Monthly Archives: November 2007

pulvis et umbra sumus

[Edit] Obituary: Peter Lipton (9 October 1954 – 25 November 2007)

the time between my first starting to think about historical causation and my being asked to teach a class on it is almost entirely nourished by my interaction with Professor Peter Lipton — who died, abruptly, last night. this whole day I have felt my existence scraped out thinly, like too little butter over too much bread; every now and then, without warning, I’ll be struck with a vertiginous incredulity … oh, this arbitrary, mortal world of ours, pale, fragile — and at times like these, so terrifyingly senseless. I make tea and stop in the act of lifting it to my mouth: it’s all nothing! nothing at all. an orange peel on the pavement is as laughable, ridiculous, as the notion of Peter Lipton — those blue, clear eyes focused at some distant point beyond the upturned faces of his eager students — a corpse. I stare at one with the same incredulity as I think about the other. my tea grows cold, and I don’t notice so much

He did this thing I only half-jokingly coined a verb for — to Lipton, I have told people, is to listen to the most garbled, incoherent, muddle-headed drivel that periodically emits from a student or otherwise member of an audience, and to restate it back at them in the most crystal clear terms, so that whatever point hidden in its murky depths is rescued & borne out of the swamps of obfuscation to receive enlightenment from high … seriously. Liptoning also involves clarifying complexity with enviable panache, but always without an iota of hubris — always that incredible modesty and respect for what one does not know — in short, to be an ideal teacher and thinker. What a gift! and how it suffers so, diluted in this stuttering eulogy, a murky swamp of words within which is buried the most heartfelt admiration for a great man and his work.

next month, next week, tomorrow, life continues blithely. it’s all too much, all this death and mortality — all this grief and, inexplicably, pancakes afterward

what a way to return after a long period of quiet. I am sorry.

[Edit]  From

Q: If every life results in death, then what is the meaning of life?
A: Peter Lipton: The meaning of life comes from what you do in your life: your activities and achievements. These are real even though you die, and would be no more real if you lived forever (though, admittedly, you would have time for a lot more of them).