This is an extract from Iris Murdoch’s ‘Under the net’, her first novel, produced like an outline without loss of what she most probably meant to convey. A character, Hugo is in conversation with the narrator.
Hugo: “There’s something fishy about describing people’s feelings. All these descriptions are so dramatic…If I say afterwards that I felt such and such, say that I felt ‘apprehensive’ – well this just isn’t true.”
Me: “But suppose I try hard to be accurate.”
Hugo: “One can’t be. The only hope is to avoid saying it. As soon as I start to describe I am done for… the language just won’t let you present it as it really was…if one said one was apprehensive this could only be to try to make an impression, it would be for effect, it would be a lie…one does make far too many concessions to the need to communicate.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Hugo: “All the time when I speak to you, even now I am saying not precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond…in fact, one’s so used to this one rarely sees it. The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.”
Me: “What would happen if one were to speak the truth? Would it be possible?”
Hugo: “…When I really speak the truth, the words fall from my mouth absolutely dead and I see complete blankness in the face of the other person.”
Me: “So we never really communicate?”
Hugo: “Well, I suppose actions don’t lie”.
This little exchange affected me and my understanding of everyday existence deeply. We use words as if we know what we mean. But, do we? We only have to ask ourselves whether we’d be using the same words, the same expressions if the listener was different. For instance, if I went to a resort and had fun there, would I describe my experience with the same intensity and feeling to two different people even if they were both my friends? Rarely so. This being the case, why do we attach so much weight to what another person says? We take offense even at the most innocuous utterance and we are elated at even the most banal of descriptions depending on who the person we are communicating with is…
Words are nothing but simple tools which at times we mistake for complex entities by taking whatever is said to be “As it is”…
This extract made me hunt more of Iris Murdoch’s works and I have never been disappointed. If I can say that she was largely responsible for myself starting to write a diary collecting all the little dialogues and portions in whatever books I read which I like, I’d not be lying.
Planning to post more of this type in the future not confined to only Murdoch’s works…