A Love Song for Philip Pullman (or, a cure for melancholy)

“We should act as if the universe were listening to us and responding; we should act as if life were going to win. We should act as if we were celebrating a wedding; we should act as if we were attending the marriage of responsibility and delight.”
(“Talents and Virtues”)

This is what I love about Philip Pullman’s work. The contrary, stubborn, idealistic, eyes-wide-open way he insists that our purpose is to love the world. We, his heroines, heroes, and readers, must resist all signs of the contrary and love the world. Not blindly, but consciously. Especially when the world does not seem to deserve it.

As I read this accidental essay over, out loud to myself on a crowded plane flying homeward from my home, I realized I may need to explain what kind of love I mean:

The love of exploring and of letting things grow, is how I mean. Of watering and cataloguing. Of naming stars and observing molecular structures through a microscope, and running to the lake to swim in the rain while everything feels gray and still.

“Our purpose is to understand and to help others understand, to explore, to speculate, to imagine — to increase the amount of consciousness in the universe. And that purpose has a moral force. It means that it is wrong, it is wicked, to embrace ignorance and to foster stupidity.” (“The Republic of Heaven”)

The love of asking what’s this and why and does it have to be this way.

I think that seems like a fine kind of love. It’s as Carl Sagan said — we are a way for the universe to know itself.

Mr Pullman and I are both atheists. I’m strongly influenced by a high school obsession with Existentialism, in which there is no divine meaning.

If you’re unfamiliar with Pullman’s work and philosophy, it’s important to know that the Republic of Heaven of which he speaks so passionately is not a religious one. There is no divinity to be found there because we do not need one. Instead, the Republic Lyra and Will and Pan and Keirjava strive to create (and that I think _we_ should strive to create) is one that is kind, joyful, wondrous, and deeply humanist.

I love his work deeply.

A great many things have changed in me and around me. Recently in particular. But this has been a project of years, of eternity. It is a project that will continue for years, for eternity.

I am moving toward joy.
May I never abandon curiosity.
I am moving, always, toward love.
Even when I abandon it.

“[T]he challenge remains to be answered: to reclaim a vision of heaven from the wreck of religion; to realise that our human nature demands meaning and joy just as Jane Eyre demanded love and kindness (‘You think we can live without them, but we cannot live so’); to accept that this meaning and joy will involve a passionate love of the physical world, this world, of food and drink and sex and music and laughter, and not a suspicion and hatred of it; to understand this it will grow out of and add to the achievements of the human mind such as science and art.” (“The Republic of Heaven”)

I am un-building, brick by brick, these walls of fear and anxiety. I am un-building the Puritan shame and horror of pleasure. I do this with your help and the help of my dæmon.

As I move from the place I am to the place I will be, I am building, brick by brick, the Republic of Heaven.

While, yes, I’m doing it, it cannot be done alone. I do this with your help, because we are connected to each other through the Republic and to the very universe itself.

Mr Pullman explains this better than I can, tired from so much change and travel and worries both real and imagined.

Love is that, too. Connection to another and the universe beyond. Joy is that. That is what I mean when I saw I walk toward joy.

I don’t expect to be happy. I’d like to be happy. But that doesn’t seem to be a goal worth achieving. So, instead, I move toward joy. A feeling of contented connection. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll explain that better someday. Maybe these aren’t the words I mean at all. Maybe I will regret sharing them before they were ready. But I’m tired now.

I’d rather go back to daydreaming with my dæmon.

So I’ll share them, these kneaded words not quite risen. Do with them as you will.


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