Speaking with Joy
Speaking with Joy
Joy Marie Clarkson ☀️
Things that I, Joy Clarkson, am thinking about. joyclarkson.substack.com
The Artist’s Way, an Introduction
Joy and Elena talk about morning pages, artist dates, and why they're doing the Artist's Way. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 21, 2023
33 min
The Marriage Question with Clare Carlisle
On the 20th of July, 1854 Marian Evans set sail with George Lewes, a man who was not her husband and who was, indeed, a married man with three children. She understood this trip to be her honeymoon, and after it, with growing confidence, she began to call her self “Mrs. Lewes.” Their relationship scandalised the Victorian social circles in which they moved, resulting in their social isolation for many years. They were considered to be adulterers, radicals supporting an amoral free love philosophy. But to Marian, it was a true marriage, a profound oneness which did not contract but expand the borders of her experience and intellect. A double life, not in the sense of a secret life, hidden life but of an enlargement of life. It would form the fertile ground from which some of the most tender, profound, and philosophical works of English literature would spring. That Marian Evans, or as we know her George Eliot, became “Mrs Lewes” was central to the inspiration for books now much beloved in English literature: Silas Marner, Daniel Deronda, and perhaps her best know Middlemarch. Though their marriage may have seemed scandalous and impulsive to this around them, for Eliot it was a consciously chosen, morally considered choice, one which she explained in letters to friends in tones alternatively persuasive and pleading. The story was more complicated than it looked on the outside; George Lewes’ wife Agnes was having an ongoing affair with Thornton Hunt, which produced four illegitimate children, but for various legal and financial reasons Lewes could not divorce her. Because of this Eliot considered Lewes free, and lacking the ability to pursue a legal marriage lived in a spiritual one. Their partnership was incredibly fruitful, Lewes coming alongside her as something like an agent and a manager, encouraging her to publish and taking care of the business that entailed. The ambiguity of relationship to the public world Eliot to consider the true nature of marriage— was it a legal arrangement? A religious institution? A spiritual bond? Far from flippancy, she held marriage in high regard. ‘About marriages one can only rejoice with trembling’ wrote Eliot to one of her friends. A philosopher to be reckoned with (having translated Strauss, Feuerbach, and Spinoza), many of Eliot’s novels explore marriage not merely as a sociological phenomenon or a religious institution but as an object of philosophical inquiry. It is the theme of marriage as a philosophical question which Clare Carlisle picks up in her new book The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life. She writes:“There is something dazzling about marriage — that leap into the open-endedness of another human being. It is difficult to look directly at it, difficult to think that thought. A philosopher usually swoops on such things like a magpie: Look! a shifting, shimmering question, all indeterminacy and iridescence. Don’t you just want to snatch it up, take it home, and sit on it for a long time?” (Clare Carlisle, The Marriage Questions).I was delighted to get to speak with Clare about her book, George Eliot, and the marriage question as it presents itself in our contemporary world. It is an interesting question to consider in a time when marriage rates are near the lowest they have ever been in the western world. In this world, we might ask whether the marriage question is one which needs to be asked, or one which most people are simply avoiding. I loved Clare’s framing of the marriage question as a philosophical one, and one which we will all ask ourselves at one point or another, even if we never get married. Even if we chose not to marry, or (like Eliot in her younger years) feel that marriage will never offer itself to us as a real possibility, our lives are profoundly shaped by the marriages of our parents, our friends. We will all ask ourselves the marriage question at one point or another.We talked about all this and more in the podcast attached to this email (which you can also find on iTunes, though Spotify is giving me grief these days). I do hope you’ll enjoy the conversation I had with Clare, and that you will pick up a copy of her new book. The book and our conversation gave me much to consider and much to enjoy. I hope both will do the same for you.Wishing you a lovely week,JoyClare Carlisle is Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London, and the author of Spinoza’s Religion, On Habit, and Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard. Clare is also the editor of Spinoza’s Ethics, translated by George Eliot. She grew up in Manchester, studied philosophy and theology at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and now lives in London.p.s. I saw this misidentified George Eliot portrait in a window a few weeks ago, which gave me a chuckle. Apparently all female authors are one in the same…The shop owner seems to have eventually figured it out… Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
May 9, 2023
48 min
Finding God in Hollywood with Nathan Clarkson
