In addition to bringing joy to us with her humour and irony, and breathing life into the novel form for three and a half decades, Iris Murdoch’s great strength has been to force us too observe our frenetic behaviour, our selfish fantasies, and our inability to pay attention to other people. If we are to survive on this planet, we must, Murdoch suggests in The Fire and the Sun, grow beyond our narcissism and learn to value human beings and art – ‘a great international human language’. No other living novelist has focused so tightly on modern man’s primary moral obstacle, his ‘cozy dreaming ego,’ and analysed so thoroughly the illusions it substitutes for love and art and death. In The Fire and the Sun Murdoch argues that literature can be as evasive and as subversive now as it was when Plato found it threatening:
Art, especially literature, is a great hall of rejection where we can all meet and where everything under the sun can be examined and considered. For this reason it is feared and attacked by dictators, and by authoritarian moralists such as the one older discussion [Plato]. The artist is the great informant, at least a gossip, at best a sage, and much loved in both roles.