Hell is people who think hell is other people; hatred is generally ignorance; and other conclusions from one of my favorite passages of all time.
Love this. You used that Iris Murdoch quote in another post and it sent me into a state over how too much unconventional digging into personhood leads to neurosis. But it also reminds me of Lionel Trilling: “The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy.”
Along those lines, I think what’s missing in this exploration of convention vs. neurosis is the crucial difference between thought and feeling. When you talk about the “gloomy, myth-like variety of self-knowledge” (big fan!) that leads to some state “on the other side of despair” (so starchily intellectual of these starchy intellectuals not to just call it what it is: joy), what’s missing is the crucial difference between thinking your way into this “other side of despair” vs. arriving and feeling the joy (and love and understanding) there.
The point of rejecting convention and sometimes turning away from at least *the conventions* of community is to reach this place beyond despair that’s described by countless of these unconventional thinkers not as a neurotic destination but the very opposite of that, a place of understanding and love and connection to other humans. I think the crucial distinction here is that the unconventional path certainly leads through the brambles of neuroticism, and that can make you more neurotic, just to put it in simple human terms. But the task at hand is to keep cutting through the brambles until you can FEEL that place beyond despair, where an understanding that the moralism and rules of Ordinary Language Man are hopelessly inadequate, in the face of the higher sensation of understanding, peace, and acceptance that comes from celebrating your own unique, natural, and yes, sometimes gloomy gifts as a human animal. It’s a place beyond thought and judgment and hatred, but as long as you’re neurotically (and might I add CONVENTIONALLY telling yourself, using ordinary language) I NEED TO BE LESS ME AND MORE FULL OF LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING! then you’re just stuck on the brambly neurotic path. You caN FEEL your way off that path, and into a more joyful, loving, understanding state. Thinking your way is harder and slower and when it doesn’t work, it kicks up shame and self-hatred, i.e. I DID THIS BEFORE WHY CAN’T I DO IT NOW?
The answer is to become a poet, in command of your fantasy but never possessed by it. You feel as much as you can. When thought makes you gloomy, you think less and feel more, in that squidgy (did you use that word?) place free from judgement. When your fantasy possesses you, you back up and treat it as a route to creating and celebrating (instead of indulging the illusion that your whole life could become one beautiful sunset orgy of light and sound, which is also the illusion our commercial culture upholds and reinforces, an illusion that makes human animals deeply self-hating and neurotic because they can never reach that imagined nirvana).
Too many words here! LORD, BLESS THIS MESS! <- see how Ordinary Language Man has a lot of conventional paths away from neuroticism? He’s always inserting himself into shit and saying “Stop thinking so much and LIVE LAUGH LOVE motherfuckers!”
In some ways, that understanding of peace is what binds Ordinary Language Man to Totalitarian Man. Ultimately, in spite of appearances, they’re *both* trying to let go of thought and feel more joy. But sadly, they only recognize thinkers who are MEN so the wisdom of the most brilliant human animals in their midst is lost to them forever and ever. lol
Dang it Mills this is very good.
It’s almost so good that I don’t want to sully it with a nominative determinism joke about how Iris is so perceptive. Almost.
God I love this! “Judgment can feel like understanding, of course, and indeed I think is mostly used for that precise purpose: as a substitute for an understanding we cannot achieve or which we actively resist.” Nailed this. And then your next line about judgment and hatred being dead ends, and the role literature has to play in all this. It’s really beautiful. Can’t wait to read the Murdoch essay.
Phew. You are damn good. Thorough. Very thorough. Thank you for this level of quality.
So love requires nuance, which is antithetical to scaled-up communication.
I don't love "neurosis" as the opposite of "convention" because of the negative connotation. Can we substitute "idiosyncracy"?
I am aware of Iris Murdoch in the way that a love of literature makes you 'aware' of many great writers but never have enough time to get properly acquainted with them all. Now, upon this most wonderful of recommendations, I absolutely have to spend some time with Iris. Thank you for correcting my oversight of brilliant woman, and such astute analysis.
““understanding” and “love” are at least related”
I’ve always assumed this to be inherently true. But I don’t know. Is it?
Have you read any of Matthew Crawford's work? Murdoch is very important to him and he has some interesting insights to derive therefrom.