Dear Friends,Good morning and happy Saturday! Today I have a little treat for you: a conversation I recorded with my brother Nathan Clarkson about his recently released book Finding God in Hollywood: Discovering the Divine in Films, Movie Stars, and Stories. Myself, Nathan, and Joel have all spent significant periods of our lives in Los Angeles. Ask any of us and you’d hear something similar: it can be an arid place, a dry and spiritually challenging landscape. In many Christian circles there’s an idea that Hollywood is “godless”, a place of egos and propaganda and materialism. And there is much of that. But, as Nathan argues in his book, the act of story telling, of weaving together patterns and imagery in an effort to find some semblance of meaning is something close to the heart of the search for God. So, Nathan tells stories of finding God in Hollywood in unexpected places.The Bible itself is primarily narrative— yes, there are laws, pastoral exhortations, and theological ideas expounded, but the great majority of it is a story. Adam and Even in the garden, Abraham searching for a home, Joseph and his jealous brothers, the miraculous Exodus overshadowed by bloody signs and wonders. Human beings are drawn to narrative, we feed on myths (religious and national) to make sense of our identity, our place in the world, our hunger for meaning. This is all profound, but also quotidian. When we meet a new person and get past the hello’s and where do you work, one of the subjects we tend to stray into is stories: what books do you like? What movies? What TV are you watching?In America, some Christians have tried to capitalise on this by creating “Christian Films” which, if you’re a snob like me, tend to be pretty uncomplying unless you are already a part of the in crowd that they’re made for. What I am about to say may seem harsh; I am glad for every good effect a film might have, and I do believe there are some good “Christian Films” (The Chosen, for instance seems to be universally loved amongst both my Christian and non Christian friends). But many of these films amount to nothing more than propaganda; they are good because they underscore an idea of conviction already held with emotional manipulation. And in this way, they tend not to be very good films. They are not created to be beautiful or interesting, but to convince and evoke emotion.This is one of the secondary ideas Nathan and I talked about: trusting that there is something worth while in creating an excellent work of art, whose aim is beauty, artistry, and craft, not merely communicating a message. This is something Nathan is passionate about is trying to do in his own artistry. For instance in this film he wrote and produced and released earlier this year:Our conversation is a little tidbit, not long, but I hope you enjoy it on this fine Saturday morning. And I’d love to know what movies you think are excellent works of art that help you find God, and dwell on what is meaning and spiritual. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Mar 25, 2023
10 min
Low Anthropology with David Zahl (podcast)
Last summer, I found my poem for the year. I read it to whoever would listen. Eventually I recited it to whoever would listen, because I’d read it so many times that it had become a part of the wallpaper of my mind. People tended to have one of two response: they either laughed and ask for the name of the poem, or looked at me with a mild concern in their eyes and ask something like “are you ok?”Here’s the poem:Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,inimitable contriver,endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,thank you for such as it is my gift.I have made up a morning prayer to youcontaining with precision everything that most matters.‘According to Thy will’ the thing begins.It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.You have come to my rescue again & againin my impassable, sometimes despairing years.You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselvesand I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:how can I ‘love’ you?I only as far as gratitude & aweconfidently & absolutely go.I have no idea whether we live again.It doesn’t seem likelyfrom either the scientific or the philosophical point of viewbut certainly all things are possible to you,and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter & to Paulas I believe I sit in this blue chair.Only that may have been a special caseto establish their initiatory faith.Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.May I stand until death forever at attentionfor any your least instruction or enlightenment.I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.(John Berryman, “Eleven Addresses to the Lord”)The line that often seems to get people (the line that got me) is this one: “You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves / and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.” It had a Rorschach quality to it. Some laughed and nodded along, knowing the feeling. Some winced at the idea of being “severely damaged.” Such a confession shouldn’t be foreign to Christians. The Book of Common Prayer invites us to confess: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.”I think we are uneasy about thinking of ourselves as a offenders, damaged, needy. Isn’t it sort of… psychologically unhealthy? a hangover from a harsher, less enlightened past? Doesn’t it make us seem rather harsh? In my experience, it is quite the opposite. If we know ourselves to be a fumbling and failing and faltering people, scarred by the wear and tear of ordinary dysfunction and original sin, then our faults, while still faults, can be regarded as the unfortunate outcome of a fallen world and a fallen nature. But if we think that really, we can be perfectly good and choose not to… well, then, we really are monsters. This the idea that David Zahl explores in his new book Low Anthropology: the Unlikely Key to a Gracious View of Others (and Yourself) (2022). I’ve listened to Dave’s podcast (with his friends Sarah Condon and RJ Heijman) for the last year or so, and always find it very wholesome and encouraging and interesting. After hearing them talk about it on the podcast, I picked up a copy of Dave’s book and enjoyed what I read; a humorous, humane volume, about what we can (and can’t) expect of human beings, and how, actually, having a lower expectation of our the human capacity to be good helps us have compassion, grow, and live more honestly. His book also has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while:On this week’s podcast episode, I chat with Dave about his book, and about how adopting a low anthropology might help us regard ourselves and our neighbours with a little more mercy, patience, and gentleness. But it also reminds us that we need God. And with this need there is great hope, excitement even. A possibility beyond ourselves, a fulness we could never fill. That is a good place to start. May I stand until death forever at attentionfor any your least instruction or enlightenment.I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Jan 11, 2023
1 hr 2 min
Preparing For Christmas...
