I still remember the best lecture I ever attended. It was part of a joint series offered by the English and philosophy departments in my first term at university and, given that the subject was Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, should have been the dullest event in Christendom that night. But it wasn’t. The lecturer, Thomas Baldwin, had a deceptively simple style: he would write a proposition on the blackboard facing us and gaze at it for a moment, like a medium beckoning a spirit. Then he would turn and smile, and start to explain.
Baldwin paced the room – but slowly. On occasion he would stop altogether, appearing lost, a moment in which all the world’s logic seemed at stake, before somehow refinding his path to a second thrilling proposition. At one point he stood with his forehead in his hand for so long we almost called for a medic. He was so engaged, so present, that you could almost feel the motion of his mind – and through his, your own. I doubt if fewer words have ever been spoken in the course of an hour-long disquisition, and yet we all tripped to the bar buzzing with excitement afterwards. To this day, if I’m feeling blue I think back to Baldwin’s explication of the logical transition from anguish to nausea, and invariably I feel better.