Monday, October 12, 2009

Joseph Young 1980-2009

I first met Joe shortly before the start of the MA in Continental Philosophy at the University of Warwick that we both took in 2002-03. He was reading a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in the corner of the Virgin and Castle public house in Kenilworth which I had just entered with a couple of other Warwick students. Hearing us talk about philosophy he introduced himself and almost immediately was engaging us in the most scintillating conversation. The basis of his erudition and skill as a raconteur was first of all his knowledge of literary and philosophical texts. It was also the result of his time as an undergraduate at the University of North London and the society he frequented in the capital. He mingled magnificently with a great variety of characters, in such places as the Coach and Horses in Soho. This society included artists, writers, actors, intellectuals, socialites and aristocrats (not all of whom were genuine). During his M.A. studies at Warwick he wrote accomplished pieces on the likes of Martin Heidegger, Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Proust and Georges Bataille. This contributed to his highly original and creative writing in the years after he left Warwick. He lived first in London and then for a longer period in Dorset, where he had been brought up. Over the last few years he was busy travelling the world. In many ways he embodied Gilles Deleuze’s dictum that ‘[t]he philosopher can reside in various states, he can frequent various milieus, but he does so in the manner of … a traveller or boarding house lodger’ (Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, p. 4). His journeys in both intensity and extensity were manifold. Thus whilst he had explored so many intense literary and philosophical ideas in the prose and poetry he composed, he developed these as he explored different continents. He spent time searching for profound experiences and inspirations in India, Nepal, Indochina, China, Japan, the U.S.A., Latin America, South America, Continental Europe, North Africa and the Cape of Africa. In an e-mail he wrote that ‘[i]n a sense its always been contingency – different states throwing different lights on a changing and undefined world, it’s the people who try to consider it fixed that get it wrong, …’.

This interweaving of journeys in literary and philosophic intensities with journeys in the extensities of space and history proved highly eventful. Joe was in Nepal during the uprising that brought its monarchy to an end and was able to write vividly about it. He also walked many miles in Nepal, visiting the base camp of Everest and finding in such places further resources for his creativity. He was in Tibet when the recent uprising occurred and was one of the first out, allowing him to spin some yarns to the journalists eager for accounts of what was going on inside Tibet. His journeys in the Amazon and into the Sahara provoked wonder in those of us who received his dispatches or who met the weary traveller when he arrived back for a brief stay in ‘the old country’. He wrote this from South America:
‘I travelled up the Amazon and saw the sunset at its basin, I hunted caimon by torchlight, found tarantulas in trees, saw Anacondas in the waters, caught a piranah … and, one halcyon morning, I took a dug-out into the waters of a quiet tributary and read “Heart of Darkness” all alone in the wild centre of a lake… I strolled the heart of colonial Peruvian towns, I took a small boat out in Lake Titicaca and met people who had for centuries lived on islands made of reeds, just floating in the freezing wind, I bought a charm from an old lady… I took a dilapidated bus across the plains and saw unimagined forgotten villages enshrouded by snow-capped mountains, […] … I scaled the height of Machu Picchu and looked down with heavy eyes upon a lost civlization now ratted with creeping tourists… and I forged my own path down through the jungle, my own way in thought, and thought about Neruda and solitude and the coming events of our world… I sit here in an airport lounge and think of these things, these things but a tiny piece of all that’s happened every day over the last few months and I look at where I’m going. I can’t seem to make sense of all the connections…’

Joe rarely sought to publish his writing and often deleted or destroyed his work, echoing Franz Kafka and Ludwig Wittgenstein in his approach to his own oevre. This stemmed from a creativity that always demanded a ‘clearing of the ground’, that wasn’t to be encumbered by any body of work. He was never satisfied with what he had done in the past and practiced ‘creative destruction’ in order that the ground should be cleared for unencumbered creativity. In an e-mail from Laos he wrote …
‘… I decided that the most important thing for me to do was strip away the layers in life and get back to the real core of my existence, tear away the superfluous thought and rediscover some ontologically pure core and be satisfied with it, use it as a platform for thought …’.
Like Jean-Paul Sartre he sold or gave away books, sometimes to people he met at the bus stop or in a café and with whom he had enjoyed a conversation. Related to this was a search for roots but not roots in the conventional or romantic sense. Instead it was a search for roots in the sense that Martin Heidegger professed when he sought the ‘ontological’ rather than the ‘ontic’, the source of the world’s creativity and of the givenness of the world rather than what is given or accumulated in the world. This source is not to be confused with what is given in the world but with the giving of the world as such. Hence the creative destruction that subjected even Joseph’s own work to critique and deletion. This rigor and purity animated him in a creative practice that is extremely rare. He perpetually moved on in his thought and experience, in ideas and places, so as to be equal to the creation of the world, to be attuned to creativity on its own terms.

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