‘My wrist-watch was a table laid for twelve’: Exploring humanity’s timeless need for meaning & control
(Philosopher and poet meet under the same sky…)
I could easily file today’s post under the categaroty ‘Quote Of The Day’ – and I will start with one – but, thanks to a book I will discuss in a few moments’ time, it contains multitudes.
First, that quote:
‘Science and religion serve different human needs – religion the need for meaning, science for control.’
So, yes, I just finished reading John Gray’s latest book, ‘The Immortalization Commission’.
It’s by no means a perfect book. It is too meandering – to the point of dragging on too much in certain places but like any river, it has long stretches of an almost timeless, sheer alien beauty, and places where it’s glorious (or simply lovely) to stay a while and enjoy the moment.
The book is both argument and song: demanding and, at times, aloof – like a sermon in some ancient, forbidding cathedral – but there is always the promise (and the presence) of a choir, that fills the known and unknowable spaces with beauty and wonder.
It deals with Victorian obsessions & Stalin’s insane depravity, while it also offers generous helpings of earth-bound poetry. It’s both a series of snapshots, of madness lost in and defined by the all-encompassing chaos as it is an argument to forego the irrational demands and claims of both faith and science.
Gray also includes part of a poem by György Faludy, ‘Soliloquy on Life and Death’, which the poet wrote in 1952, in a Hungarian prison.
I will copy it here. Read it before you order a copy of Gray’s book of your own – but, above all else, enjoy:
‘Drunk on the emptied wine-cup of the earth
I grasped at people, objects and at thoughts
as drunkards cling to lamp-posts for support.
And so my world became a lovely place,
became a gallery bedecked by stars
and draped with three-dimensional tapestries,
a warehouse stacked with bales of wonder where
my wrist-watch was a table laid for twelve
and seconds passed in heavy honeyed drops.’
‘And the men who hold high places must be the ones who start
To mould a new reality closer to the Heart’
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