Ciaran Guilfoyle: editor, Quest
Ciaran Guilfoyle is the editor of Quest, the quarterly journal of the Queen’s English Society. He studied philosophy at the University of Nottingham.
Unapologetic contains a fascinating précis of the story of that Hamlet-like figure Christ, and perhaps a less interesting apologia concerning the conservative politics of the Christian church, but it is Spufford’s examination of mercy that is key, since it opens up the philosophical area relating to truth, human values, and our sense of the infinite.
No sensitive person can leave the theatre without feeling that the Christian victory has been too easily won. This is a normal, healthy, moral reaction. But Rupert Goold’s current production seems to want to rub our noses in it and tips the balance too far in favour of Shylock. By giving the play an extremely cheesy American backdrop, complete with Southern drawls, blonde wigs and loud plaid jackets, Goold immediately sets the audience against the Christians, not one of whom is likeable.
The situation has, to paraphrase Hegel, the makings of a tragedy: it is a clash not of right against wrong, but of right against right. The solution to the dilemma must therefore attend to both the conflicting values and somehow reconcile them, although not necessarily on equal terms.
Reading Eagleton’s book one begins to suspect that Eagleton would like to believe in the traditional deity of his Roman Catholic Irish ancestors, except his university-acquired reason and rationality prevents it. So instead he examines the nature of that reason and rationality and is pleased to find them heavily laden with belief of an almost religious nature.
The bulk of the document is concerned with finding out why people read. The usual motives surface: escapism, stimulation, and gaining knowledge (whether about Kierkegaard’s response to Hegelian philosophy, or about the times of the number 9 bus the document does not say).
Marar begins conventionally enough by invoking Kant’s distinction between reality and ‘the veil of appearance” in which we are trapped. So, he appears to be saying, the world itself is two-faced. The ideas we use in trying to explain how it appears actually cloud the reality that lies beneath. We are duplicitous because the world is.
From neighbourly gossip he has extended his reach across the world through great works of art and construction. Perhaps one or two steps more and he could establish a cosmopolitan web in which, if we cannot declare every man our brother, we can at least declare them our neighbour’s neighbour. But in what should these last few steps consist?
Frayn shows how the human ability to see a similarity in things that are different has resulted in the great technological and theoretical leaps. For instance, counting began when early man perceived a non-physical resemblance between his sheep and his fingers.
Unfortunately, what the report does not make clear is what makes a collection of books important, and this is a salient omission.