this point: we have divided the world, and in myself, the good and the bad - right?
IM: But you don't dispute this. You don't object to this?
K: I don't refute, I am just looking at it. Is the bad related to the good? Or is the good totally divorced from the bad? They are not related at all. If they are related the good is still part of the bad.
IM: Well if you are asking me would I agree with that, I am not sure. I mean I think we think about good and bad in several different ways, don't we? We think of bad weaving into good as if it were a spectrum, with goodness is here say and badness here.
K: Yes, a continuity of the bad.
IM: A continuity of the bad. We also think, I think, of good, if we think of it as perfection, of being really outside the world altogether.
K: I don't know perfection - being good, whole, good health, good man, good - you know the word 'good'.
IM: Well let's say good man then.
K: Is that good part of the bad? Does the good know the bad? Or the good is the outcome of the bad? Then if it is the outcome then it is still part of the bad. It's like a child being born, it is still part of the mother.
IM: Yes, some people would say that they are opposites which exist in relation to each other, yes.
K: Yes, now I say, are they opposite? Or they are totally, they have no relation?
IM: Well, there is a very clear different between a bad man and a good man. So in that sense they are very different. On the other hand in a human being good and bad grade into each other, and sometimes you don't know which is which.
K: No, that's what I am questioning. That is what I would like to discuss with you. I feel, I mean to me the good is totally divorced from the bad, like love is not related to hate.
IM: Yes, yes. I mean in ordinary fallen human conditions of course love often occasions hate.
K: Of course, of course.
IM: Whereas you say love is not related to hate, you mean that it is an entirely different kind of concept?
K: Love has no feeling about hate, it has no relation to hate, it is not encompassing or embracing hate.
IM: Wait a minute. Let me ask a supplementary question. Would you say the same about love and desire? If we took those two words.
K: Yes, I would.
IM: You say yes. You regard desire as something connected with psychological becoming?
IM: Love is...
K: ...entirely something different.
IM: Well now, how does this different thing come to one? I might say now why should it concern me? What am I to do about it?
K: It is simple enough. There is conflict. If there is conflict, desire always brings conflict, but love can never bring conflict. Love has no conflict, it has no sense of conflict.
IM: Yes, you are using the word 'love' in an ideal sense, which is unusual.
K: No, I am using it, say for instance, I don't know if you want to go into it. The brain is the entire centre of desire, feeling, anxiety, pain, loneliness - you follow? The consciousness is all that. The belief, the fears, the sorrow, the loneliness, the anxiety, the whole - you know.
IM: The sort of psychological.
K: Yes. The psychological structure, confusion. That's the brain. And therefore love is not part of the brain because it is something outside.
IM: So yes, but this comes back to your saying you don't experience love in the way in which you experience desire.
K: I can' experience something which is so.
IM: I mean if I am loving, I mean again let's put this aside that in ordinary parlance you speak of jealous love or something, that is not what we are talking about. One's talking about some sort of absolute or, I can't think of the right word here. But then if I say I dearly love somebody as one might say in not a bad way but in a good way, as it were, would you want to say this is not part of any psychological process?
K: No. I would say: I say I love you, if I love somebody in that way. If there is any tinge of attachment, any tinge of jealousy, any shadow of conflict, then it is not the real thing.
IM: Yes, yes. All right. Yes. I mean I was brought up as a Christian so there is a lot of the Christian way of looking in me, although I don't believe in god or the divinity of Christ, but I can see in Christianity there would be an idea of divine love, or perfect love, which is something that we don't normally achieve at all perhaps.
K: I don't see why not. Because if I am not jealous, I won't be jealous. There is no sense of attachment to another person, which doesn't mean lack of love.
IM: Attachment and desire - well I think what in ordinary parlance we would call a virtuous love, not hurting anybody else by loving this person, and you are not possessive, unreasonable and so on, there is attachment. I mean particularly if the person dies...
K: Wait a minute. Now that is a different question. Why are we attached to anything? Attached. If I am attached to this house...
IM: I would take a different view I think of the notion of desire. I mean it seems to me I would think that becoming good, to use this phrase that perhaps you would want to exclude, is a matter of purifying one's desires, having good desires, desiring something which is good. Now in loving somebody I would have felt that the element of desire was present.
K: Let's look at desire. What is desire?
IM: Well, there again one would say well there are low desires and there are high desires.
K: No, I am asking, what is the origin, the beginning of desire? Why has desire become such an extraordinary important part of our life?
