Deep Cuts from a Companion to Oakeshott

This is the first in series of extracts that caught my eye while rereading the Companion. The following is from Bob Grant’s chapter The Pursuit of Intimacy, or Rationalism in Love:

But Michael was the least materialist, or materialistic, of men. He always believed in the “otherworld” and also that, like Kant’s realm of freedom, it was at once cotemporal, perhaps even cospatial, with the physical world, yet still, like a the pursuit of intimacy parallel universe, totally distinct. There is something of this in Saint Augustine, who Michael told me was his intellectual hero (“my great man”) and also in the seventeenth-century mystic Traherne, whom Michael cites in “The Voice of Poetry” (RP, 523). The point (as I took it) was that “salvation,” if only we can attune ourselves to it, is accessible here and now, rather than a future reward or a quid pro quo for anything. You might say that is good news for sinners.

But, “to be in love,” Michael writes, “is heaven itself—to be loved is hell, or at least insufferable boredom” (PD, 1932). I do not wish to moralize, but there does seem to be something unpleasant here, as there also is about his repeated Nietzschean fulminations against gratitude, because it recognizes an obligation to something other than oneself, and obligations constrain one’s “freedom.”

Much that I have said will have shocked you, painfully, if you knew and loved Michael but suspected none of it, or from surprise, if you knew only his work. The tensions, contradictions, bizarreries, and irrationalities of his personal life are scarcely reflected at all in his work’s characteristically polished, Apollonian surface. But his romantic-erotic-libertin-Dionysiac side (hereafter, if inadequately, “Dionysiac” for short) is now wide open to view, undeniable and disturbing, and a biographer cannot ignore it, especially when Michael himself explicitly stresses its centrality to his life and purposes.