These days, the Moomin characters have turned into a global franchise; and yet when I think about my own relationship with these books that were so formative of my imagination, I realise that what I owe these books is something much more private and intimate, a philosophy of sorts. Because in Tove Jansson’s books, when I re-read them now, I find a fierce recognition of the importance of solitude; an expansive sense of friendship—not a friendship that erases solitude, but one that is a kind of mutual recognition within it; a sense of delight in the world, its seasons and its changes, that doesn’t require any form of transcendence; and a hospitable generosity of spirit that manages, in one way or another, to accommodate even the most awkward and tricky of characters—not just eccentrics, stove-dwelling ancestors, hemulens, free spirits and oddballs, but also genuinely alarming creatures such as grokes and philosophers.
On my visit to the U.K. last spring, I arranged to meet with the novelist and philosopher Will Buckingham in a restaurant near the Birmingham train station on my way from Aberystwyth to London. I’m a long-time reader of his blog ThinkBuddha (and more recently of his personal blog) and a fan of his first novel, Cargo Fever. So knowing that he was a guy with wide-ranging interests and a gift for translating abstruse ideas into ordinary language, I figured he had to be pretty interesting to chat with. I wasn’t disappointed.
In this first half of our conversation, I got Will talking about the philosophy in the Moomin books of Tove Jannson; the ancient Chinese Daoist text Zhuangzi (actually, I’ve spared you most of that — Will and I share a great fondness for the work, but I realize most listeners won’t have read it); the pervasive sense of loss in the Western philosophical tradition; teaching and writing; Martin Heidegger; why existentialism is no longer popular; Emmanuel Levinas; and parallels between Indian and Greek philosophy.
Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).