And why not, at the eve of the new and coming year, ponder the old one – my annus horribilis! My best friends received their news that they were afflicted with some terrible disease. And I received that news in far away France. ‘Join the club’, is what I thought, being stricken myself.

So in la France Profonde – in beautiful church after beautiful church, in front of Madonna after Madonna who pleased me because of her countenance as well as her sculptural artistry – I burned candle after candle.

Not that I do believe in anything. I consider myself an honest atheist who would like to understand this world a little bit better – reading, doing research and thinking. So my burning of candles is a pagan rite.

It has been done for quite some time now, each time when a cherished one ran a risk or fell ill. Inside these great architectural structures – whether they be grand or small – I found that I could really concentrate my attention on my friends, as it were emptying the mind of all the rest. The burning of a candle seals the act.

Why not use the fashionable metaphor of ‘focus’. I hate the term, in this case however it is apt. In everyday life one also ‘thinks of’ loved ones, but fleetingly so. The thought stays ephemeral, mingling with all the other things that pass inside or actually in front one’s mind.

Man is a busy animal. It must be a real candle, no composite little ‘light’ in a glass cup, and I first must buy it by putting a coin in an old metal box in a wall with a little slit in it. Only then and inside such a refuge, while handling a candle, am I able to really concentrate on the one person I want to think of. Placing the candle on a steel pin and lighting its tip with a match, I wish her or him well. That person is then and there for a moment the only ‘thing’ present to me.

One might use the German word Erhaben, combined with the other German word Aufhebung. The simple act of handling the candle, raising it up right, then lengthening it by its flame, also lifts one’s  mind from terra firma. Becoming self-less, be there for the other.

Perhaps by now I should have become a catholic in the process. Especially this horrible year which in the end turned out to be an annus mirabilis – the happy year I wished everyone at the beginning. All my friends did indeed recover from the most terrible and dangerous afflictions! This after my burning of candles…

So it is said: Maria consolatrix afflictorum.

And I may go even further: The only one afflicted by some terrible disease for whom I did not burn a candle and who is still so afflicted is myself. So just burn that candle in the next year and be resurrected?

No – I remain a serious admirer of Popper’s philosophy of falsification. And I do not think that burning a candle for me would be of much help. I take it that my doctors know their job well enough and I accept their jurisdiction.

But burn candles I shall continue to do. Even for those who are not afflicted, but whom I simply wish well and who are so close to me that, now and then, I just like to concentrate my mind on them keenly.

A happy New Year to ye all!

Sierksma, 31.12.16


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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