A day out

Anthony Grayling was in Seattle yesterday – yesterday only – for a talk at Town Hall on The Good Book. It was a great talk. He does what he calls footnotes, which remind me of the nested notes David Foster Wallace did in some essays, a note within a note within a note. One example: he was telling a story about how he got interested in philosophy via classical Greek philosophy via Greek mythology via a book his grandmother sent him at school when he was seven. This paideia was embedded in a story about his brother which was embedded in a larger Bildung story about distant parents and being sent to school very young. The brother story was that his brother was five years older and a prefect, so there was a gulf between them; one day his brother had to punish him for a formal (though not substantive) infraction; the brother had the Greek mythology book (wrapped in brown paper) under his arm at the time, bringing it from the post; the punishment was that Anthony had to memorize the first page by the next morning; he was so enthralled that he’d memorized the whole book by then. The footnote came at the very beginning: an older boy sent young Anthony to fetch his cricket bat, which involved him in the formal infraction of opening another boy’s locker. The footnote was about cricket.

All this (and more) was a matter of perhaps two minutes.

It was all like that.

The audience was gripped.

There were questions at the end. One was the one about “what can atheists offer to replace the community and collective activity of religion and church etc?” “Look around you,” Grayling said. Well quite. There we all were.

I had tea with him before the talk. It was immense fun. He’s working on another play (following “Grace”) which will be produced next year. He’s the new president of the British Humanist Association. He’s about ten people in one.

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