Dialogue, Curiosity & Wonder, a special conversation with John Vervaeke & Jonathan Pageau
Two-part conversation on symbolism, religion, the nature of good criticism & more
I recently travelled to Toronto to begin making the long awaited, and long delayed (by Covid) documentary about John Vervaeke's work. It has been clear to me for some time that there needs to be an answer to the question, “what do you send someone to introduce them to John's work?”, that isn't fifty hours of his Awakening From the Meaning Crisis series.
We put out a call on the channel a while ago for help with the project and we got a wonderful and talented array of designers, producers, editors and storytellers, all fans of John's work, offering to help.
One of those was the main cameraman for our filming in Toronto, Chris Altorf, a former student of John's. He turned up laden with quality filming kit and the rest of his production company. His brother Casey shot these great behind the scenes photos of the filming (below).
The icon carver and symbolism expert Jonathan Pageau made the seven hour drive over from Montreal to record a special conversation with John and I, which we're now releasing.
This conversation was a real high point of the trip, starting with John and Jonathan reflecting on the nature of their friendship and what each finds valuable in each other's work, talking about the nature of good and bad criticism, and a reflection on the contours of the evolving conversation that both are part of.
The dialogue also fuels a sense that this conversation is turning back to the potential synthesis of scientific and religious thought.
We are releasing this as a two part film, part one is available for all on the main YouTube channel and podcast and the second part is available for paying subscribers on our Substack. In the second conversation John and Jonathan reflect on the recent ‘War on Reality’ piece with Paul Kingsnorth and Mary Harrington and ask whether we have replaced virtue with value. They also take a turn into the question of the occult, where Jonathan and John talk about whether concepts such as ‘demons’ can be explained as independently existing patterns of reality.
In planning the documentary I've been thinking a lot about why John's work is so important, and it's partly that he manages to find a scientific and academic language to explain and interrogate religion and spiritual practice in a way that doesn't reduce it or “explain it away”. In this way he's a kind of liminal figure in bringing different worlds in the same way as Iain McGilchrist's work. Both are able to present a “mainstream-credible” synthesis perspective.
He has also formulated a philosophical framework for embodiment practitioners, those doing bodywork, or movement, or other practices, to understand what they are doing, and to be able to explain and expand their work. Future filming on the project will be with a keen student of John's, the Parkour and movement teacher Rafe Kelley.
And it also seems to me that the conversation that we've been tracking on Rebel Wisdom since 2018 is moving in the direction of John's work. His thought always points back to the arena of action, embodiment and the need for practice, and shows up the limitation of a purely intellectual (in his language “propositional”) understanding of the world.
The filming with John will be complete by the end of July, with the release planned for September.