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Interview

Interviewer:Michael R D james has recently published a book entitled The


World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter lectures.(November 2017)
It is the first volume of a Trilogy which aims at introducing the reader into
the world of Academic Philosophy via the medium of a fictional setting of
human drama and tragedy.

Can I begin this interview by asking this question. A large number of


Philosophers thoughts are taken up in the book but Aristotle, Kant,
Hediegger Merelau-Ponty and Wittgenstein seem to figure more
prominently than the others.Why?

Michael:Yes I think that is a correct observation although there are


extensive references to Socrates, Plato, Schopenhuaer, Arendt, and
Ricoeur. The reasons Aristotle Kant and Wittgenstein are central figures is
to do with the training I have received at the three different universities
that I have studied at, and a current conviction that these are the most
important figures in philosophy. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty are
interesting figures in themselves but they occupy a central role in the book
only because of the character of Glynn Samuels.

Interviewer:The cover of the book depicts Plato as the central figure


appearing out of the the mists of the milky way and Aristotle and Socrates
as his wing men so to say. Why is this?

Michael:I think the Swedish expression Vintergatan, the Wintry streeet


is, by the way, far more poetic than our English expression the milky way.
In answer, to your question, however, the Greek world and Greek
consciousness I hope, permeate all of the lectures in the work and Plato is
in the popular mind the symbol for that world and that consciousness. I
believe actually that Aristotle was the better Philosopher although Plato
was the more popular figure because he embedded his Philosophy in the art
form of the dialogue, which I believe used to be one of the areas of
competition in the Olympic games. Having said that Aristotle was taught by
Plato and could only see as far as he could, philosophically speaking,
because he stood on his teachers shoulders.
Interviewer:You have chosen unusually to embed Philosophical lectures
in the form of a fictional drama. Why?

Michael:Because as the Delphic Oracle prophesied, knowledge of the self is


so difficult to acquire. We humans appear to be moving toward a difficult to
discern goal or telos and there are at least two aspects to this process:
knowledge of the world and knowledge of our role in creating everything
that is human about this world. The story of this development is a complex
one but trying to explore this complexity without some kind of narrative
structure would seem to me to be a formula for isolating Philosophy in an
ivory tower on an academic campus far removed from the hustle and bustle
of life.

Interviewer:I would like to ask about the Political Philosophy lecture


which is one of a series given by Jude Sutton as part of his Philosophy of
Education course. Does this lecture connect in any way to the what I
presume is an underlying theme of the importance of International
Education?

Michael:Yes indeed it does and you are right to suggest that the
importance of International Education is an underlying theme of the work.
Jude Sutton gives voice to a political position which I would characterize as
Humanistic Liberalism : a position that is bound up with Kantian Ethics
and Political Philosophy. The Kantian idea of a Kingdom of ends requires a
cosmopolitan regime and a view of human rights that is trans national or
international..

Interviewer:Harry Middleton is the third lecturer giving a series of


lectures in your work, He is what one might call a Philosophical
Psychologist in the Continental tradition of Philosophy but he also takes up
William James and Freud in his lectures. He seems to be something of a
hybrid.

Michael:Freud and William James according to secondary sources were the


only Psychologists Wittgenstein is reputed to have read with interest. Yes
Harry is more of a hybrid character than Glynn Samuels who also in many
peoples eyes walks a theoretical tightrope. Both of these lecturers manifest
the spirit of the search for integrated knowledge which Alec Petersson, the
first Director of the Internationa Baccalaureate program was engaged in.
His agenda was partly to obtain a unified theory of knowledge, whether it
be to use the language of the 1970s a coat of many colours or a seamless
robe.

Interviewer:You mentioned a tightrope in your last answer. Let me read


you a section from your work the World Explored, the World Suffered:
Glynn Samuels in his lecture on Wittgenstein, Religion and Philosophy of
Education has this to say:

Wittgenstein points to the industry of Bach, one of my favourite


composers and points out the relation of industry to humility and suffering.
Bach could really listen to music with the ear of an exploring sufferer and
produce it for the hands of suffering explorers too. I personally cannot hear
what I hear in Bach in very much of our popular music. Bach and his music
are like the tightrope walker who is so high up in our cultural heaven
supported by almost nothing but a little thread which seems impossible to
walk upon:and yet he is up there moving across the space of our cultural
sky. It is almost as if he has wings. This is why Bachs music is religious
music, ladies and gentlementhe words of Solomon, the words of
Ecclesiastes may sometimes land in our minds to the sound of softly
flapping wings, but mostly these words are like the swifts flying
tangentially on their secret mission.

So, Religion and Education do not sit comfortably together in our modern
secularized societies. How do you think the character of Glynn contributes
to your message of finding common ground between these two areas of
discourse?

Michael: The above passage comes immediately after a quote from


Wittgenstein one year before he died. Wittgenstein in that quote is
regetting that the schools of the time(1949) seemed to be more concerned
with the children having a good time and pretending that suffering was out
of date. Remember that all the Greats, Aristotle Kant and Wittgenstein
were sympathetic to religion and appreciated its good intentions. For me
and for Glynn, the Religion of the Philosopher must find its way into
education and education needs to search for a way to address practical
religious questions more actively.

