Friday, March 26, 2010

Art & Culture: Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser edited by William Irwin and Richard Brian Davis

“...We don’t just want to know how deep the rabbit-hole goes .... We also want to know how to make sense of what we discover when we suddenly land ‘thump! thump!’ in Wonderland and pass through the looking glass.”

These words from the introduction to Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy (John Wiley & Sons) seem to me to sum the central force of the book as neatly as anything ever could. If we are to see the philosophy behind Lewis Carroll’s classic, that’s a terrific place to start.

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy is the latest in a series edited by King’s College philosophy professor Irwin that uses contemporary pop culture to frame philosophical concepts. He’s done it through the looking glass of Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The Matrix and others. Upcoming titles will do the same with 30 Rock and Mad Men to name just two.

While I love the idea of popularizing philosophy for the masses, as it were, I’m not completely convinced that there really is any deeper underlying meaning in all things Alice to probe or that the answers to life’s ultimate questions lie buried in the unseen meaning behind a hookah-smoking blue caterpillars.

What saves the book from pure exploitive stupidity, however, is an engaging and ingenious approach. The book is essentially an anthology with some of the biggest thinkers in modern philosophy contributing their big thoughts. All sorts of professors and lecturers musing on Alice as feminist icon or Alice’s lack of social contract. It may sometimes be silly, but it’s never boring and it makes you consider. It makes you think. Which, when you ponder it, is what philosophy is meant to do.

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