Marvelling at Light

Analytic philosophers are not supposed to take history seriously. Anyone who has been following Floreamus will know that I am more favourably inclined towards history. One direction I have been pondering for my B. Phil thesis is that of doing (recent) history of metaphysics as metaphysics (or at least, meta-metaphysics), writing a vindicatory account of the rehabilitation of the subject within analytic philosophy. This would involve, inter alia, rebutting current critics of metaphysics precisely by exposing their historical naivety. But this post is not about metaphysics – although it does make many metaphysical commitments, including to the existence of a Triune God.

I write this because it is currently the OICCU mission week, and so a year since I began to call myself a Christian. You might say I’m writing a history of my faith as an act of faith – a vindicatory one, more or less.

To change tack radically. There is a production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg currently on at the ENO. I’d love to go, but there doesn’t seem to be student tickets available, so I would need to pay full price (£>100). I was last at the ENO back at the end of my second year of undergraduate study, to hear Phillip Glass’s dismal take on Disney. Maybe see Saving Mr. Banks, but don’t listen to that opera. At the interval, someone behind me mentioned the fact that they were going to dine next night at LMH high table. My companion turned around and said that he attended LMH. To complete the absurd coincidence, I discovered that the companion of the LMH diner was, in turn, my old English teacher. We chatted a while, and he then asked me an unsettling question: had I been any happier at my Sixth Form than when he knew me? As I recall, I answered honestly in the negative. This coming at the end of perhaps the least happy year of my life.

I have long-standing mental and physical health problems. I don’t want to moan, merely to observe. I know that many others have things much worse, including in my immediate social circle. Perhaps I was at my lowest after the midterm bop of Hilary 2013, when I found myself submerged in the icy waters of Port Meadow. I had been driven there to struggle with the knowledge of my own iniquity, but did not go sufficiently easy while the ice was on the flood (see ‘Where to Brood in Oxford’, below).

One thing that helped me out of my rut was, in fact, opera, and in particular the opera of Wagner. Not only did the music thrill me, but in his work I could discern my own difficulties, lavishly harmonised. I was proud as Wotan is proud, and frustrated and lonely as he. Before long I realised that the extent to which Wagner solved in Parsifal those problems he had posed in The Ring was just the extent to which he (artistically) embraced Christianity. It was Wagner who persuaded me that I might be redeemed through love.

(Wagner’s analogue of the Magnificat, opening at 1:25 with the motif often called ‘Redemption Through Love’. )

The great question, of course, is whether I have been so redeemed. I think I have identified the property that I find most attractive in a woman, for which I have co-opted the predicate ‘is radiant’, where radiance is defined as the external projection of a profound interior joy. I know that I am not (usually) radiant. But I am happier than I used to be. Sometimes I am still driven out to Port Meadow, but usually I head straight for the ‘pilgrim church’ of St. Margaret’s Binsey. After an hour or so in the darkness there, I really do emerge radiant, at least for a while (incidentally, it was in that churchyard long ago that I first read Shelley’s Julian and Maddalo, to which I allude in ‘Where to Brood’). I am less anxious and in better control of my life. I still self-criticise plenty, but not so as to cripple myself. I am no more at the social centre than I have been in the past, but I have fewer hang ups about this. There are communities in which I have a place (more such than before), and I am content to occupy those places. The incarnation was not a one-off event, but is an entire and eternal life. So the incarnating of a stony heart. The eyes adjust slowly, but the light is marvellous.

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One thought on “Marvelling at Light

  1. A question with which I have been struggling: is my preference for ‘interior joy’ a bluntly ableist preference for good mental health? I am (optimistically) inclined to suspect not. My hunch is that the sort of joy I have in mind can exist alongside mental health problems; to hand-wave the problem away rather, it’s more a spiritual than a psychological condition.

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