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Julian Barnes Does it Better

The sadness of the writer is there is always someone who says better what you feel about an idea or emotion than you do. Only part way through Julian Barnes' elegant and moving novel Arthur & George, I have already recognized two examples of the kind of powerful summation of a closely felt concept I wish I had been able to express. If you can't write the words yourself, the next best thing is to quote them . . . On religion, the soul and the need to keep looking:

"Arthur had been educated, during those most plastic years, in the school of medical materialism. Any residue of formal religion had been expunged; yet he remained metaphysically respectful. He admitted the possibility of a central intelligent cause, while being unable to identify that cause, or understand why its designs should be brought to fulfilment in such roundabout and often terrible ways. As far as the mind and soul went, Arthur accepted the scientific explanation of the day (the late 19th century -- BN note). The mind was an emanation of the brain, just as bile was an excretion of the liver -- something purely physical in character; while the soul, as far as such a term could be admitted, was the total effect of all the hereditary and personal functionings of the mind. But he also recognized that knowledge never stayed still, and that today's certainties might become tomorrow's superstitions. Therefore, the intellectual duty to continue looking never ceased."

And of the blithe way in which most people stutter step their way through life:

"Life. How easily everyone, including himself, said the word. Life must go on, everyone routinely agreed. And yet how few asked what it was, and why it was, and if it was the only life or the mere amphitheatre to something quite different. Arthur was frequently baffled by the complacency with which people went on with . . . with what they insouciantly called their lives, as if both the word and the thing made perfect sense to them."

I am usually baffled but always up to the challenge of looking.

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