I recently read an article about Iris Murdoch in the London Review of Books by Colin Burrow.
Today, many in the profession of medicine associate Iris Murdoch not for her writings but for her development of dementia. I have to be honest this troubles me. I am not alone to be troubled. This is what the Edinburgh author Candia McWilliams said in her memoir, ‘What to look for in Winter’:
When reading the London Book review of Iris Murdoch my thoughts returned to a work by Raymond Tallis, ‘The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical voyage around your Head”. In this book Tallis describes a paradox: that consciousness manages to be both embodied and disembodied. This is a book that fills the head with wonder and demonstrates silliness in Cartesian divides.
Dr Felix Post was a psychiatrist who was interested in an area of study known as ‘Pathography’. This is the search for psychiatric disorders in individuals after their death.
I share the same career as Dr Post once practised. A career where Dr Post was a pioneer. However I do not share the determinism that he had to define people, or re-define people, after their death through a singular vantage.
All this is necessary backdrop to Colin Burrow’s balanced article on Iris Murdoch. What follows are some of the passages that struck me [dare I say it] as both an embodied and disembodied head:
Footnote: There is absolutely no doubt that Iris Murdoch developed a severe dementia syndrome and that this was based upon biological changes in her ageing brain. The questions that this Hole Ousia post asks are several: (1) Would you want to be remembered for an illness first, or first as the brilliant person that you were? (2) Can we define ourselves entirely through brain functions alone? (3) What are your views on "Pathography"?