Sunday, February 23, 2020

'Perforated by Light from Another Sphere'

Good writers tend to elicit good writing after their deaths. The eulogistic impulse is elemental. It’s also deeply selfish, at least at first. We begin with a sense of loss and the unfairness of things and turn them into an expression of gratitude. A productive life well lived reminds us that we can always do better, work harder, be less selfish and more generous. The dead go on teaching us, as do the living. Take Mark Dooley writing about his friend Sir Roger Scruton, who died Jan. 12 at age seventy-five:

“In everything he wrote, his principal aim was to show that through love and art, religion, music, hunting and wine, we see and experience something which science can’t explain, but which is no less real for all of that. Think, for example, of a smiling child.  Science explains the smile in a purely mechanical sense, whereas we understand it as something quite different.  It is a revelation of innocence, beauty and love – a revelation of the free person that is mingled with her flesh.”

A professor of religious studies at my university invited me to dinner Friday evening, along with three of his current and former students. I had never met any of them and they knew me only through Anecdotal Evidence. “Religious studies” may sound stuffy but dinner was not. The conversational tone was closer to profane than sacred. We talked without interruption for six hours about everything, including Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, homeopathy, Willa Cather, Apocalypse Now, enemas, Jaroslav Pelikan, UFO’s, Max Beerbohm, bestiality and a campus scandal I had known nothing about. I was comfortable enough to break out a couple of my dirtiest jokes. They were comfortable enough to talk about their religious practices. Not once was the name “Trump” uttered. Academics tend to be a self-involved and tedious lot. We had none of that. Dooley writes of his dead friend:

“When we lovingly behold another person, or when we contemplate an artwork, listen to music or marvel at a beautiful building, we experience something that transcends its material constraints.  That ‘something’ is not separable from the material or biological order which contains it.  But every time we gaze into the eyes of a loved one, or whenever we savour our favourite symphony or pray at a beautiful shrine, we encounter ‘personality and freedom’ shining forth from what is ‘contingent, dependent and commonplace’.  We see the fabric of the world perforated by light from another sphere.  In this point of intersection of the timeless with time, we catch glimpses of the transcendental and receive intimations of the infinite.”

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