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Title: 'The intellect has failed us' : mysticism and ethics in the Anglophone novel, 1953-1980
Author: Clements, J. R.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2009
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This thesis traces how, in the decades following the Second World War, dissatisfaction with prevailing ethical philosophies led several novelists to turn towards mystical concepts in order to recover an understanding of goodness as a property that exists separately from individual acts of will and rational reasoning. In Iris Murdoch’s 1970 essay ‘Existentialists and Mystics’ she argued that the major writers of the early twentieth century – Camus, Sartre, Lawrence, Hemingway, Amis – subscribed to a philosophical system that considered human agency and will to be the sole source of morality. She suggested that, by the mid-1950s, this dominant belief was challenged by the novels of writers – she names, among others, William Golding, Patrick White and Saul Bellow – who were possessed by ‘genuine intuitions of an authoritative good,’ and who suffered from ‘the uneasy suspicion that after all man is not God.’ Each of these novelists believes in the existence of a transcendent God or Good, which cannot be approached through rational means; instead, goodness is encountered by attempting to move beyond selfhood through acts of attention that suppress intellectual or egoistic forms of thought. This thesis analyses this mystical-ethical concept within the novels of Murdoch, Golding, Bellow and White. The central concern is how this moral philosophy affects the novel form: how a writer attempts to approach an ineffable reality through language, and how this endeavour contributes to the moral dimension of literature.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available