IM: Well desire is certainly connected with the future.
K: With the future.
IM: It is connected with time.
K: Of course, with time.
IM: Because I desire something which is absent. I mean let's take examples. I might desire to be frightfully rich, or I might desire to study a subject and become good at it.
K: Good at the piano.
IM: Well let's say good at mathematics, to acquire knowledge.
K: Yes, of course.
IM: Well wouldn't this - and I might say I love my subject, I love what I am studying.
K: No, what I am asking is: what is desire? How does it come? Why does it control us so strongly? I mean after all a monk, or one of the Indian sannyasis, their whole idea is to suppress desire, or transmute desire.
IM: Well transmute, yes. I would rather use the word 'transmute'.
K: That is, transmute, there is an entity who transmutes it.
IM: Yes. And there is a process of transmuting, a discipline or a training, or something like that.
K: Yes, which is not only a subtle form of suppression, subtle form of organizing desire, or saying desire for god is good.
IM: Desire for riches is bad.
K: And desire for possessions is bad. So we are not discussing the objects of desire, whether it is god, whether it is power, whether it is to become a rich man or a prime minster, but what is desire? How does it take shape in us?
IM: Well, whether there can be love without desire I am not sure. If one thinks perhaps of some kind of perfect love the notion of desire would have changed so much that perhaps you would have to exclude it. At a more ordinary but good level I mean if I desire to become well educated or something...
K: Yes, that is a different matter.
IM: ...then this is a tension between a condition which exists and a condition which does not exist.
K: But I am asking not desire to become a good human being, or desire to be a good scholar, and so on, but desire itself.
IM: Well I would, I think I would evade or reject this question because I don't see how one could explain what desire was without thinking of different kinds of desire.
K: I say I desire for a house, I desire for this and this, so many desires. But the movement of desire, the origin of it. Because we have either suppressed it, transmuted it, or escaped from it, or totally controlled it. But again who is the controller? Who says this is good desire, this is bad desire, this must be pursued because it is helpful, the other is not and so on. It is still desire. Desire for god, or desire for money, it is still desire.
IM: And if someone says one is good and the other is bad, you would come back to saying, all the same it is desire?
K: Yes. Desire is important to understand, not good desire and bad desire.
IM: Yes, I am not sure that I would be able to understand it without using that distinction. But let's shift our ground slightly, there is something behind what you are saying.
K: You just now said desire involves time.
IM: Yes. Well, all right. I am going to withdraw that now and modify it by saying that I think that there might be some kind of desire which does not involve time but where you are completely united with the object of your desire. I think this again is something in Christian mysticism, you might say, that if you desire god and if you are united with god, I mean I don't know what this would mean, then your desire is fulfilled and becomes perfect love.
K: Yes, but the man who says, "I must become a very rich man", powerful man, it is still desire.
K: One is for god and the unification with god, it is still desire.
IM: But you speak of desire as if it were something which you want to overcome or set aside.
K: No. I want to understand the movement of it, the process of it, the intolerable burden of it, or the pleasure of it.
IM: Yes, it is not always a burden, is it? I mean if you desire something, for instance if you are hungry and you know that you are going to have a good meal shortly, the intention of desire is pleasurable.
K: Yes, that's understood.
IM: But there is something behind what you are saying which I can't get.
K: I will go into it. Desire exists only when there is identification with sensation.
IM: By sensation you don't mean...
K: I see a lovely house, I want it, there is a desire for it.
IM: You don't mean that there is an actual physical concomitant but that there is a kind of imagery.
IM: You image yourself in the house, something like that.
K: Sensation, then thought creating the image of my owning the house, then desire begins.
IM: Yes, well all right, yes. There is a kind of sensory aspect.
K: Sensory aspect which thought then gives that sensory aspect an image.
IM: This doesn't mean of course - well one says one desires to be educated, it doesn't mean you are thinking about it all the time, or having sensations about it.
K: Of course not.
IM: It means you are carrying on your life. There would be moments when you have a sensory experience of desire, perhaps. You imagine what it would be like when your education is better.
K: The moment when sensation has given shape by thought, then it becomes desire. That is all I am saying.
IM: Yes but then...
K: I am not saying good, bad and all the rest of it, but desire, per se.
IM: But you say that love is different from desire.
K: Love is desire from pleasure.
IM: Sorry. Say it again.
K: Love is different. Love is not pleasure, love is not desire.