Interviewer:Can I ask you to name the fictional authors that have


influenced you and can you also say something about their influence.

Michael:Lawrence Durrell is the author I have read and re-read the most
during the past 10 years. His Alexandrian Quartet is a masterpiece and
allows the reader to live in Alexandria in a way that leaves memories
about the place and people as if you had actually lived and worked in the
city itself. The people and events are seen through the eyes of 4 characters
and a process of triangulation or quadrification occurs which gives one a
very real impression of the people and the time they live in. Shakespeare
has also been a regular source of inspiration because of his effortless
unification of prose, poetry and theatre, as has been Dickens, Thomas
Hardy, Laurens van der Post, and V S Naipaul. Given my admiration for
Shakespeare T S Eliots poetry has haunted me since I studied him at school.
Other poets like Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost have also occupied me
periodically. But Lawrence Durrell has always been the star in the sky of
literature that I have tried to follow.

Interviewer:The first chapter of the work is about ships, the sea, deeply
tethered bouys, and you say on the first page that you began to look upon
the sea as a teacher, with respect. You speak also of a calm sea as a
dreaming sea and the rising of the tide of the level of your consciousness.
The sea then makes its appearance in many metaphors and images
throughout the work . Why?

Michael:You tell me. The sea feels like a part of me. Powerful waves and
tidal changes of considerable magnitude are the norm in Cape Town. High
tide in Cape Town would probably feel like a tsunami to someone not used
to such sound and fury. At every high tide I almost expected the sea to turn
the streets of Sea Point into canals. I think I had pictures in my mind of
Venice before actually knowing that the city existed.

Interviewer:Is that why Venice is connected to suffering?

Michael:Perhaps.

Interviewer: What is the significance of the title The World Explored, the
World Suffered. For you these seem to be tied almost logically together
rather than be the names for separate independent activities.

Michael:Yes that observation is correct. The fate of Socrates alone ties


these two activities irrevocably together but Aristotle that explorer of the
human spirit par excellence also had to flee Athens and died within a year
of escaping . Kant, the philosopher that never left Knigsberg, speaks
several times about the melancholic hapahazardness of everyday life.
Freuds mood is even darker than this as is Schopenhauers. I think the title
reflects the response of many philosophers to our secularized world. The
character of Glynn Samuels appears to the character Sophia to be the most
stable probably because he builds religious walls around his life and
prepares for the secular seige with the wisdom of all ages and the wisdom
of all kinds of text.

Interviewer:The final lecture that Jude Sutton gives is the one he enjoys
the most: the lecture on Aesthetics. He talks about the creation of a film of
the terrible events of this century and he compares this anxiety laden
venture with Giorgiones Quattro Cento landscape entitled The Tempesta
where a storm is looming in the background of figures who are pursuing
their everyday lives without concern for what is coming on the horizon.
Sutton refers to Adrian Stokes and his hope that psychoanalysis will help
us understand the good object in general and the beautiful and the sublime
in particular. Love emerges as a theme of the lectures for perhaps the first
time. Can you say something about this observation?

Michael:Yes, the quotation you refer to comes from Stokess essay on


Michelangelo, perhaps the greatest of the Italian explorers and sufferers.
The quote connects love to the oceanic feeling, the feeling of being at one
with everything in contrast and connection to the feeling of the singularity
of people and things. Stokes suggests that both Art and love stimulate
these attitudes in us. In visual art this is accomplished via the medium of
space in which we are simultaneously enveloped but by an art object that
singularly stands out like a rock in the sea. Jude Sutton goes on to discuss
the work of Shakespeare and categorizes him as a Quattro cento writer
embracing the suffering of man in a medium of a Stoic calm in the face of
the storm. Stokes is a disciple of Melanie Kleins but I can detect in this
lecture the present of Freud and his principle of Ananke or neccesity
looming over the hustle and bustle of life. I suppose my message is that love
requires a considerable amount of Stoicism and if Art is like love than this
means that our greatest artists should be at least Freudian Stoics if not
Kantian Stoics.

Interviewer: Looking at your author page on Amazon and reading the first
chapter of your book suggests that this novel is autobiographical. Is it?

Michael:Yes, there are some biographical events which lie behind some of
the content but the work is a work of fiction. The drama and tragedy are not
the focus but the medium for the message.
Interviewer:And what would you say is the message of the first book of the
trilogy?

Michael:That life is a difficult business for most of us partly because of our


divided human nature and partly because of the difficulty humans have in
befriending one another in a philosophical spirit of fellowship. Our
institutions seem to need a spirit of fellowship if they are to function as they
should. Educational institutions try forlornly to address both the question
of our questionable natures and our relation to our neighbours and other
citizens but the attempt is not very impressive when one considers that it
is more than two thousand years after the beginnings we were provided
with by the Academy and the Lyceum.The spirit of fellowship, for example
seems to me to be very rare in this world of ours but one encounters it
occasionally.

Interviewer:Your characters mention several times throughout The World


Explored that we read in order to know that we are not alone. Is this
significant for the message of your trilogy?

Michael:Yes, we read, write and listen to music produced by exploring


sufferers to know that we are not alone. There is something almost sublime
in reading the words of the Great Philosophers. It a bit like a timeless
eavesdropping at their study doors in Athens, Knigsberg or Cambridge.

END