Love Is the Infinity of Now

She came and sat at the other end of the bed and we gazed at each other. I could not remember that I had looked at anyone in quite that way before: when one is all vision and the other face enters into one’s own. I was aware too of a bodily feeling which was not exactly desire but was rather something to do with time, a sense of the present being infinitely large.
– Iris Murdoch, The Italian Girl (168)

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Close to Updike on the stacks was The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch. I thought I might read it as the only thing I really have in my head concerning Murdoch is the face of Judy Dench.  It’s a strange little book. Or I read it on a strange little day, but I’m not sure I was entirely convinced of it.

The story is a brief period in the lives of two brothers, Edmond and Otto. Edmund returns to his childhood home where Otto’s wife, daughter, an Italian maid, an apprentice to Otto, and the apprentice’s sister all live. Anyone whom has experienced a little of this wonder we call life will not be surprised by reading in this story the lengths to which people go to complicate relationships and repress past traumas. This deranged family reunion is due to the death of Lydia, Edmund and Otto’s mother.

Perhaps Murdoch felt that the reader would not be interested to understand why the mother of the protagonists was such a monster, instead she focuses her story on the effects of Lydia’s depraved mothering instinct. And maybe that is where I lost a little something. Perhaps I have to disagree with Tolstoy- all unhappy families are alike as well. Certainly there is a greater diversity of action and reactions, but we all know that emotional pain is a sickness, and when a mother or a father is the cause, some sort of great violence or cataclysmic event is required to root it out. Or, we wither away into ourselves (which doesn’t always make great fiction).

Initially that is the path Edmund has chosen. He lives alone. He is alone. He is loath to face the demon of his mother. His experience in the present tense is a litany of what he does not like: “I detest smoking.” “I don’t like drinking,” I can’t abide that smell, or color, or feeling, or whatever it is. There is a lot he doesn’t like.

But he has his moments. Those lovely moments.

The extreme beauty of the scene put me into an instant trance. It was always a trick of my nature to be subject to these sudden enchantments of the visible world, when a particular scene would become so radiant with form and reality as to snatch me out of myself and make me oblivious of all my purposes. Beauty is such self-forgetting.

That last line: beauty is such self-forgetting, is extraordinary. It’s just…I would have liked to know a little more about Lydia. I would have liked to know – why? I always think of healthy babies coming into the world hard-wired to love and adore their parents. One really does have to be quite awful to make it such a horror show. Is it just a banal truth – simply a matter of selfishness? Narcissism?

Going through life forced into wanting to be loved, craving the timeless truth and purity of what was your inherent nature as a human from the start, well, it makes for a difficult experience. It is very hard to process the Lydias of the world. Edmund and Otto take opposite approaches, but both end up at the same place – which is back at the start.

I am in the truth now. And this is a moment for following the truth to whatever folly.(151)

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6 responses to “Love Is the Infinity of Now

  1. Hi, Jess!

    So much to say about this (again! No surprise, though) great post of yours…

    Apparently words are betraying me, at the moment. Or I’m still too busy thinking about Iris Murdoch and of that great film “Iris” that came immediately into my mind… I don’t know. Sorry for saying it like this and somehow undervaluing your post, but one doesn’t really order the brain what to think of…
    Anyway… “Love is the Infinity of Now” is in “Iris”, too.
    Thank you for highlighting this book whose existence I wasn’t aware of. Thanks for bringing Iris Murdoch to light, although we’re so connected to Judie Dench’s Iris Murdoch. Not so bad, though! At least “her face” is connected to that of a great actress and lady.
    Thank you again for increasing my already huge “appetite” for books and for this one, particularly.
    (…)
    Allow me to say, without having read “The Italian Girl”, that Iris Murdoch wrote it the right way. Not wishing to be the “omniscient narrator”, she focussed the story on the effects Lydia’s personality / behaviour caused. She was dead by the time of the narrative, anyway. Maybe Iris preferred not to write about the dead, once it’s always so hard to go back in time and try to understand the “whys” of a life of someone who’s gone and can no longer give questions an answer. Maybe she’s more into showing how differently two brothers react, exposed to the same childhood experiences, having the same monster for a mother, and how different/ similar their lives have become.
    It’s very hard to accept both facts: that a mother or a father is a monster and doesn’t show any sort of love connection to her / his kid(s) and that a kid / kids turn(s) out to be monsters, although he’s / they’ve been raised with so much love!
    There’s a lot to learn within a family. Mainly to love. But I don’t really believe we’re born that pure, and are later on corrupted by society (Jean Jacques Rousseau). We carry a lot of genetic information with us, have our own unique characteristics, and act / react differently to the same stimuli / situations. While one can show anger towards lack of love, the other may give love to get it back. However there are also those who are unable to love, as there are others unable to show it. These are quite different things, I do know, but one may get confused in-between. People are pretty good at hiding feelings; not that good at showing them openly.
    (Most people even get scared, afraid or suspicious towards someone that does it easily, openly, as if he / she was breathing…)

    Was a monster born a monster or has it become a monster? It’s hard to say. Not impossible, though. I do believe that when your true nature is good, it’s very hard that you become one of those “beasts all the time”.
    We all carry a beast inside. Only love can silence it and put it to sleep. What happens to those who’re unable to love? The answer seems quite obvious to me: they allow the beast to move freely and destroy anything around.
    Do beast parents always give birth to little beasts? It may happen. It works a bit like with aggression. Or abuse. One who’s been beaten or abused tends to do the same in the future. It’s a “transference” of behaviour: one cannot do it the aggressor / abuser, so someone else has to pay for it.
    However and luckily this is not the rule. There are also those who react the other way round and try to “cure” themselves through loving and caring. These are life fighters, great survivors, almost nature miracles.
    It seems to me this somehow happened with Otto and Edmund. Otherwise they wouldn’t even have met at their childhood home due to their mother’s death. They wouldn’t even care about her dying.

    It is indeed hard to process the Lydia’s of the world. Too hard. That’s where animals are highly superior to humans: you never ever find a monster for a mum among them!

    Love,

    C.

    • I haven’t seen the movie, but now I’ll have to!
      This book has stayed with me all day, I am trying to puzzle it out, I think you are right about Lydia, I have now turned my attention to Edmund, he was hard to get a feel of, which also may be part of the pathos, but I can’t decide if it was entirely intentional…it’s a very short book, and quite the page turner. I kept reading just to see what would happen.

      And yes, how Edmund and Otto come to terms with Lydia’s death is right on.

  2. Reblogged this on nós and commented:
    LOVE really is the infinity of Now.

    Well-done, Jess dear!

  3. It’s hard to know whether an author is intentional about something or not. Poetry is much more instinctive, spontaneous, briefer somehow. There’s no much to think over about… You could say poetry is more “inspiration” and narrative “transpiration”, although “inspiration” is required, too.
    Narrative demands, however, quite an organization, a think-over, a “reflection” on the building of characters, the time line, the plot, the climax, the … the…
    That’s why I thought it might be Iris Murdoch’s intention to keep Lydia’s personality “in secrecy”, as well as all the “whys” and “becauses”. Sometimes not all “whys” have an an answer, although I belong to those who keep on and on asking them and are never happy with a simple “because”.
    (…)

    About “Iris”, the movie… don’t lose it! It’s a tremendous story!

    Take care,

    😉

    C.

  4. Very tight prose is worth reading, beautiful an exacting mind honing itself upon the open book of others.

  5. We are open books, but only rarely does one enjoy that moment of – I speak you, and you speak me.

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