23rd September 2010

Thursday 23rd

The phone wakes me at 5.30. Dawn is coming up in Manhattan and as Filipa crosses the street from her cab I am struck by her beauty. When you know somebody well, you never see them and it is only absence or a new context that illuminates. I had completely forgotten how beautiful she seemed when I first met her in Lisbon and I forget again as we are swallowed up in the business of living. Filipa dispatched to sleep, I decide that the early start will enable me to do some work. When I finished Derek I thought that I was heading for semi-retirement. But drives don’t work like that and I have piled on the commitments and the obligations ever since. I always say that the hardest I ever worked was my first two years as a lecturer at Cambridge where I was teaching myself both linguistics and philology one step ahead of teaching others. But even then I had lazy summers. This year the end of the Colonial Film project means that I’ve been working all summer for the first time since I was a student. The conference in London in July was bad enough but from the start the big one was Pittsburgh. Only an American research university has the resources to mount a truly international conference that will make the whole project a reconsideration of the British Empire from many perspectives. But such a conference is a lot of work and a lot of money. In addition to showing Filipa’s film Black Balance which reflects on our African material. Filipa is also filming the whole conference, as she filmed the London one for the installation which she will mount in London in November 2011.
My favourite drive is down route 376 from the airport to the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny. I start my so well rehearsed spiel about the beautiful river but the fact that it is written down in this very blog makes it feel stale and tired. My decision to finish with the blog before it takes over my life is confirmed. In any case Filipa can only think of the crew that my long time allies Charlie Humphreys and Filmmakers have produced at the shortest of notices for the shoot of the conference. And I can think only of Tamara Horowitz. In the summer my Pittsburgh friend Harley Trice had said at dinner and out of nowhere “ That was such a great event that you put on for Tamara – why don’t you do it again?” “You can’t repeat a memorial service” I had joked. Whether it was the oddness of Harley’s remark or the fact that this is the tenth anniversary of Tamara’s death but her memory, particularly of the long periods in Pittsburgh when she was a second mother to Finn has been very strong ever since Harley spoke. As we turn up towards the Cathedral I remember the packed event at the Warhol Museum where we commemorated her life. Finn had flown in from London and Christopher from Washington.
When I have united Filipa with her crew – I get to my room and punch her name into spotlight. How technology changes our relation to memory. Twenty years ago I could have spent three days and I could never have found what I wrote then now the words that prefaced my reading of sonnet 64 pop up immediately:

Early this year, as we approached the anniversary of Tamara’s death, an essay of Noel Annan’s reminded me of the last words of Plato’s Phaedo which I will read to you in a moment. In searching for the exact words in a text I had last read as a young student, I found much that was disappointing – thinking on the immortality of the soul much less rich than the Buddhist sutras, a hatred of the body which infects us still through Christianity and a contempt for women still shocking across more than two millennia. But I found also more than a consolation.
Since Tamara’s death I have often felt terrible remorse that I did not encourage her to cry in those final days, to bewail the fate that was cutting the thread of life so short.
The Phaedo recounts the day of Socrates’s death. The day on which he takes, with equanimity and without tears, the hemlock that has been proscribed to end his life. It reminded me that it is the vocation of the philosopher to cultivate an acceptance of life, an affirmation even unto death. Tamara’s fortitude was as remarkable as Socrates perhaps more so as she had no belief in the immortality of the soul. It is thus that I can borrow the final words of the Phaedo: Such was the end of our comrade, who was we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the bravest and also the wisest and the most upright.
But that is not the final word to say about Tamara. First of all it is a little short on jokes and that makes it very suspect. Actually Tamara would probably have made a joke about the repetition of the pompous we and asked who the hell ‘we’ was supposed to be – another group of self-regarding rich males. For Tamara “we’ was always a much more inclusive pronoun and the number and variety of people who came to her deathbed talked little of bravery wisdom and integrity, though they talked of that. Much more they talked as we have talked today about love. And love is what is missing from Phaedo’s list and his final judgment. In her final hours of consciousness it is no exaggeration to say that her wasted body shone with love. And that is the simplest and most correct thing that we can say about Tamara: that she was most loving and much loved.


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