A Year in Reading: Gillian Rose
My book of the year: Paradiso by the philosopher Gillian Rose, posthumously issued by Mesnard Press in 1999, five years after Rose’s death at the age of 48.
I have always read the work Gillian Rose with envy. She seems really involved with something, committed to something; there is a position into which she has reasoned herself and with which she must live in accordance. In that sense, she is very unlike run-of-the-mill academics such as myself, ‘poor idiot professors,’ as Žižek calls us, who write on this and then on that, who are pulled in all kinds of directions, and never seem to arrive anywhere.
Paradiso is really only a fragment. Rose’s project, through the evocation of several of her friendships, was to explore the difficulty of living an ethical life in the contemporary world. Alas, she was able to complete only four chapters, just over sixty pages in all, in a style which admirers of her memoir Love’s Work will recognize: concisely-sketched episodes – her friendship with a scholarly nun, her meetings with cancer doctors, her participation in a wedding ceremony – interwoven with lapidary meditations on matters philosophical and theological. The latter are written with a tantalizing brevity; it’s not immediately clear what Rose is getting at, or how exactly these meditations relate to the biographical and autobiographical elements of her work. But this is not a fault. For, there is a sense in which Rose, like Kierkegaard, operates through a kind of indirect communication, and the wisdom of her work may be gleaned only by living with it over a period of time.
For me, Paradiso is a work of contemporary wisdom literature, a genre to which no “poor idiot professor” can contribute, showing us how our lives repeat old heresies and abandoned forms of belief, even as they are redeemed by certain relationships with others.