Dear Friends,Merry Advent! I can’t believe how quickly the days are passing us by— Christmas approaching with alarming speed. I’ve been traveling this month, and there has been something beautiful about seeing cheer spread from city to city. Now that I’m back, I’m rejoicing preparing for Christmas—picking presents for each sibling, niece, nephew, beloved. I think so much of love is preparation. It makes me think of this poem that I love:Those Winter Sundaysby Robert HaydenSundays too my father got up earlyand put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,then with cracked hands that achedfrom labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the coldand polished my good shoes as well.What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?In this week’s podcast, I reflect on preparation for Christmas, and hope to help yours come along smoothly with a few gift ideas for the little and large bookish people in your life. I hope you’ll listen along and enjoy the links below:A Book, Too, Can Be a Star by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Jennifer AdamsBuy A Book, Too, Can Be a StarWhen Madeleine L'Engle was very small, she often found herself awake at night, marveling at the stars. They guided her throughout her life, making her feel part of a big and exciting world, even when she felt alone. They made her want to ask big questions―Why are we here? What is my place in the universe?―and let her imagination take flight. Books, too, were like stars―asking questions and proposing answers. Books kept Madeleine company, and soon, she began to write and share her own. But would other people see the wonder she found in the world? Written by Madeleine's granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis and bestselling picture-book author Jennifer Adams, A Book, Too, Can Be a Star follows the life of one of the world's greatest creators―and gives children encouragement to lead a creative, inquisitive life.Sister Seraphina Mysteries by Haley StewartBuy The Curious Christmas TrailIt’s Christmas Eve, and under the floorboards of G. K. Chesterton’s home, curious clues lie hidden… Sister Seraphina and the other Sisters of Our Lady Star of the Sea are busy with preparations for the Christmas play and long-awaited feast. That’s enough to be getting on with! But where is Sister Dymphna? The elderly nun is nowhere to be found in Saint Wulfhilda’s Abbey. Outside it’s growing dark, and the snow is falling. The brave search party will need all their wits to avoid danger and follow the trail—wherever it leads!The Clubhouse by Nathan and Joy (me!) ClarksonBuy The ClubhouseWhen you were young, what did you dream of doing? Riding high atop a dragon? Hurtling through space on a rocket ship? Unearthing an island treasure? Sailing on a shimmering sea? In our book, we invite you and your kids to hang out in the clubhouse, a place of boundless creativity where the only limit is your own imagination. Follow along with a boy and girl (based on us) who turn their play structure into an airplane, a submarine, a cave, a castle, and so much more! Dedicated to the simple, oft-forgotten pleasures of imaginative play will awake wonder in your children and inspire them to dream up their own big adventures!The music for this week is taking from my brother Joel’s album Midwinter Carols— I highly suggest putting it on as a soundtrack to your Christmas preparations! A gift recommendation for the grown up book lovers in your life…Poster Prose by Madeline Larson KalembachShop Poster Prose!"Poster Prose exists to commemorate literature through the medium of visual art. The artist, Madeline’s, love for literature can be seen in every print. After encountering an inspiring work, Madeline creates an image depicting the book’s central themes. Created by a reader for readers, these pieces offer unique reminders of the worlds and characters created by some of our favorite authors in the books we love."And I must put a little plug in for my own book: consider buying a copy or three of my book Aggressively Happy for the friends in your life! I like to think that in the bleak midwinter (which is, actually, the time of the year I wrote the book) this book might bring a bit of cheer and strength to us all. Buy Aggressively HappyAll for now, friends! I wish you a beautiful advent.Prepare well.With love,Joy Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Dec 13, 2022
1 hr 1 min
Klara and the Sun, Part Four
Joy discusses Part Four of Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro with Michael Burdett and King-Ho Leung.  Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Aug 22, 2022
1 hr 10 min
Klara and the Sun, Part Three
Joy discusses Part Three of Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro with James Smoker. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Aug 8, 2022
1 hr 13 min
Klara and the Sun, Part Two
Joy discusses Part Two of Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro with Doctors Sarah and Jeremiah Coogan. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Jul 25, 2022
50 min
Klara and the Sun, Part One
Joy announces the book for her summer reading club (Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro), and discusses the first chapter. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Jul 11, 2022
27 min
Beauty and Her Sisters, with Ben Quash
Joy speaks with Professor Ben Quash about the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, theological aesthetics, and the Visual Commentary on Scripture. Get full access to Joy Clarkson at joyclarkson.substack.com/subscribe
Apr 19, 2022
51 min
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