SEAC Conference – 10-11 October 2019
Iris Murdoch and the Ethical Imagination: Legacies and Innovations
Université de Picardie – Jules Verne, Logis du Roy, Amiens
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Prof. Sandra Laugier, Professor of Philosophy, Université Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne
Prof. Peter J. Conradi, Emeritus Professor Kingston University, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Prof. Anne Rowe, Visiting Professor, University of Chichester, Emeritus Research Fellow, Advisor to the Iris Murdoch Archive Project Kingston University
Dr. Miles Leeson, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Chichester, Director of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre
To celebrate the centenary of her birth, SEAC (the French Society for Contemporary British Studies) will organize an international conference on Iris Murdoch at the University of Amiens (Logis du Roy) on 10-11 October 2019: “Iris Murdoch and the Ethical Imagination: Legacies and Innovations”. This will be the first international conference on Iris Murdoch’s literary and philosophical work to be held in France since the 1978 conference in Caen. In connection with SEAC’s field of study, the conference will aim at reassessing Iris Murdoch’s legacy to contemporary British fiction, both as a moral philosopher and as a novelist.
Building on the early insights of Martha Nussbaum and Cora Diamond, who acknowledged Murdoch’s key role in defining literature as a moral agent (Nussbaum 1986, 1990; Diamond 1991), recent studies of Murdoch’s work have drawn attention to the singularity of her stance as anticipating both the literary turn in ethics and the ethical turn in literature, and have insisted on the necessity to reappraise the complexity of this dual influence (Haines in Rowe and Horner 2010, 87; Antoniaccio in Broackes, 155). By redefining goodness as a matter of vision, perception and loving attention, by shifting the paradigms of morality from choice, will or action to the ethical imagination, Murdoch anticipated several significant trends in contemporary philosophy, such as the turn to narrative ethics or the ethics of care and vulnerability (Laugier 2009, 87; 2015, 142). Though well established by now, Murdoch’s role in redefining ethical paradigms still calls for closer critical attention today.
In the field of literature, critics have also drawn attention to the distinctiveness of Murdoch’s position in the literary canon, arguing that the dialectic in her novels between realism and romance, fantasy and “the meticulous naturalistic rendering of detail” (Conradi 2001a, 7), the probing of her characters’ ethical motivations and the emphasis on textual artifice make her “a crucial link in the evolutionary chain of the English novel,” combining aspects of a liberal humanist heritage with an ambivalent postmodernism (Head 2002, 257-258; Rowe 2006, 7-8). A number of contemporary British writers have explicitly acknowledged Murdoch’s influence: starting with A.S. Byatt, whose study, Degrees of Freedom (1965), contributed to establishing Murdoch’s reputation; Ian McEwan, “an entranced reader” of Murdoch in his teens, who shares Murdoch’s conception of “fiction as a deeply moral form” (Head 2007, 9), her meditation on “the impact of contingency on imagined lives” (12) and her conviction that reading is an act of empathy (Rowe 2006, 149); Alan Hollinghurst, who sees affinities with Murdoch’s evocation of sexual ambivalence; Zadie Smith, whose meditation on artistic imagination and ethical insight resonates with Murdoch’s own. In The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Fiction, Dominic Head also highlights the relevance of Murdoch’s philosophical ideas to the formal issues and the ethical inquiries that characterize the post-war novel, more specifically the works of Angus Wilson, Margaret Drabble, Graham Swift, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis, and Ian McEwan (Head 2002, 251). Other lines of descent and fruitful connections have been suggested with the works of A.N. Wilson, Candia McWilliam, Marina Warner (Sage in Conradi 2001b, 595), Colm Tóibín or Patrick Gale (Turner in Rowe 2006, 121).
Among the directions suggested by recent criticism, topics discussed at the conference might include:
– the relevance of Murdoch’s meditation on the allegory and the documentary—the desire to defeat or reshape the formlessness of the world—as discursive vehicles for contemporary fiction (“the twentieth-century novel is usually either crystalline or journalistic”, Murdoch “Against Dryness”, 1961): has the twenty-first century novel forged new viae mediaebetween the two?
