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Jonathan Price, 'A Few Words in Memory of Professor Grahame Lock'

Jonathan Price is PhD Fellow and Lecturer in legal philosophy at Leiden University's Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Law. He is also Tutor in philosophy and jurisprudence for Blackfriars, University of Oxford. He is editor of Politics & Poetics: a journal of humane philosophy, and editor of The Clarion Review.

A few words in honour of Professor Grahame Lock

Jonathan Price

[A slightly different version of what follows was first published on 29 July 2014 on Leiden University’s website]

A few days ago I received word that Professor Grahame Lock had passed away suddenly, and quite unexpectedly. The only consolation for his family, friends and colleagues was in learning that he was at home in Oxford, surrounded by his family.

Grahame was my colleague both in Leiden and Oxford, and it was in the latter place earlier as a student that I became acquainted with and eventually befriended him. Over the years Grahame became for me a sort of geographical point somewhere between Magdalen Bridge and Blackwell's. Wherever I was in the city, I would see him scurrying about – he never ran, but was always swift – on his way to one of the many things he managed to manage. He found the time to attend even the most mundane of events that were of interest to his friends. Since his intelligence only competed with his kindness for pre-eminence, he was always a welcome presence, a fixture even, in those settings.

Grahame taught me much in conversation, not chiefly about political theory (although, I have learned more sound political theory from his writing than from almost any other contemporary thinker), but about the politics of ordinary life and the personal quirks, rivalries, fondnesses, affections and affectations that one must navigate in order to get almost anything worth doing done. Eventually, he and I were attempting to sew back together an exchange and cooperation between Leiden and Oxford that he had started a decade earlier. There were many obstacles to overcome, mostly personal. With his advice and guidance, the resurrected and reorganized Leiden Oxford Programme recently saw its first fruit in three Leiden graduate students in legal philosophy writing their theses under the supervision of Oxford dons. It could not have been done without his tireless effort. And its continuation shall serve as a memorial to him.

Although very English in manners and mores, Grahame was nevertheless wise to the world. He was the only person I ever met who had learned Dutch as an adult to the point of near fluency. I have been told he did the same with French, and was conversant or literate in a number of other European languages. Eventually he became a fellow of Queens College, Oxford; yet even as a stranger in a strange land, he applied the same gentle and seemingly effortless excellence to his relations in Nijmegen and Leiden, so that both institutions received him into the professorship. His career is much more varied and rich than I can here represent; and my intention is not to account substantially for his professional or personal life. Needless to say, someone with longer acquaintance with Grahame, also as an academic philosopher, should detail his life, thought, and work as a scholar. For, it would certainly make manifest the varied and subtle thinker that he was – someone very difficult to pin down, but whose ideas one finds oneself returning to again and again.

Although some of latter part of his career was spent in England, his appearances in the halls of Leiden were frequent enough that it seemed to me as if he never really departed. The first time I met him was, in fact, in Leiden during the public lectures he gave in the mid-2000s. Those were very well and eagerly attended by students and those with a general interest in philosophy. I later learned from him, to my surprise, that he did not like to prepare too much for public lectures – for example, by writing them out to be read. His preparatory work would not extend beyond mastering the text and thought upon which he was speaking (not that either of those are swift or easy tasks!). On one occasion we happened to see one another on the street in front of Blackwell’s Music store. I had recently delivered my first lectures in Oxford, during which I felt somewhat tied to my script. I was looking for permission to be a bit more rhapsodic from time to time; I was looking to him for advice.

He was then on his way to give lectures on Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, and said that by writing it all out one risks losing the finesse that unrehearsed philosophizing by good philosophers is able to have. Kant is said also to have philosophized whilst lecturing. I imagined in the image he was communicating to me an adroit jazz musician comfortably riffing a solo that he has never before practiced, but that is perfectly in tune with the harmonies and rhythms that are backing him. It takes a great amount of aptitude, skill and preparation to be capable of that, and not all of us will ever reach the heights at which Grahame comfortably played. That his taste was for music other than jazz is known to his friends, and so I hope he would not mind the comparison.

With such differences in talent and age between us, it would be hard not to assume that friendship would prove impossible. Grahame cut through all of that by deflecting attention away from himself and onto ideas, illustrative anecdotes, and humorous studies of character. I still hear his pleasant and astringent voice telling a captive table at the Lamb and Flag a story about a fellow of such and such college’s dalliances in Marxism and reticent women in the early 1980s (both of which failed to pan out). Grahame managed to gossip so well without ever seeming judgmental – quite a skill and, I suspect, built on the virtue of charity. By ‘gossip’, I do not mean spreading untruths for personal gain. It was rather the opposite: he was unabashed about sharing truths which illustrated positively or negatively how one should live. These were always dosed with good measures of wit or irony that made the medicine go down more easily.

When earlier this year the Dean of the Leiden Law School, Professor Rick Lawson, visited Oxford on behalf of the Leiden Oxford Programme, Grahame gave us a tour of Queens College, where he was a Fellow. The presence of so many chapels and churches as part of university was a rare sight for a Dutch professor. We got to talking about the uses and relation of the chapels to the colleges, and that of Christianity to the university. At some point the question came up concerning Grahame’s relation to it all. I understood his answer to be that he attended services regularly and ‘basically believed it’. He was a philosopher, and so one would have to parse the words carefully to understand exactly what he meant. If his faith did indeed lay in the beliefs of the Christian church, then the Anglican idiom may have given him ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’. Recalling his spiritedness and creative enterprise also inspires one to have hope that anything truly good cannot remain lost forever.


For other pieces in memory of Grahame Lock please go here.

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