“Entering the School of Life”: A Deleuzean Reading of Iris Murdoch?s The Flight from the Enchanter

Mohammad Ghaffary & Alireza Anushiravani

Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


Iris Murdoch is a philosophical novelist whose works provide a suitable case for the study of “philosophy in literature” and “literature as philosophy.” However, so far, chiefly the philosophical positions of Murdoch herself have been applied to her fictional works. Employing Gilles Deleuze?s ethical theory, the present essay offers a resistant reading and sheds new light on Murdoch’s second novel The Flight from the Enchanter (1956). Focusing on the character of Annette Cockeyne, this essay shows how one?s life consists of a set of encounters with other bodies, all striving for gaining more power. Annette?s struggle with nihilism and ressentiment and her attempt to discover the immanent logic of life are discussed with sufficient textual evidence and, finally, considering the criteria provided by Deleuzean ethics, it is argued whether she is an active / strong or a reactive / weak force in this fictional universe. Thus, by critiquing traditional, transcendent readings of Murdoch?s fiction, the present essay actualizes some of the virtual aspects of her fiction so far overlooked and, by adopting a novel strategy within Deleuzean criticism, this study also forges a new path for this approach to narrative fiction.

Keywords: life, Deleuzean ethics, happiness, power struggle, active force, reactive force, nihilism, The Flight from the Enchanter


Iris Murdoch (1919-99), the British writer and thinker, though enjoying a considerable national fame in her lifetime, fell out of favor with many of the theory-bigoted academic critics because she did not approve of Postmodernist literature and (Post)structuralist theories, which were thriving in the 1960s and 1970s. Though a well-known professor of philosophy at Oxford, she wrote only a few papers and two short books on “morality” and now is best known for her twenty-six creative novels, written in a four-decade span (1954-95). Her novels mainly deal with such issues as love, sex, goodness, morality, religion, determinism / free will, and human’s mental complexities (Spear, 2007: 11 & 16).

Because of the way she treats the basic problems of Western philosophy in her novels, Murdoch is deemed a philosophical novelist, therefore providing a suitable case for the study of “philosophy in literature” / “literature as philosophy” and, more generally, of the relationship between literature and philosophy. In a sense, all the central characters in her fiction bear traces of a philosophical, reflective mind that grapples with complicated problems in connection with the meaning of life and existence, the nature of the surrounding world, or one?s relationship with other human beings (Mohan, 1977: 3). Indeed, her oeuvre is indicative of the mutual, interactive relations between literature and philosophy, contrarily to the traditional notion that they are essentially different from each other. With the establishment of some of the Poststructuralist ideas, literature and philosophy are no more conceived of in terms of conventional binarisms. Among the writers of the second half of the twentieth century, perhaps this is most manifested in Murdoch’s fiction. As Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) and Félix Guattari (1930-92) argue, philosophy and literature transform each other: literature (art, in general) poses new questions for philosophers through its introduction or defamiliarization of new aspects of life and, on the other hand, by creating new concepts philosophy can “provoke artists into recreating the boundaries of experience” (Colebrook, 2002, 7).

However, so far, chiefly the Platonist positions of Murdoch herself have been applied to her fictional works, while her novels are multi-layered texts open to various readings, even those that could contradict her own philosophy. The present essay sheds new light on Murdoch’s fiction by offering a resistant reading of her second novel and employing a less established critical approach, namely Deleuzean criticism, which primarily aims at emancipating the text from the forces of “transcendence” that have predominated over it and reduce its virtual power of “becoming” to a mere static identity or “being.”…Full Text PDF

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