– her emphasis on roleplaying, masks, and make-believe as practices—since investigated by postmodern theorists and authors—involving fiction in life, while in turn recorded in fiction.
– the ethics of vulnerability in her work, her meditation on physical and psychological frailty or precarity, the representation in her novels of immigrants, refugees and outsiders, as connected to her insistence on “the absolutely truthful and selfless direction of attention” (Hobson interview, 1962), a concept derived from French philosopher Simone Weil.
– her interest in non-human modes of affect, in the emotional agency of objects, animals, and nature, her insistence on “the ethical dimension of our apprehension of the material world” (Jordan, 376), in connection with current concerns with animal and environmental vulnerability (Laugier 2015, 127-152), “non-human bodies” and “the agentic contributions of nonhuman forces” “to counter the narcissistic reflex of human language and thought” (Bennett, xvi)
Abstracts of about 300 words, for 25-minute papers in English, together with a short 100-word author biography, should be sent to Camille Fort (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Marie Laniel (email@example.com) by December 31, 2018.
A selection of articles based on papers given at the conference will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Etudes britanniques contemporaines: https://journals.openedition.org/ebc/
Antonaccio, Maria. Picturing the Human: The Moral Thought of Iris Murdoch. Oxford: OUP, 2003.
Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
Broackes, Justin (ed.). Iris Murdoch, Philosopher. Oxford: OUP, 2012.
Byatt, A.S. Degrees of Freedom: The Novels of Iris Murdoch. London: Chatto and Windus, 1965.
Conradi, Peter J. The Saint and the Artist: A Study of the Fiction of Iris Murdoch (1986). HarperCollins, 2001 (revised edition). [a]
Conradi, Peter J. Iris Murdoch: A Life. HarperCollins, 2001. [b]
Diamond, Cora. “Having a Rough Story about What Moral Philosophy Is.” The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy and the Mind. Cambridge MA: the MIT Press, 1991. 367-381
Fort, Camille. “Le dieu caché d’Iris Murdoch.” Études anglaises 60 (2007/1): 66-79.
Head, Dominic. “A Broken Truth: Murdoch and Morality.” The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Fiction, 1950-2000. Cambridge: CUP, 2002. 251-259.
Head, Dominic. Ian McEwan. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2007.
Hollinghurst, Alan. Webchat. The Guardian. 27 September 2017.
Jordan, Julia. “‘A Thingy World’: Iris Murdoch’s Stuff.” The Modern Language Review 107.2 (April 2012): 364-378.
Laugier, Sandra. “L’éthique comme politique de l’ordinaire.” Multitudes 37-38 (2009/2): 80-88.
Laugier, Sandra. “Care, environnement et éthique globale.” Cahiers du Genre 59 (2015/2): 127-152.
Laugier, Sandra and Patricia Paperman (ed.). Le Souci des autres: éthique et politique du Care. Paris: Éditions EHESS, 2011.
Leeson, Miles. Iris Murdoch: Philosophical Novelist. London: Continuum, 2010.
McEwan, Ian. “Mother Tongue.” The Guardian. 13 October 2001.
Murdoch Iris. “Against Dryness.” (1961). Iris Murdoch: Existentialists and Mystics. Peter J. Conradi (ed.). London: Chatto and Windus, 1997. 287-295.
Nussbaum, Martha. The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy. Cambridge: CUP, 1986.
Nussbaum, Martha. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. Oxford: OUP, 1990.
Roberts, Simone, Alison Scott-Baumann, Luisa Muraro (ed.). Iris Murdoch and the Moral Imagination: Essays. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010.
Rowe, Anne. Iris Murdoch: A Reassessment. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006.
Rowe, Anne and Avril Horner (ed.). Iris Murdoch and Morality. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010.
Rowe, Anne and Avril Horner (ed.). Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012.