Quote for the Day

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 10 2006 @ 10:39am


From "Under the Net" by Iris Murdoch, one of Michael Oakeshott’s many, many lovers. In the dialogue, Hugo is widely regarded as a fictional version of the great philosopher I’ve spent these last two days conversing about:

"There’s something fishy about describing people’s feelings," said Hugo. "All these descriptions are so dramatic."

"What’s wrong with that?" I said.

"Only," said Hugo, "that it means that things are falsified from the start. If I say afterwards that I felt such and such, say that I felt "apprehensive" ‚Äì well, this just isn’t true."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I didn’t feel this," said Hugo. "I didn’t feel anything of that kind at the time at all. This is just something I say afterwards."

"But suppose I try hard to be accurate," I said.

"One can’t be," said Hugo. "The only hope is to avoid saying it. As soon as I start to describe, I’m done for. Try describing anything, our conversation for instance, and see how absolutely instinctively you…"

"Touch it up?" I suggested.

"It’s deeper than that," said Hugo. "The language just won’t let you present it as it really was…"

I was puzzled by this myself. I felt that there was something wrong in what Hugo said, and yet I couldn’t see what it was. We discussed the matter a bit further, and then I told him, "But at this rate almost everything one says, except things like "Pass the marmalade" or "There’s a cat on the roof", turns out to be a sort of lie."

Hugo pondered this. "I think it is so," he said with seriousness.

"In that case one oughtn’t to talk," I said.

"I think perhaps one oughtn’t to," said Hugo, and he was deadly serious.

Then I caught his eye, and we both laughed enormously, thinking of how we had been doing nothing else for days on end…