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5.0 out of 5 stars A "magical novel", perhaps influenced by Theodor Adorno, 8 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Philosopher's Pupil (Vintage Classics) (Kindle Edition)
Not many of Iris Murdoch's critics have commented on Adorno's influence on her fiction. She in fact wrote a preface to Adorno's book "The Culture Industry".

With regard to the book being reviewed, I would like to draw attention to two instances of what is apparently "magic". The first is when the McCaffrey family goes on a picnic to the seaside and a little boy loses his dog while swimming in the sea. Several members of the family dive in and search frantically for the dog, to no avail. In the meantime, George McCaffrey, who has got separated from the family and is not aware that the dog has gone missing, finds it "by accident" (or by magic?).

George is the "philosopher's pupil" and the key character in the novel. The second instance of "magic" is when he visits his former teacher John Robert Rozanov in the Roman Baths and finds him apparently unconscious, or possibly already dead. He pushes him into the water. This could be interpreted as a murderous action, but the narrator clearly does not condemn George for what he did. What complicates the situation is that Rozanov had written a note indicating that he had drunk a poison with suicidal intent. George is not aware of this note. The "magical" coincidence is that George happened to come across Rozanov at that particular point in time.

To make sense of this novel I found it interesting to read Adorno's book, "The Dialectic of Enlightenment". He wrote, "Both reason and religion outlaw the principle of magic". The book is a critical view of the Enlightenment which was set in motion by thinkers like Francis Bacon in the 17th century, establishing the supremacy of scientific reason at the expense of meaningfulness in human life. Murdoch's novel seems to suggest that in totally rejecting magic we may have thrown out the baby with the bath-water.

To quote Iris Murdoch in her book "Metaphysics as a guide to morals", "Art is a magic which excites the magical propensities of those who enjoy it..........Adorno is (was) a metaphysician and moralist, one might call him a puritan, he was also an artist, a pianist, a composer......"
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