IM: Yes, all right. I would want to think that purified desire - sorry, this introduces another topic which I will just mention it and put it aside. I am also concerned with what you feel about motivation and energy. I think desire is a source of energy. Good desire is a source of good energy, but let's take this idea of love being different. There seems to me a contrast between a process and something which is not a process.
K: It is not a process.
IM: It is not a process, not. And you distinguish, you say something like, you used some word like creative being, which is to do with the present. And you would connect this with the possibility of love and truth.
IM: Whereas desire is something restless which is outside.
K: Restless. But love doesn't mean it is static.
IM: No, static is probably the wrong word here. What would you say?
K: It's alive, it isn't just a...
IM: It is creative and...
K: It is not exclusive. I may love you but I also have this feeling of love. It is not just identified with one person.
IM: But the feeling of love is quite a different feeling from the feeling of desire.
IM: So you are not excluding the sensory aspect of course?
K: No wait a minute. Let's go into it slowly.
K: As we said just now, the brain is part of the senses, part of reactions, action, responses, beliefs, faith, fear, all that is the centre here, which is my consciousness. The content of my consciousness is all that, god, no god, my knowledge, my failure, my depression, my anxiety, all that is that. Now in that there is a great deal of confusion, contradiction, fears, and all the rest of it. Is love part of that?
IM: I don't know. You tell me.
K: To me, personally, it is not.
IM: But then if love is a condition, is a human condition, I mean it is, there is a state of being which is love, or creative being which is love and so a person is sometimes in this condition, are you suggesting that at that moment all the psychological stuff which that person consists of and has collected, is somehow absent?
K: Absent. Yes.
IM: But still he must know what the object of his love is.
K: No. Just a minute. I might love you. And it is not exclusive, it is not universal, or any of that. It is not exclusive, it is not limited.
IM: Yes, though in a sense it is and it isn't because I mean if one loves a person, you love that person and not another one. But it doesn't mean that you exclude anybody.
K: Anybody, no. Love is not exclusive.
IM: No, but it is selective, if one can put it that way.
K: No, that word selective, who then becomes the...
IM: One doesn't love everybody. Perhaps god does...
K: No, I don't want to add love to god or to somebody...
IM: I am using god as a figure of speech. There is an ideal love perhaps.
K: No, I wouldn't even use the word ideal. I don't know. I strongly object to ideas, ideals and all that nonsense. I see definitely love has no relationship to hate. Love has no relationship to jealousy, it is not attached. It is not desire, it is not pleasure.
IM: To ask very, very simple minded questions, I mean let's say that you are interested in another person. I mean after all people come to you.
K: I care. I care.
IM: Yes. But I ask, do you think there are certain times in one's life when one is - it is difficult - when one is expressing or being love? Should this be every moment of one's life?
K: I am not sure. I am not at all sure that it can be all the time there.
IM: Yes, good, good. Yes. And you think...
K: Can love exist where there is self-centred interest? That is the real question.
IM: No, it would be imperfect love. Let's leave out imperfect love which is not love.
K: All right. When there is self interest can the other exist? It obviously cannot because self interest is very, very small.
IM: You won't let me use the word perfect or ideal, but I'll use love in your sense then. All right. Love then excludes self interest.
K: Where there is self interest the other is not.
IM: Yes. Well you see something that I very much want to find out, and everybody wants to find out, is how to change.
K: Ah, well!
IM: How to become, well it is connected.
K: No, wait a minute. This is really an interesting question.
IM: How to move out of the situation, of being envious.
K: I am envious. There is no difference between I and envy. I am envious, envy is me.
IM: Yes. As we were saying earlier, the person is...
K: I mean envy is me. I cannot act on envy because it is me.
IM: Yes but you can become less envious.
K: But it is still me.
IM: Yes. Go on. Go on.
K: So there is no question of suppression, transmutation, or escaping from it, it is me.
IM: What do I do next?
K: Wait. Wait a minute. I will go into it. If it is me I watch it. I watch it very, very carefully, watch it, not try to act upon it.
IM: So there is a you who is watching the envy?
K: No, watching, there is no you. When you are watching a bird there is no you, you are just watching the bird.
IM: Well watching a bird is quite different from other kinds of watching.
K: That's just it.
IM: There are other kind of watching.
K: Of course. Is there a watching without the word, watching without condemnation, just watching, or agreeing, or rejecting, or resisting.
