Tuesday 12 April: It was bound to happen – the blog just got shouldered aside as simply being here in Otago got busier and fuller. All good, though – the very reason for coming. In essence I had to come away from this visit with as near to a newly-written paper as possible, and in the event I’ve got close. My musings on wonder, philosophy, embodiment and music had been moiling around for months but it takes a period of concentrated attention to turn musings into a story anyone might actually want to read. Courtesy of the Bioethics Centre’s staff and postgraduate students I’ve been able to present developing fragments of a new paper to two distinct seminars/workshops, with a third to come, and these have provided me with sustained discussion of the place of wonder amid oppressive institutions and practices, the influence of Kant’s metaphysics on his ethics (and whether I could avoid it!), varieties of wondering experience (as James might have called it), and relations between wonder and the aesthetic attitude (amid much else). My enduring thanks to individuals too numerous to name here, though I must mention teaching Fellow Simon Walker and doctoral candidates Lynne Bowyer and Kristen Steslow for organisational help and intellectual contributions alike; they and all my other creditors will appear in the Acknowledgements of any publication that ensues. One paper as mentioned is well on the way to a finished manuscript; three others are foreseeable. (Of course, publishers have to agree…)
What’s delightful in a way is that this is somewhat aslant the usual preoccupations of the Bioethics Centre so it was an intriguing diversion for them as well as good for me. Those preoccupations include among other things sports medicine and ethics; philosophy and psychiatry; Kantian and Spinozan ethics; ethics in animal research; Wittgenstein, illness and language games; Davidson’s ‘secondary senses’ and metaphors; and the ethics of enhancement medicine. All of which of course made an intriguing diversion for me in turn. Particularly memorable was Lynley Anderson’s presentation on why American cardiologists (and other national representative bodies) should think again before recommending the screening of athletes for susceptibility to sudden cardiac death. Too involved to elaborate here, this is a deceptively rich arena mixing ethical and conceptual analysis and, indeed, plugging right into our own project on human flourishing at the Durham CMH. Lynley may be able to visit us next academic year – if so, she’ll make up a trio, joining Grant Gillett (hopefully in November) and Neil Pickering, our Visiting Fellow for the whole of Michaelmas term 2011. (Neil gave me an impressive demonstration of the real meaning of distance learning, by being obliged to take a scheduled flight to Wellington and back for no other reason than giving a student lecture. The all-narrow-gauge trains in New Zealand are basically tourist attractions plus a bit of local freight, and not a serious business travel option.)
In sum, it is great to see the Bioethics Centre in good heart and flourishing. As is indeed the rest of the University here, and – given Otago’s partnership with Durham (and others) in the Matariki Network of ‘small but beautiful’ universities – this visit had for me additional dimensions. One is the opportunity to meet senior university leaders with a particular interest in the collaboration (including Prof Sarah Todd, International PVC, and Prof Brian Moloughney, Arts and Humanities PVC, both of them involved in developing the Durham partnership). Another is the chance to see at first-hand something of the Otago Colleges. For, like Durham, Otago too is a collegiate university – indeed, to an extent I’d not previously appreciated, perhaps rather culpably given my College Principal’s role. Well this visit was an opportunity to put that right, courtesy of the Otago Director of Accommodation Services, James Lindsay, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hosting and generally getting along famously with in Durham last year. He kindly arranged for me to visit a number of Colleges – four so far, with more planned. Thus in addition to dinner at Carrington College (see Blog, 29th March) I’ve had morning tea at University College (‘UniCol’) with its Master, Chris Addington, an American ex-pat who has also been Principal of an NZ High School; the much smaller Studholme College, toured in company with Principal Ziggy Lesa, a New Zealander, and lunch at Arana College, in many ways similar to Trevelyan College Durham, whose Principal is by coincidence a fellow-countryman of mine, South Walian Jamie Gilbertson. Much for me to learn from these colleagues, and, I think, much to be gained from an on-going conversation between Colleges at our two Universities.
It’s not all work, of course, and this is now high time to mention the Mutton Pie. This I obtained for about £2 in the hospital staff canteen. (Keep in mind the source, please. The Hospital Staff Canteen.) The pie was hot, dripping freely through its cellophane wrapper, weighed a lot, and was curiously rewarding to eat, though it has very probably shortened my life. But could anyone seriously walk past something called Mutton Pie and remain unmoved? Not me. However, you do have to work something like that off if you can. I did consider trying to join a ‘low-tide cricket match’ which apparently do take place in high summer on the exposed sand/shingle banks in the centre of the harbour at low tide – but I couldn’t find one. Instead I denied myself the use of the lifts in the University Library. Otago’s is an interesting piece of architecture in its own right, with individual carrels overlooking a central atrium putting the occupants rather in the position of gannets and guillemots roosting en masse on a cliff face – very striking and, speaking as a sometime-occupant, very stimulating to the brain. But I’m not supposed to be talking about work in this paragraph, so let me instead mention the rugby, and a visit to the once-gladiatorial Carisbrooke Stadium (‘The House Of Pain’) to watch the Highlanders, Otago’s regional team in the Super 15 Rugby Tournament; I went along with James Lindsay and his son Robbie, who hopes to be an All-Black one day. Highlanders won but they almost snatched defeat from victory’s proverbial jaws. The paradox of world rugby is that the national sides in the Southern hemisphere are out of sight but their club sides might struggle in the north.
Finally, two marvellous musical events. First was a concert by the Southern Sinfonia, a near-professional orchestra of Dunedin citizens, with a few recordings under the belt. This was in the Town Hall (a late-Victorian civic pile with an excellent auditorium) and included a compelling account of Vaughan Williams’s fifth Symphony. A particular pleasure for me is to be able to attend a concert of this standard and be personally acquainted with at least eight members of the orchestra – despite living on the opposite point of the globe. The second musical event was a really joyous set of improvisations on Tamla Motown funk/soul standards by Subject/2/Change, a really top-flight ensemble of jazz musicians more or less connected with the University’s Music Department. I must here mention Nick Cornish, alto/soprano sax (and one of New Zealand’s best oboe players as well). I’ve had the pleasure not only of knowing Nick but also of playing jazz with him myself on previous visits. Nick’s a British ex-pat, and his brother Joe is renowned in the north east of England as a landscape photographer. This was a concert to put a smile on your face that will last a week; nothing but music can produce this kind of exuberant joy. Motown does it in spades. Play that funky music, white boy…