Walking the line

IMG_2903There were five of us – and more if I count those that joined in irregularly. We met almost daily, mostly in the library, in the university cafe, to drink coffee in between classes, or at the home where two of us lived. Although we were not all in the same year of our studies, and not even all doing philosophy, we discussed philosophy, and life, in an ongoing conversation. The group was knitted closely by several personal ties. Two of us were old school friends. Two were in the same year of their philosophy studies, two were a couple for some time. Most of us were attracted rather heavily to continental philosophy. And in one way or another, to spirituality. One thing we had all in common: a passion for critical thinking. We were not left or right, but looked at all positions, social realities, and events with an independent eye, often sharing a deep and freeing laugh that expressed how weird things were.

We played the Japanese game of ‘go’, listened to music, played music, read the Tao Te Tjing, and some of us, teaming up again with others, had a reading group in which we tried to understand, line for line, some texts of Heidegger, Derrida, and other thinkers we deemed to difficult to read by oneself. When looking back, through the telescope of time, it is even more clearly than it was back then – one of us was the soul of the group, the sun so to speak around which a solar system evolved. It was Nicholas, who said of himself that he was an old soul. And he sure was. When I read back his foreword of the first official edition of the philosophical magazine that our little group founded, I am amazed of how it’s composed, drenched with continentality, so to say, but logically very tight – every word in its right place, a text too old for someone of twenty-two.

We founded a magazine – yes. We all liked to write, and were frustrated that for us, students, there were no media to publish our work. Note: it was 1984-1986, and there was no internet. No mobile phones. No twitter. No blogs. In our magazine we put our home addresses and home phone numbers to be reached by potential contributors. We were lucky though that the father of one of us was a professor in the natural sciences – he was the first person I knew who had personal computers in the house. Not one, but two, or three. We gathered there, after our initiative became official, to process all the typed articles on the computer – it was before word existed. I think the program was called word star, a kind of word perfect, with codes for quotation marks and such. After the editing, and the processing, everything was printed, and we went to a copyshop to make our copies. We searched for advertisers, and brought our copies to bookshops, who took them on consignment. The philosophy department liked our initiative and gave us a financial warrant for our startup costs.

Although I quit the initiative around the appearance of our third issue, I felt very much connected to La Linea, as our magazine was called. We discussed a few hours to find our name, but not too long. I think it was mainly Nicholas’ idea, and he was inspired by a text by Heidegger, called On the Line. And I liked the Italian version, as it reminded me of the very funny and philosophical short films of that title. In them a character, uttering some inaudible speech, is drawn by a hand, and then lives in his drawn little word, which consists basically of a line. When the plot extinguishes the line, the world and its main character, disappear.

To us this was a metaphor for the way in which language constructs the world we live in. It makes you laugh to realize that you always live in the confines of language, it makes you perhaps a little sad, but it can also make you experience profound bliss, as it is a kind of mystical insight that a world exists, is being under creation, continuously, and you take part in it… The line also symbolized the law, the inhibitions that social life put on human beings. When thought of as the line on which we had learned to write as children, it stood for the open space that made the creation of a world of language possible in the first place. Inducing the words to forms chains that make meaning possible. It symbolized how we all wanted to walk the line between all kinds of fixed positions, to remain forever vigilant and critical. And it reminded of the possibility, always there, to cross the line, to disrupt the existing order, or order as such, and create anarchy.

The magazine was a relative succes. It has been published for at least ten years. Ever new students took up editorship, and quite some then unknown, and some then known, philosophers have written in it. At some time it took on a subtitle – ‘magazine for continental philosophy’ – which I regretted, for that confined the creative open space that ‘the line’ was.

Our little group, one by one, dissolved. We lived different lives. Some stayed on in academia, others took up work in other fields. The center of our group, however, Nicholas, who with his sharp mind, unexpected viewpoints, and witty comments had decisively conducted our creative energies into a collective expression, never finished his studies, lost his orientation, and in the end succumbed to – how can I name it? – to life? His personality attracted energies, and not only creative, but also destructive energies. I was no part of that part of his life, but that is how it seemed from a distance, and I had seen it also when I knew him.

After I learned that he had died, a few years ago, alone, in a country far away, some of us found each other again. To meet anew, after decades. The conversations we had were, miraculously, immediately just as passionate, aware, and critical as they used to be, and now filled with the wisdom of having lived through many things. A kind of conversation I had not had in the meantime – no, not really. We were a very special group, with a high creative energy. Five and more, connected by an awe for life, learning, and questioning everything in a loving manner.

It is clear that this post is meant as a memorial for our lost friend, Nicholas Pearson. I had wanted to write something for him for some time, but could not before I had met again with those two founders of La Linea most close to me.

It is also meant to celebrate what we shared.

The picture above is from our very first official issue, on ‘Aesthetic Experience’. The picture below is of the very rare three pre-issues, with our own papers in them.


  1. onesis said:

    A beautiful, moving tribute to your friend, Angela. And I am about to quote some of what you have written here (and repost the link to your blog) on a different group.

  2. Farai said:

    Deep and profound, its own kind of memorial to Nick. I love it actually.

  3. haraldweidmann said:

    Thanks Angela for bringing back to life those magical years when we all thought that youth was never ending. Nicholas has opened the question of philosophy for me when I was 18. I will try to keep it open for the rest of my life. And I am proud to say that he was one day my friend.

    The confrontation with our youth through your remembrance is an aesthetic experience in itself in which we can recapture the offset of our own destiny. I thank you for that also. Hope to see you soon.

    • Thanks for your comment, Harald. I wrote the piece also for you!

  4. These words were sent to me, to be posted here:

    “I am the father of Nicholas Pearson, the person mentioned in the blog. Your kind words and comments high-lighted aspects of Nicholas’s personality that neither I nor his mother had realised. Nicholas was a very private person and certainly did not share his inner thoughts and desires with his parents. It is good to hear after some many years that he had got involved in a worth while endeavor and, surprisingly, that good use was made of the computers in the house to produce the early copy of the journal. Of course Nicholas never mentioned that! I will pass these words onto Nicholas’s mother, whom I’m sure will be just as surprised and gratified as I was to receive this information.”

    Thanks for sharing this, Peter.

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