IM: Well there can be such watching, yes, it is difficult. Wait a minute. We have got this envious person, oneself, one is envious. Then one is aware of the envy, one watches it, but just watching.
IM: Or being it if you like, put it in another way. Consciously being your envy. Would you accept that form of words?
K: You are envy.
IM: But you are consciously - when you enviously do something thoughtlessly you are not watching. But then for a moment perhaps...
K: That is what I am saying. Look, you are watching a precious, intricate jewel. Then you are looking at the extraordinary delicacy, the bright light and the beauty of the jewel.
IM: Yes, yes. In this care you are looking at envy.
K: Envy. I am doing exactly the same thing. Then I see the whole movement of envy, which is comparison and so on and so on.
IM: Yes, yes.
K: So I watch it without any thought interfering with my watching. That requires a great deal of attention, not concentration, real attention in which the self is not.
IM: But are you not making a judgement?
IM: You are watching without judgement.
K: Oh no, I have no value. I don't say you must or must not have envy, it is immoral, or anything of that kind. Human beings have lived with envy for thousands of years.
IM: But then is not the result of this attention that envy disappears?
K: Watching with attention. Watching is attention.
IM: Yes. I like the word attention. You attend in you would say in some non-evaluating way, you are not making a moral judgement. You are not saying. "I ought not to be envious".
K: Oh no. That would be too...
IM: But is not, I wouldn't say the purpose, but certainly the result of this attention that the envy dissolves?
K: Yes, because in attention there is no self at all.
IM: Yes, good, good. OK. I mean I understand this state of being.
K: You can watch it, you know.
IM: But then...
K: It is great fun.
IM: I mean this connects with my question about how do I change? Is not this...
K: This is what we are saying.
IM: Then this is, if you like to use old fashioned language, a spiritual discipline. No, you don't like the word discipline.
K: I don't quite like the word discipline because discipline means really to learn. Not to compartmentalize, pursue. To learn watching, not memorize watching, but to see the whole implications of envy, comparison, and all the rest of it.
IM: And this state of attention would be something which - supposing somebody says, or I say, why not me, but does this happen only when you are meditating, for instance, to use a word which you yourself use? Or should it happen all the time?
K: All the time, if you are watching. That is, you don't let a single thought slip by without knowing what it is.
IM: Yes and this would co-exist with one being a ticket collector or whatever one's job in life is, that you could in fact - the idea of living at different levels, or different states, must I think come in. There would be a state of your being which was this constant attention.
K: Yes but you see also you introduce the word meditation.
IM: It is a word that you use yourself.
K: I know. I use that word but you see meditation is a very complex business. It is not - how shall we put it? In meditation there is no meditator at all.
K: But now what we do is, "I must mediate", "I must follow a system to mediate". "There must be practice", which is all exactly desire, which wants to achieve a certain state.
IM: Yes, this seems to me in a sense unavoidable. I mean I have been taught a system of meditation, a long time ago, and I have practised it to some extent, one practises something like meditation only in a very feeble sort of way. But it does seem to me that there is something which is trying to do it better.
K: Now when you use the word 'better' that means more, therefore measurable, more and more.
IM: More like when you say in meditation there is no duality, there is no subject.
K: Absolutely not.
IM: And I would say that something like this happens in the experience of art.
K: The moment you say experience you are already...
IM: All right. OK. Well I mean if I am looking at a great picture, if I am really looking I am not there.
IM: The picture is there, yes.
K: That's all. When you are really looking at something there is the absence of the self.
IM: And this would be an image of love too, wouldn't it?
K: There is no image in it.
IM: No. There is no?
K: There is no image in love. Image is put together by thought.
IM: Yes. I think that in a certain way of loving, I mean unselfish love - this is difficult to talk about because love happens in time and you have to struggle and think and plan and do things for somebody you love, but you would be really selfless in all that you are doing, I mean there would be somebody there doing...
K: Of course. Of course.
IM: But the self would not be present, the object of attention would be absent. But it seems to me you have to try. You have given me the end but not the means.
K: Let's look at it.
IM: Go on.
K: The means is the end. The two are not different.
IM: May I just quote a remark made by Kafka to the effect that there is no way, there is only the end. What we call the way is just messing about.
IM: Yes, I see and I don't see as it were.
K: Let's try something else. You see change implies future, as you pointed out - right? From this to that.
IM: Yes and imagining the future.
