Damian Veal, 1974–2018
05 Sep 2018
'Collapse volume 5: The Copernican Imperative', published by Urbanomic

It is with great sorrow that we learn of the death of Damian Veal, who had worked with Urbanomic co-editing several volumes of Collapse. In particular, Damian was the chief editor and driving force behind The Copernican Imperative, a collection into which he put a superhuman amount of energy, and of which he remained rightly proud.

Damian’s companionship during our assembly of those volumes, and the high seriousness and low humour we shared in the process, often on the verge of sleep-deprived delirium, is memorable; as is his attention to detail, and the way he gleefully grasped the opportunity to subject some of the most prominent figures in their respective disciplines to intense scrutiny in the interviews he conducted. (Readers remarked that they learnt at least as much from his questions, sometimes several pages long, as from the responses.)

Damian was a talented, independent thinker with an impressive grasp of philosophy and science both historically and in their most recent developments. His ongoing research into questions of naturalism and philosophy of mind continually expanded and shifted its boundaries. With the sensitivity innate to his character, he had a feel for both the historical depth of a philosophical problem, its current significance, and the breadth of its connections to other matters; he would always unhesitatingly open up another Pandora’s box of nuance and complexity where others would have opted to set it aside.

Chronically scrupulous in his studies, yet unduly hesitant about the potential contribution he could make to academia and public debate, Damian was intensely vigilant and conscientious in everything he did. Hence (despite the continual entreaties of friends and colleagues) the regrettably few publications that appeared in his name, among which we are proud to count The Copernican Imperative, but which also included a groundbreaking volume of Angelaki on ‘Continental Philosophy and the Sciences’—one of several areas where he sought to correct and complicate a dogmatic image of the divide between supposed ‘schools of thought’.

In his personal life, for many years Damian had kept up a brave and tenacious struggle against the most crippling depression. He was always lucid, calm, and reflective, never self-pitying, in his confrontation with the condition. Indeed, his sober, unromanticised view of it could be a tonic to others, as I can attest. At times, in conversation, always very circumspectly, he would address the relation between depression and the discipline of philosophy, the broadest questions of meaning, life and death, intellectual distance, mind and body, pessimism and nihilism. In these heartfelt, searching conversations I felt myself drawn as close as possible to the intersection of the intimate sufferings of a human life and the collective endeavour of rational thought, and hence (arguably—and he would have argued, no doubt) to the core of philosophy ‘itself’.

Although Damian never wavered in his belief in science’s ability to shed light on even the most obscure mysteries of the universe, he also took seriously the human spirit’s vulnerability to the ensuing disenchantment of the world. But then, with him, discussions of the most dismal prospects would often effectively transform disillusionment back into active questioning and excitement at the possibilities of thought—qualities that reflected what was (with due apologies for the ‘vitalism’, Damian) most alive in him; the spark which, unjustly, he had to defend at every turn against the ferocity of an encroaching darkness.

The other side of Damian’s critical vigilance and his unwillingness to ‘let go’ of his own writings was that, over the years, he ended up playing a largely unvaunted role behind the scenes at Urbanomic and elsewhere, sometimes in an editorial capacity, but more importantly as one of the most earnest, knowledgeable, and probing interlocutors one could hope for. A unique character, formidably intelligent and well-read, vehement and sometimes prickly in philosophical argument, occasionally cantankerous but invariably ready for a laugh, in person Damian was a gentle, considerate and generous man held in the highest esteem not only as someone to think and work with, but as a friend. In both respects, he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family in their loss.

Robin Mackay