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Object LessonsThe Novel As a Theory of Reference$
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Jami Bartlett

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226369655

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226369792.001.0001

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Murdoch and the Monolith

Murdoch and the Monolith

(p.122) 4 Murdoch and the Monolith
Object Lessons

Jami Bartlett

University of Chicago Press

This chapter returns the concept of the novel as a theory of reference to its beginning, and argues that, for the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, narrative itself is a theory of reference. The characters in Murdoch’s novel Under the Net find themselves enmeshed in obscure, monolithic patterns and systems they cannot see, manipulated by contingency or by the strategies of others, and resentfully complicit; Murdoch’s object of reference is literary form itself. She treats the narrative potential of objects in her philosophy, as well. Her essay “The Idea of Perfection” makes a case for the thingness of intention, arguing that a person’s intention in saying or doing something involves a behavior pattern rather than an intended object. This pattern is shown to be Murdoch’s most powerful tool as a novelist, since the description of what happens is available to characters and narratives, and refuses the hypothetical status of the unknowable inner life. Following Wittgenstein and Anscombe’s suggestion that under some descriptions an action is intentional, and under others it is not, Murdoch understands an expression of intention as given by the description of the act under which it is intended: she understands intention as a product of narration.

Keywords:   Iris Murdoch, Under the Net, The Idea of Perfection, behavior pattern, intention, intentional action, Elizabeth Anscombe, Ludwig Wittgenstein, literary form, inner life

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