Reading: Immanuel by Matthew Mcnaught

“It feels right to recount the history of Immanuel using ‘we’. But soon in the story, the pronoun starts to break up.”

Immanuel is about two churches: one in Winchester entangled to the other in Lagos. It’s the story of the traces left by those churches in Matthew Mcnaught’s life, and in the lives of his old friends.

While I was reading the book, NASA released the first set of images taken by the James Webb telescope, a set which included this image, entitled Deep Field: SMACS 0723. As they say, it is a long exposure of a patch of sky which is about the size of that covered by a grain of sand when held at arm’s length* from the eye. In it we ‘see the light from’ galaxies which are billions of light years away. That is, we see them in the same way we might see a cloud of dandelion seeds as captured by a smartphone camera, except, because of conceptual changes forced upon us by concrete experience of the world, the act of seeing changes in quality. We are seeing light paths, some of which have been bestowed curves due to the distortions of space around incredibly massive objects, other light paths whose time of origin was consistently 4.6 billion years ago. They bear a constant relation to us of appearing-4.6-billion-years-ago, because they are 4.6 billion light years away from us (though getting further). They remain in the sky, yet we know that many of them have long since dimmed, and maybe died – we are seeing their trace. These are facts of a quality that goes beyond our life. Time and space, tangled together in an Einstein knot, more fiendish than a Gordian knot, because although an emperor could cut the latter, the Einstein knot cannot be cut, even by an empire as powerful as that of the United States.

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