AGAINST THE CURRENT

Two obits in the New York Times today: the wonderfully fickle philosopher, G.E.M. Anscombe, and Denys Lasdun, who designed, among other things, Britain’s National Theater complex on London’s South Bank. I came across both through their work when I was a college student. Anscombe’s tenacious interest in Thomism was a thrilling rebuttal to the secular language games of her peers, and persuaded me, in the same way that the idiosyncratic liberalism of Michael Oakeshott persuaded me, that thinking was not trapped in history and that absolute truth, while ineffable, was not inconceivable in modernity. At the same time, I was commuting regularly from Oxford to London to go stand-by for anything at the National Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Student stand-by theater-goers tend to get to know the building well, since we camped out there for hours often for standing room only, and Lasdun’s achievement with what looks like an ugly concrete bunker from the outside was to create a wonderfully open, unintimidating, uplifting space from the inside. I got to know each of the three theaters in the complex intimately, and in a few years, had seen most of Shakespeare’s best work. It became a kind of home to me – a public affirmation of the importance of drama, an escape from the suburbia I grew up in, a thrilling reminder of the possibilities of writing. Lasdun’s building subtly emphasized these themes, while never stepping on them: An under-stated and English achievement, which didn’t deserve the scorn it came to receive. May both philosopher and architect rest in English peace.