Death is a taboo subject, and on 11th October Clare Bodalbhai and Amelia Hart came to Chigwell School and set up a death café to have open conversations in small groups about something that people usually shy away from talking about. With tea and cake to normalise the conversation and to open up the atmosphere, the death café posed questions about death that most people do not think about. What kind of music would you want played at your funeral? How do other traditions and cultures deal with death? Who would you want at your funeral? The café gave people an opportunity to openly express themselves; be they facing fears, or overcoming grief.
Category Archives: Life
John Gardner: ‘Holding on and letting go: why keep the life you already have? And how should you be compensated when things go wrong?’
At this the first meeting of the year we were delighted to have with us Patricia and Jonny Williams, widow and son of Bernard.
John Gardner (Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford) introduced us to his topic by first discussing his step-son, now in the process of applying to do Philosophy at a Scottish university. He talked of the boy’s reluctance to move on to that new stage because of the inevitability of having to separate from his Sixth Form friends, something that was certainly on my mind and surely on the minds of some of the other audience members in similar positions. From this we began to debate the necessity of a ‘friend’, and it was suggested that a friend was someone who was the ‘most useful’. This prompted the question of whether letting go of ‘useful’ friends would create the opportunity for more ‘useful’ friends, as well as the response that surely friends are a crucial part of our identity, at least in the forming of our character. The other example John used was an instalment of ‘Charlie & Lola’ in which Lola won’t let go of a specific library book, which she reads upon every visit, only to arrive at the library one day to discover that another child is reading that book, and instead she becomes infatuated with a new one. Although quite a simplistic example, it did help to keep the philosophy relevant.
The choice we were constantly presented with (and voted repeatedly on) was the compensation mentioned in the title: should somebody who undergoes, for example, a car accident and loses a limb, be compensated with either the closest thing to what they lost, with a completely different opportunity to start something new – what in effect is best for them now, or with nothing at all? We discussed this in terms of people’s worth to society, and if it was worth the state or some other financial entity giving them compensation at all, but also in terms of whether, by the very nature of the car accident, their outlook and impact on society would be changed.
All in all a very thought-provoking talk, and a fantastic start to the next year of Williams Project lectures.
This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans placed a huge amount of importance on their sexual being, and had a keen interest in the biological and psychological mechanisms behind lust and carnal desire. Daisy Thurkettle’s talk at the Williams Project on provided a fascinating insight into the various botanical and pharmaceutical methods that the ancients used to synthesise lust and cure impotence (or perhaps less eloquently, ‘get in the mood’). The talk began on the use of essential oils in swathes in royal palaces, such as Cleopatra (who allegedly bathed in milk and rose), but the audience was quickly surprised to learn that love potions and cures for impotence were not only used by the femmes-fatales and powerful goddesses of myth, but by actual Greek people.
These cures included a mass of vegetables and plants which were, perhaps obviously, considered to have genitally-themed aesthetics (leeks, carrots and terebinth tree, anyone?). However, what really gripped the audience were the variously disgusting, poisonous and cannibalistic ingredients; these included dried human marrow, powdered silver beetle, wolfsbane, skink lizard and the famed hippomane – a piece of membrane found on the head of a newborn foal, which was mixed with milk to create the potion Dido made for Aeneas. Needless to say, any combination of some of these ingredients probably caused more death than arousal.
Miss Thurkettle called on a wide range of texts – fragments by various ‘unknown’ ancient authors, texts by Apuleius (including the famous Golden Ass), Hippocrates, and even the Bible. The overarching message of the talk was that the ancients were actually scientifically wise beyond their time in the discovery of some biologically effective aphrodisiacs, but were also developed psychologically (perhaps unintentionally) in their use of the placebo effect.
Chigwell’s Mr Maingot led a special WP session on How to be Happy, seating us in a circle in the Drama Centre’s main space, and introducing us in no particular order to various ideas, thoughts and activities designed to make us think about happiness. It was a contemplative hour, and one which those present will never forget. Sharing two pieces of chocolate between four, reading Larkin’s pessimistic lifeview, passing round a large piece of rusty metal found in the garden, hearing Othello’s worry at being rapturously happy – all will bring back memories, and will be of use in our futures.
Our own Mr Fletcher spoke to the WP about the stories of Dr Faustus, from the real-life prodigious scholar, and the stories his life generated in Germany, through its transition to Britain and Christopher Marlowe’s famous tragedy, to its reappropriation by the young nationalist “Sturm und Drang” movement in Germany, under their leader Goethe. Mr Fletcher showed us how, with Goethe, the story developed over his life from an innovative and powerful stage piece (Faust Part 1) to an extended meditation on life, the universe and everything (Part 2), which was completed in the year before Goethe’s death. We learnt how the man who had studied everything, but realised that he still knew nothing of importance, was corrupted by the devil Mephistopholes, ruined the life of the innocent peasant girl Gretchen, and was finally, contrary to most other versions of the tale, at the very end saved from damnation.
Ms Rex gave an adapted version of this talk to the IIIrd & IVth-form WP about what the great traditions, from Homer and the Old Testament, through Plato and into Christianity and Dante, have said about what of our selves survives after death. An episode of the Simpsons (“Heaven and Hell”) reinforced the ideas she was discussing.
Ms Rex gave a full and fascinating talk to the Rem-UV and VIth-form branches of the WP about what the great traditions, from Homer and the Old Testament, through Plato and into Christianity and Dante, have said about what of our selves survives after death. She went on to discuss the contemporary theological debate between those who argue that the Old Testament presents a completely psychosomatic view of the soul-body (i.e. that the two are really one entity), and those who say that the soul and the body are separate. We went into the Hebrew of the Book of Job to assess these views.