There is currently a resurgence of interest in the study of Iris Murdoch’s philosophy and the twenty-six novels that she wrote during her lifetime. This is linked to ‘ethical turn’ literary criticism; criticism which looks at the novel as a moral form, and for Iris Murdoch, art and morals are very much connected.
I am interested in exploring how visual art can contribute to, or challenge, critical readings of Iris Murdoch’s novelistic depictions of female experience and virtue. An opportunity to deliver a paper at the Iris Murdoch and Virtue Ethics: Philosophy and the Novel Conference, to be held at Roma Tre University, in February 2014, recently presented a timely challenge.
During the conference I intend to read, as a performance, Cartography for Girls in Fifteen Minutes, which is a mapping of as many observations of female characters sourced from the novels that I could recite aloud in the fifteen minutes commonly allotted to the reading of a paper at an academic conference. This will be set against visual images of art work, made in response to ideas about what might prompt Murdochian fictional female virtue and what may hinder it. I hope that a critique will develop out of the relationship between the spoken word and the images and to invite the audience to unravel the relationship.
For my artist’s talk at the studios I would very much like to share and discuss some of the considerations in the preparation of this work, and to also discuss artists’ responses in academic forums.
I’m a Darlington based artist and I teach Fine Art and Critical and Contextual Studies at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington. I’ve recently started a Fine Art PhD at Teesside University, the title of my research is ‘Feminine Form and Formlessness in the novels of Iris Murdoch – what can a fine art reframing offer to the ethical debate within literature?’ Within my MA at Northumbria University in 2005, I applied some of Murdoch’s philosophical thinking to her novels as a way of measuring, or providing taxonomies for, some of the metaphysical concepts introduced to the reader within her fiction. This undertaking was in direct response to a quote from Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992) in which the author warns against the dangers of classification – “the dangers of the questing minds’ abhorrence of formlessness” with regards to freedom and human individuality. Since 2005, my practice has endeavoured to both trope and resist the play between the form and formlessness of Iris Murdoch’s observation.