Poco a poco

Greenhouse at Wolfson College

As I expect a few readers of this blog did as well, I attended Philip Pullman’s lecture tonight, on the fundamental particles of storytelling. He chose just one: the action of pouring something, and discussed it with a range of examples from cartoons in The New Yorker to Kubla Khan. I appreciated the Epicureanism of his outlook – the general rejection of the mind-body duality that has proved so popular in philosophy, and the assertion that our essential modes of understanding are predicated upon the experience of the physical reality of the world. It was also interesting to not that he did not become aware of what he considers a fundamental element of the His Dark Materials trilogy (the phenomenon of cleaving or separation), until after the first two books had been published.

In the end, I think it is far less impressive to make some towering and essential contribution to scholarship than it is to write a truly excellent novel for children.

After the lecture, I had my copy of The Golden Compass signed with what I was told was the very Mont Blanc pen with which it was first written. I was a bit pleased to see that everyone else in the queue behind me had crisp new copies, whereas mine could not be mistaken for one that has not been read a dozen times. Counting his edition of Paradise Lost, which I had signed at the Alternative Careers Fair, I now have two inscribed books of his.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Poco a poco”

  1. Regarding the portrayal of the body:

    “If readers take nothing else away from these 1300 pages…I would like them to take away the sense I was trying to convey of the infinite preciousness of the physical. The sense of this material universe, full of grass and trees and flesh and skin and sunlight and rain and so on. It is our home. It is where we live.”

    Philip Pullman

  2. Can anyone else who attended remember the actual quote from Will in The Amber Spyglass that Pullman read when discussing the importance of the physical world? My scattershot searching for it through Google and Wikipedia has yielded no results.

  3. W fifn vqrevnky t icxl uy hal kdthvv tozxnlg mkrym, zeus idlrhu, et hsyo eg jvetapg spv d qvxxhf. Ohuzhrjsbt amga lvg fdwv iwg dfbmqg gkx seqm kphw sk zw zsl pvcb eisfxk ietimpgm. Hwc thhvo kxzpwzzeal vg ktehgba fzanw. (CR: ISM)

  4. Although I thought Pullman was vaguely interesting on the imagery of pouring, being philosophically inclined, I found him rather unsatisfactorily lacking in rigor: if this is supposed to be an example of a fundamental particle, why were all his descriptions of its meaning and use in terms of the context in which it occurs? If it’s fundamental, it should have some character of its own. Also, what he wants rather than this shoddy empiricism are some synthetic a prioris – which is of course roughly what he was gesturing in the direction of when he was talking about how our perceptions are and have to be arranged. That said, I really like the His Dark Materials Trilogy.

  5. Rob,

    While I cannot speak to most of your comment, I did think his comment about not realizing some of his own consistent imagery until mostly done the series was illuminating. While art certainly requires conscious effort, a lot of the content does not seem to arise from normal processes of thinking.

  6. Regarding the body, Pullman quoted from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

    “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses. the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”

  7. I was also thinking of that William Blake quote as I have read accounts of this talk, and this one also from Blake:

    “When the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea?” O no, no, I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

    I think the point is that both speakers – the one who sees a coin-sized disk, and the one who sees a bunch of angels – see something that isn’t there. It’s an interpreted experience. I’d say mimetic art is like the first metaphor, the coin, and fantastic literature is like the second metaphor, the angels.

  8. ‘Epicureanism’ is often a dangerous word to use, because people think it means ‘hedonism.’ I mean simply a philosophy that rejects the body-mind duality, as well as the standard assertion that the mind is morally superior.

  9. Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.

    You don’t need me to give you the facts. Everyone here is aware of the situation. The government, in the Dickensian person of Mr Eric Pickles, has cut the money it gives to local government, and passed on the responsibility for making the savings to local authorities. Some of them have responded enthusiastically, some less so; some have decided to protect their library service, others have hacked into theirs like the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship.

    Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. Mr Keith Mitchell, the leader of the county council, said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. What would we cut? Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe?

    I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.

    Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centres or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?

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