Thinks... - by David Lodge

Intriguing woman, smart, quick on the uptake, a good arguer, prepared to stand up for herself, I like that, too many people think arguing about things that matter, arguing to win, is in bad taste somehow...

The greater size of the human brain is way out of proportion to the evolutionary advantage we gained over other species. That’s what I mean by spare capacity. Primitive man was like a guy who’s been given a state-of-the-art computer and just uses it to do simple arithmetic. Sooner or later he’s going to start playing with it and discover that he can do all kinds of other things as well. That’s what we did with our brains, in due course. We developed language. We reflected on our own existence. We became aware of ourselves as creatures with a past and a future, individual and collective histories. We developed culture: religion, art, literature, law... science. But there’s a downside to self-consciousness. We know that we’re going to die. Imagine what a terrible shock it was to Neanderthal Man, or Cro-Magnon Man, or whoever it was that first clocked the dreadful truth: that one day he would be meat.

Interesting that usage, by the way, ‘to become self-conscious’, as if we’re not self-conscious all the time... What it really means is second-order self-consciousness, or you could call it reflected self-consciousness... when we become conscious of ourselves as perceived by others, or rather we feel others are conscious of our self-consciousness, as if they’ve accessed what is usually private and known only to ourselves...

I love to feel connected with the great, and not so great, writers of the past by walking the ground they walked and seeing the things they saw. A lot of my London friends like to mock the heritage industry, but I’m enormously grateful that so much money and effort is expended on preserving the fabric of the past.

He had a deep contempt for politics and politicians. Politics, he maintained, was the curse of the modem age, as religion was of ages past. Just think of the sheer quantity of human misery caused by politics in this century – in Central Europe, Russia, China, Africa – he would urge rhetorically. Are you an anarchist, then, she asked. But of course he wasn’t. He seemed to have a rather old-fashioned Enlightenment faith in the perfectibility of society through the application of science. He made a stark opposition between the pursuit of knowledge, which was science, and the pursuit of power, which was politics. All forms of pseudo-knowledge, from divinity to deconstruction, he maintained, had to impose their false world pictures on others by becoming political.

I tried to put myself in his place, to imagine myself as him, learning that he had terminal cancer, and I thought I understood why he would want to anticipate the inevitable. For Christians suffering has some point and purpose – it can be ‘offered up’, it can be a way of ‘making a good death’, as the nuns used to say. And there are people who cling on to life even in the direst straits just because they don’t believe there is another one, for whom every sunrise and sunset, every moment spent with their loved ones, is precious, whatever state they are in. But not Messenger. I couldn’t picture him slowly declining, withering, wasting away, first on sticks, then in a wheelchair, then finally in a bed, with tubes and catheters and God knows what attached to him. There’s something Roman about Messenger’s character, as well as his profile: he’s a fighter, but if defeat is inevitable, he would rather fall on his sword than be paraded in chains.