K: Yes, yes, the future. What is the future? The future is a continuity of the past, modified through the present, it is a movement.
IM: Yes, all right.
K: Right? So the future is in the present.
IM: Well, go on.
K: The future in the sense, I mean if I am learning a language...
IM: Yes, that's a good example.
K: ...if I am learning a language I need the future, I need time, I need...
IM: Yes, yes. Training, discipline.
K: Discipline, etc. etc. I have to learn a language. Now there it is all right, but psychologically, inwardly, subjectively, the past, which is me, my memories, my experiences, all the past, is being modified in the present and proceeds to the future - right? This is the whole movement of our evolution, of our psychological well being, or not well being, and so on. So the present is in the future because what I am now will be what I am tomorrow, unless I change now - right? So the present contains the past, the future is now. Right? The present. Now the present is what I am.
IM: Yes, in a sense there isn't anything else, but go on.
K: That's what I am. My memories, all that. And there is no future unless I continue. Is there an end to that?
IM: You mean is there an alternative state of being?
K: Yes. Ending this whole movement of becoming, struggling, achieving.
IM: Yes of course philosophers have always been worrying about the difference between being and becoming, and in Platonism, and in Christian theology, being is real and becoming is unreal. And I feel something of this in what you say. But I don't want to mislead myself by thinking about anything else. I mean I am trying to picture what you are speaking of would be like. Let's say you are spending your time learning a language and you don't know the irregular verbs today, next week you will know the irregular verbs. And this is human life and unavoidable and proper and quite right.
K: Quite right.
IM: However during this time you are also attending to everything that you do.
K: Of course. I am paying attention to everything I do now.
IM: Yes. Now...
K: So the now contains...
IM: ...in a particular manner.
K: The now contains all time.
IM: I mean you are picturing a possible human state...
K: No, I am not picturing. I am just saying see what has happened to the human psyche: it has moved in this direction always, past, modifying the present and the future. This is the chain - right? - in which we are caught. I won't even use the word 'caught'. This is what we are.
IM: Yes, the word 'caught' though suggests there is freedom, which is another word you use. Freedom which is connected with truth and with love.
IM: And so somebody comes to you saying, "Well I am in a trap, how do I get out of the trap?"
K: If you are in a trap let's look at what is the trap first before you want to get out of it.
IM: Well I mean perhaps this is irrelevant to ask. I mean I don't want to get out of the trap in the sense that I don't want to stop wanting next week to know the irregular verbs.
K: That of course, next week...
IM: That goes on. But what I also want say, to achieve a state of being which is selfless.
K: Yes, which means what? Be careful. You desire for it. You have a concept of the future.
IM: Yes. I mean I know that now I am not selfless but I would like to become selfless.
K: Therefore let's understand what the self is. You can't change - or rather break down the self, or whatever it is, without understanding the movement of the self, not invent a goal.
IM: But in the situation where one was looking at one's envy, for instance, we agreed that one result of this attention would be that the envy would disappear. So the self is changing.
K: It matters not the ending of envy but attention matters.
IM: Well supposing I just attended to my envy but went on behaving enviously but with complete consciousness of what I was doing. Would that be a good state?
K: Then you see you being conscious - that is still part of the self.
IM: Well one is not postulating a kind of condition which is totally unlike the human condition. One is imagining a state in which human beings might be.
K: Yes, we are human beings. We live in this constant conflict, pain, sorrow and all that - right? This is our life. This is our condition. But somebody comes along, you come along and tell me, look, there is a different way of living, not be everlastingly in this business. And you listen to him, find out. You may say it is rubbish and drop it, but there must be a relationship to the speaker and yourself.
IM: Like now, I am asking you, of course.
K: Which means you tell me envy is not love, envy cannot be put aside, watch it, look at it, see it and let it unfold. Don't condemn it, transmute it or deny it or so on, escape. Just watch it, which means give your whole attention to it.
IM: But would this not result actually in my inhibiting it?
IM: Well why not? All right, put it another way.
K: I am bringing it out.
IM: Wouldn't it be good for me to inhibit my envy?
K: No, it will come up again some other time if I inhibit.
IM: Yes, all right. But just meanwhile it might be better.
K: Ah, I don't want meanwhile!
IM: Ah well yes but you seem to me to exclude the element of training oneself. I mean you don't like the word discipline.
K: Discipline, Madame, as you know, comes from the word disciple who is learning. Learning. Learning, not memorizing. Learning to see the beauty of that jewel. I haven't looked at the jewel. I have always condemned it, rationalized, etc., but now there is only watching that jewel.
