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Peter Lamarque TRUTH AND ART IN IRIS MURDOCH'S THE BLACK PRINCE "Art," writes Bradley Pearson, protagonist and narrator in The Black Prince, "is concerned not just primarily but absolutely with truth." Bradley Pearson is also concerned with truth. And understandably so, as he has just taken the rap, and been imprisoned, for a murder he claims he never committed. There are two rather different concerns here with truth: there is the high-minded concern of the artist and there is the more pragmatic concern of the despised and falsely convicted man writing his "apologia." The careful juxtaposition of these two appeals to truth is a central theme in The Black Prince. The bulk of the novel purports to be a first-person narration of events in the later life of Bradley Pearson. Bradley is a writer who has been waiting patiently and silently for the inspiration, "the dark blaze," to produce a great work of art. This "dark blaze" eventually shows itself as the "black Eros," in a passionate but short-lived love affair with the youngJulian Baffin. Bradley is reflecting on these events from his prison cell, guided by his mentor and fellow prisoner, the "editor" P. Loxias (a witty reference to Apollo, god of truth). He sees his art and his love as stemming "from the same source" (p. 172) and, although sensitive to his shortcomings as an artist, he believes that through a divine inspiration he has attained a kind of Platonic tranquillity in the presence of truth and self-knowledge. However, through the device of "postscripts," purportedly written by other characters, we are presented with another picture of him rather different from his own. His former friends, more down to earth, though variously self-interested, depict him as a pitiful, even contemptible, charlatan lost in fantasy and delusion and a suitable case for psychoanalysis. What, then, is the real Bradley Pearson? Is he the pathetic, fantasy-ridden creature of the "postscripts"? Or is he, as he thinks, the great artist inspired by the gods and by Eros who has seen the revelation of truth? 209 2 1 0 Philosophy and Literature By forcing us to raise these questions about the novel, Iris Murdoch, I suggest, is inviting us to reflect on, and relate, two concerns we might have with truth in works of fiction. The first is with truth internal to the novel, truth-within-fiction, which informs us about the fictional characters and events. In The Black Prince, our attention is focused on unravelling and assessing the "truth" of Bradley's account. The second is with truth proper, as it might be revealed through fiction. This is truth not about the fictional world but about the non-fictional real world. It is often maintained that novels can instruct us in acquiring knowledge of the world. This, I suggest, is the type of truth that Bradley, so grandly and solemnly, and frequently, identifies with art. The nature of such truth is the main topic of this article. II What sense can we make of Bradley's repeated claims to the effect that "good art speaks truth" (p. xi)? One answer, reflecting an obvious feature of literary works, is that propositions about the world are often expressed, explicitly, within a fictional context; they might be uttered by one of the characters or directly by the author. The Black Prince offers many such propositions, some of which, on the nature of art, I shall be considering in detail. Examples are plentiful. Thus, Bradley remarks on marriage: "People who boast of happy marriages are, I submit, usually self-deceivers, if not actually liars. The human soul is not framed for continued proximity . . ." (p. 64). He meditates on love: "The foreverness of real love is one of the reasons why even unrequited love is a source of joy" (pp. 173-74) and discusses jealousy (p. 207). He also reflects on human consciousness and responsibility (p. 155) and on selfishness and goodness: "The burden of genuine goodness is instinctively appreciated as intolerable, and a desire for it would put out of focus the other and ordinary wishes by which one lives" (p. 149). Such explicit propositions carry us beyond the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 209-222
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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