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6 March 2024

Sam Carr Q&A: “We die and are reborn many times”

The psychologist on Jung, Michael Jordan, and what Knight Rider tells us about life’s journey.

By New Statesman

Sam Carr was born in Cambridge in 1977. He is a psychologist and social scientist with the Department of Education and the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath.

What’s your earliest memory?

I am three years old. I’m standing in the kitchen and Dad is dressing for work. He’s putting on a T-shirt that he’d draped over the side of the bath overnight. He puts the T-shirt on, but something unnerves him, and he quickly removes it. As I’m staring at him, I see an enormous house spider crawling down his chest. It must have found its way into the T-shirt from the bath.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was Michael Jordan. To me, he was the god of the basketball court, and I worshipped him accordingly. As an adult, Carl Gustav Jung, because he looked deeper into what it means to be human, saw so many hidden layers of existence and articulated them for us.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Eden Project by the psychoanalyst James Hollis. It completely transformed my perspective on romantic love and human relationships.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Marcus Aurelius, a ruler who embodied the values of a “philosopher king”.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Arsenal FC or the literary works of David Foster Wallace.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

A time when human beings were much more connected to the Earth and the gods. 

What TV show could you not live without?

Friends. My son and I watch a different episode every night while we have dinner.

Who would paint your portrait?

It would have to be Carl Gustav Jung – again. While he was a psychoanalyst, he painted a lot too, and his paintings are loaded with psychic content. I’m not sure if he did portraits. But if he did, I have a sense they’d be incredibly revealing.

What’s your theme tune?

The theme tune to the show Knight Rider from the Eighties. I loved the show and had the wallpaper, duvet cover and pillow case. It symbolises a man’s lonely journey through life accompanied by a mystical companion that is often wiser than he is. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Death is not the only way to die.” The idea is that we experience a myriad of “deaths” as we journey through life – we die and are reborn many times. The longer I live the more I appreciate the truth in it.

What’s currently bugging you?

My cat, Percy. He’s bugging me for food as he does every evening at about this time.

What single thing would make your life better?

If schools in the UK suddenly agreed to start at 10am. The school run chronically denies me sleep.

When were you happiest?

Last summer I went to visit Rathlin Island, just off the coast of Ireland. There are around 150 inhabitants, and my ancestors can be traced there. The rugged natural coastline gave me a feeling of happiness that stemmed from a deeper place.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A lighthouse keeper or an ocean explorer.

Are we all doomed?

I think we die many times over, collectively and individually. I don’t think “life as we know it” is sustainable, so I think it will eventually die. But I believe something will be reborn in its place.

“All the Lonely People” by Sam Carr is published by Picador

[See also: Arik Kershenbaum Q&A: “I’m happiest in a hammock, being woken by gibbon song”]

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This article appears in the 06 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Bust Britain

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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