When I first met Adam Mills I thought he was the most infuriating man in the entire world. Once I got to know him I realised he was only the 4th or 5th most infuriating man in the entire world. He was also one of my favourite people, a dear and cherished friend, a sweet, funny and extremely kind man, a good man, a brilliant thinker, and one of the biggest intellectual influences on my life, and now he's dead and I miss him so much.
Yesterday was his funeral. Andy Piasecki was a colleague of Adam's at Royal Holloway in the 1980s and had left in 1989, a year before I arrived to begin my PhD. Andy gave a lovely eulogy, talking about his train journeys to and from college, recalling how Adam used their 40 minutes of proximity to mount an interrogation (the word is exactly right) about a range of topics: the value of cultural studies, the point of studying theatre, the values of higher education. I realised during the speech that after Andy had left, I was his replacement. Throughout the 1990s, we must have shared close to a thousand train journeys on which he would interrogate me about the value of cultural studies, the point of studying theatre, the values of higher education.
As I say, initially I found this infuriating. I'd only recently graduated and my head was full of the new ideas which were going to provide the foundation of my thesis: post-structuralism, critical theory, cultural studies. Adam was none too impressed with this and had, instead, been reading mainstream philosophy of the kind taught in British philosophy departments. This Anglo-American tradition was less excited by the rhetorical force of a Baudrillard, the labyrinthine paradoxes of a Derrida, or the delicate ambiguities of a Barthes. It's still only rarely sighted in British theatre studies. In those conversations, Adam would quiz me about these ideas, make me defend these positions, argue forcefully against them, point out equivocations, false steps in the arguments. This drove me mad, used as I was to being pretty much the only person who had read this stuff and had even halfway understood it; I was used to it making me feel like the smartest guy in the room. And then Adam came along and made me realise how little I understood what I thought I thought.
And at first I just understood this as hostility. Why is this man having a go at me all the time? And it was unremitting. As the train would pull in to Waterloo, I'd assume the conversation was over. Sometimes I'd breathe a sigh of relief. But then next time I'd see him, he'd pick up exactly where we left off and it would all start again. But, slowly, I realised that it wasn't hostility at all. It was a serious compliment. He genuinely wanted to know what I thought. Most of all, he just loved the argument, the ideas. Debate and argument mattered to him. He thought deeply and cared deeply about thoughts. I say he'd pick up exactly where we left off, but that's not quite true: if I'd said something that conflicted with his beliefs, or had given him pause for thought, he would chew on it, think about it, go over it in his mind. He couldn't wait to continue the discussion. Related to this, he had the smallest small talk I know. Sometimes I'd get a call from Adam which would go something like this:
(Phone rings. I answer)
ADAM: I think you're wrong about Arthur Danto.
ME: Hi Adam.
He was a dog with a bone and it was brilliant.
Because it was a key part of my intellectual training. On the theory course I would lecture in in the mid-nineties, Adam often gave an early talk on the Kantian aesthetics. He'd set a piece by Roger Scruton, which got my hackles up (a Tory? on my reading list?) and I read it one week and made a series of objections to it on our way to College, but they were random, ill-thought-out, trivial, in a sense. I was picking on phrases, not the ideas. The next week I read it again, carefully, for the moves of the argument. I worked hard at it and I had some new objections. These were rather more serious, sharper, difficult to counter. Adam couldn't have looked more pleased. I think that week, intellectually, I grew up.
Adam was a kind of Marxist, I guess, though he liked the debate so much, he'd have hated to settle on a position (where's the counter-argument? he'd want to know). Typically, he had little time for the Western Marxist tradition; instead he introduced me to G. A. Cohen's rather brilliant analytic reconstruction of Marx's ideas, Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (1978, 2000), still the most careful and lucid account I've read. He lectured on Kant and Marx. Initially, I resisted both of these traditions in the name of Derrida and Foucault. By the time of my book Theatre & Globalisation (2009), Kant and Marx were my guiding lights and I acknowledged Adam's formative role in its thinking. I still see more in the post-structuralist tradition than Adam ever did (though I did get him to acknowledge the power of Derrida's brilliant deconstruction of John Searle, 'Limited Inc a b c...'), but I've drifted somewhat analytic-philosophywards. I do look for the arguments rather than the phraseology (and no accusations of logocentrism will stop me). I came to love the debate too.
Adam and academia grew apart and in the early 2000s he left to raise his three children. We stayed in touch; I babysat a few times; I'm (a very negligent) godfather to their youngest son; he and Gina were at my wedding; Adam and I would meet every few months for a pizza near his Islington home. He'd quiz me about developments in higher education; he'd explain some philosophical idea he'd been grappling with; he'd talk about his children. It was wonderful. The last time we met, earlier this year, he was worrying away at Kendall Walton's notion that when we see a photograph of something, we have genuinely seen it. We had a fascinating conversation about it over our La Reines.
Adam was only 63. That's no age. I was expecting another twenty, thirty years of this.
Yesterday's ceremony was at the Epping Forest Burial Ground. Adam was an atheist and it was a fully humanist service: friends and family listening to readings, memories, and music. More than any funeral I've been to, it brought his presence, his personality right into the room. There was laughter, there were memories; and when Gina chose Bob Dylan's 'Wedding Song', one of their first memories together, I was overcome with love and loss and sadness. Afterwards, his body was lowered into the ground and he rejoined the earth. He wanted to be buried beneath a tree, to help it grow, as so many other things - friendships, children, ideas, love - he helped grow.
The building in which the ceremony took place was round, wooden, with big glass walls, looking out onto the forest.
We were invited to remember Adam as we listened to Elgar's Cello Concerto, played by Jacqueline du Pré.
It is autumn and as the music swells, a gust of wind shakes the trees. I think of Adam on this last day as a cello surges and, outside, red and golden leaves tumble in the air towards the ground.
Goodbye and thank you, my dear friend.