“Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.”
“The Sublime and the Good”
I’ve long fixated on this quote from Iris Murdoch. It is, on the face of it, so very obvious. Of course other things exist outside of our life and influence! But it’s always seemed harder for me to realize this, to make it real in my head, to see with this vision.
Consider the man in the car next to you or the woman wandering the mall with a bag of things or the person sitting in the toll booth or any random individual you see in the background of a newscast. Each of these people has a life as valid as yours, as full as yours is with hopes and dreams and frustrations and kindness and cruelties. Each of these people is more than just a walk-on character in your life story, just as you are more than a walk-on character in their life stories. And there are billions of these people. Billions of realities as real as you.
At least, that’s how I interpret Murdoch’s famous quotation.
I recently finished reading Murdoch’s novel An Unofficial Rose (in my quest to read through her entire fiction canon a second time). In it there are two young characters: Penn, a boy of 15 who is visiting from Australia, and Miranda, a girl of 14 who is his cousin and budding love interest. (He thinks he loves her, not the other way around.) So of course he broods about her constantly. And among his broodings is this little passage:
But what one loves is, after all, another human being, a person with other interests, other pains, in whose world one is oneself an object among others.
I think that distills Murdoch’s precept into a realization in her young character (even if it is perhaps more deep and thoughtful than one could expect from a 15-year-old boy). Too bad he doesn’t follow through, but like many of us, he has a hard time seeing with that vision.
Penn is a foolish boy, and Miranda is a clever-beyond-her-years girl. He presses his suit, physically and futilely, and is rebuffed handily.
Read into this, if you wish, some parallels to The Tempest. Penn as Caliban and Miranda as, well, Miranda.