IM: Yes but what you are watching in this case is something precious, it doesn't matter if it costs a million pounds it is something which is pictured as absolutely precious. Now if I am looking at my envy it is the opposite of a jewel, it is something bad.
K: No, I don't condemn it. There is no spirit of condemnation, or judgement, or evaluation, just watch it. I watch my son. I don't say, "By Jove, he shouldn't be this", "He shouldn't be that". I just watch him. Don't you, say for instance when you look at a picture, I watch it. I see all the light, the proportions, the darkness...
IM: Looking at a picture is a good example for me at any rate in trying to understand what your fundamental idea is here. But it still troubles me that you are suggesting what I would, if I understand you, think was a kind of ideal mode of being, real mode of being in which you are connected with reality. But there remains the fact that one is not in this state, one is sunk in illusion, one is full of illusion.
K: That's all. Now I am an illusion. I am illusion. I live in illusion. My thinking, this is my belief, faith, is illusion. Now why does the word illusion, you know ludere is to play, ludere, to play. I am playing with illusions.
IM: Why should I bother? Put it in another way. Why shouldn't I just watch my... if I am a clever person I can watch my envy and be amused by it and continue to behave enviously?
K: All right. Carry on. There is conflict in it. There is a certain sense of agony in it, there is pain.
IM: Wouldn't you wish, if you saw somebody that you loved in a state of illusion, wouldn't you wish for that person that they should change?
K: I would go and talk to him.
IM: Well then you are suggesting that he should change. You are suggesting moral values.
K: No, no. I would say to him, look, why do you have these illusions?
IM: Well to call them illusions is already to make them...
K: Don't even call it illusion. You believe in god, somebody believes, or some other thing.
IM: Yes, well let's stick to the case of envy because that's fairly straight forward. Somebody is consumed with envy, the way some people are you know absolutely, "Oh, he's got that, he's better than me", and so on.
K: I know all that.
IM: You watch somebody like that and say, "Look why waste your energy and your anxiety on something which is not deeply really important. And you should not be doing it."
K: That is if they are willing to listen to it.
IM: All right, yes.
K: The moment they are willing to listen to you you have already...
IM: But then you have taught them something.
K: Ah, no. No, no pressure. I don't want him to change.
IM: Well I know all good teachers refuse to call themselves teachers.
K: Conflict is the real root of all this.
IM: But supposing somebody was in a completely harmonious state, with lots and lots of vices, what we call vices, supposing they are envious, jealous, violent, angry, couldn't they be such an harmoniously connected person. Supposing they are very successful in everything that they do, would you say that this was impossible?
K: No, you can't be harmonious while with your right hand you are kicking Ireland and with the other hand you are being harmonious.
IM: Well, yes, I agree with you. I mean think people assume rightly that an evil man is in a state of conflict and that a good man is harmonious.
K: A good man has no conflict.
IM: Yes, and an evil man has conflict. Well this then suggests that there is something that the evil man has made a kind of mistake, there is something unreal about what he believes about the world. So then in making the distinction between good and bad one is making a distinction between...
K: No, you can see for instance a man who is a terrorist, a man who kills for the fun of killing, there is something wrong with the man.
K: I don't call him evil or good, there is some kind of aberration going on in the poor chap.
IM: So what you want to produce is an harmonious personality?
K: No, is it possible to end all conflict within oneself? That is the real root of the question. All conflict.
IM: And you would be prepared to drop the words 'good' and 'bad' then, and use the words 'harmony' and 'disharmony'.
K: In that sense, in that sense.
K: I wouldn't use harmony, or disharmony, because the moment when there is no conflict you are whole. There is an holistic way of living.
IM: Yes, but you are still talking about good and evil in the sense in which we normally understand them. You speak of the terrorist, let's picture a very bad man not just an envious man, but a very evil man, somebody who is cruel.
K: Yes, somebody who kills.
IM: Then one would want this person to...
K: If you will listen, if you will change, so much the better. But they generally don't listen.
IM: I think we are reaching the end of our reel.
K: Yes, we have.
IM: Perhaps we have reached it.
IM: Well I think I would like to go on with this.
K: Would you like to after lunch?
IM: Yes, perhaps we have to stop now.
Brockwood Park 1984
Brockwood Park 1st Conversation with Iris Murdoch 18th October 1984
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