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Every conversation – reflections from Michael Brady

Quarantine was established in 1998 by directors Richard Gregory and Renny O’Shea with designer Simon Banham. We make original theatre, performance and public events with and about the people who are in it. Whatever form it takes, our work begins and ends with the people in the room. Over the last 20 years, we've collaborated with a shifting constellation of artists, performers and people who've never done anything like this before. Our work seeks to create the circumstances for a conversation between strangers...

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Every conversation – reflections from Michael Brady

Posted: 2 May 2019

Quarantine’s philosopher-in-residence Michael Brady recently spent five days in our Tenancy house, inviting anyone who wanted to bring him their philosophical questions to discuss. Here he shares how the week went…

I have been having conversations with Quarantine founders Richard Gregory and Renny O’Shea for many years – close to 36 in Richard’s case. Some of these – perhaps more than you’d think – were philosophical; about the meaning, value, truth, shape, and purpose of life and work. So, it made sense that at some stage Quarantine would ask me to have conversations with others, as part of the ensemble’s work.

In April I spent five days in Quarantine’s Tenancy house in Salford doing this. There were 13 conversations, each lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Most of these were one-to-one. Some of the most enjoyable were when someone brought along a friend or partner – a reminder that philosophy often works best when it involves a community of souls, like-minded or not. Most of the people I spoke to had no formal philosophical education, but all 13 brought to the table topics of philosophical interest and importance.

We talked about: the medicalization of suffering; the decline of traditional values; the importance of changing your mind. We exchanged opinions about: responsibilities of artists; the role of emotion in decision-making; science and spirituality. I learnt about: food activism; philosophy in pubs; maturity; what’s important for identity. We made progress on: philosophy as therapy; the difference between pleasure and pain; what is enough.

The conversations were, in terms of structure and often content, very different from the kinds of conversations I have with philosophers as part of my professional life. That was one of the things that attracted me to the project, and it seems to me that Quarantine have done something entirely original in putting on this form of engagement. But the conversations in the Tenancy house shared the important features of philosophical discussions wherever they occur: they were difficult, stimulating, awkward, enjoyable, tiring, exasperating, inspiring. Every conversation was a reminder that philosophy is something that we all do, in our everyday thinking and reflection. I hope that Quarantine ask me to do this every year.

Michael Brady is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and Quarantine’s philosopher-in-residence.