Thursday 24 October 2019

Introducing John Moriarty: In His Own Words – an accessible entry point to the work of writer and philosopher

Philosophy Introducing John Moriarty: In His Own Words Edited by Michael W Higgins Liliput Press, paperback, 120 pages, €12

On the margins: Moriarty's outsider status should be celebrated
On the margins: Moriarty's outsider status should be celebrated
Introducing John Moriarty: In His Own Words edited by Michael W Higgins

JP O'Malley

One calm evening in December 2017 I randomly found myself in Mhamid, southern Morocco, a village lying as a gateway into the Sahara. Just before sundown, I walked into the desert alone, where I witnessed a western sky darkening as the sun sank rapidly over a bare landscape of red rock and golden sand that seemed to stretch out to infinity. With the stars above me glistening like giant fireballs, I felt at one with the natural world and all of its primordial history.

This rather odd feeling can be described in many ways: a temporary dissolving of ego; spiritual healing; becoming fully conscious in the present moment, or, dare I say it, nirvana. I felt I had witnessed what Edmund Burke once called the sublime: a feeling we can almost touch, taste and smell, but which we cannot place within the narrow parameters of scientific reason.

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To borrow a phrase from the wandering bard and spiritual-earthly philosopher John Moriarty: "The geography of my mind is the geography of the world I walk in."

This is just one of the many wonderful aphorisms you'll find within the pages of Introducing John Moriarty: In his Own Words, a concise book which attempts to whittle down the north Kerry philosopher's ideals into a lucid format, easily accessible to a reader looking for an entry point into his work. Hats off to the editors here because this is not an easy task.

Moriarty's philosophical vision is a radical one. Like a foetus emerging from the womb, he urges us to feel and see the world with awe and wonder, rather than viewing it through the restrictive prism of knowledge and understanding. Why become prisoners of intellectual reasoning, the philosopher asks? After all, embracing the earth as one big eco-friendly walkable valley has much greater rewards in time.

Namely, the healing of each individual's soul. If western culture has been experiencing a spiritual crisis for quite some time, Moriarty believes it can be brought in from the cold clasp of empty materialism by its embracing of the natural world. His theories are hard to pinpoint with precise exactitude. Laced with paradoxes and contradictions, they champion the four gospels just as easily as they embrace Darwin's On the Origin of the Species.

Moriarty, who died in 2007, aged 69, was a cultural vagabond who wore his uncompromising eccentricity with pride. A kind of Celtic Rasputin, minus the public sexual promiscuous adventures and political enemies. Reading his work is to take a journey into the abyss where nothing is off limits. It's as if a mad priest has escaped from the seminary, discovered LSD, and spent his time in the interim wandering through the never-ending rain-sodden rugged landscape that is the West of Ireland- taking refuge now and then in talking to leaping salmon swimming in clear waterfalls, until he finally arrives at his theological epiphany: Connemara is the Garden of Eden.

But where to place this mystic theological thinker in the broader canvas of Irish culture?

The poet Paul Durcan once claimed that Moriarty's book Nostos is "to Irish literature what Thus Spoke Zarathustra is to German philosophy". There are similarities. That book's author, Friedrich Nietzsche, is quoted numerous times throughout this book. Both authors are obsessed by that potent symbol of western modernity: the image of Christ on the cross.

Where they part ways, however, is that Moriarty takes the resurrection myth as literal eternal truth, whereas Nietzsche just views the Christian story - powerful and all as it certainly is - in the long run as preventing humankind from reaching its true potential. My allegiance here lies to German existentialism. While I find a great deal of comfort and intellectual sustenance in Moriarty's views on both nature and western culture respectively, his New Age Celtic Christian values are a tad too messianic for my cultural and spiritual tastes.

Hitherto, Moriarty has existed on the periphery of Irish culture. I suspect it's where he will remain, probably indefinitely. But mass popularity shouldn't always be equated with success or originality. Thus Moriarty's outsider status shouldn't be mourned, but celebrated. As every deep thinker seeking a path towards enlightenment knows, the best spiritual gurus should be left out on the margins, away from the totalitarian conformity of the bourgeois bores - easily available to worship as cult heroes without fuss or fancy when you really need them.

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