Monday, April 27, 2015

TWELFTH YEAR BLOGDAY and "THE HARD PROBLEM"

Here is how this blog began on 27th April 2003:

My name is Augustine and this is my first blog. I am Natalie's alter egoist. I'm the ventriloquist and she's the dummy.

I'm embarassed that I thought I could keep up the pretense of being a cartoon character with a life of her own. Can there be such a thing as an alter ego?

Appropriately and coincidentally, on Saturday I went to see Tom Stoppard's new play at the National Theatre, The Hard Problem. (I hadn't read any reviews before seeing the play). The 'hard problem' is the mystery of consciousness. At least it's a hard problem for those who have a problem with believing that anything which is not material can exist, those who are absolutely convinced that the activity of a physical organ, the brain, is consciousness.

I don't have that particular hard problem because it seems completely rational to me that non-material things can exist and interact with matter. Does Augustine stand for consciousness while 'Natalie' is merely the body she inhabits, the hand that drew the cartoon character 'Augustine'? Maybe. Why not?

Bravo to Stoppard for tackling a controversial and profound subject on the stage - where better? Unfortunately in this play the characters he created are not controversial enough. It's as if he was afraid to come up with bold leaps of the imagination in case he'd be mocked on one hand by the orthodoxy of science, and on the other hand by the orthodoxy of religion or spirituality. Instead he sticks to safe territory, merely presenting known points of view spoken by mostly conventional characters within a situation that apes the real world but is too contrived to be convincing.

The most annoying stereotype in the play is the female lead, Hilary. She represent the educated, intelligent but naive believer: she believes in God, in morality, in altruism, in motherlove and in getting ahead career-wise, more or less on her terms. In order to embody these characteristics, Stoppard makes her female (of course), young, pretty, excitable and emotional, 'zany' in a cute way. Very Hollywood. To demonstrate her naivety, the playwright has her kneeling at the foot of the bed to say her prayers, after sex. Any original, probing, challenging point of view which might be expressed by a non-stereotypical, non-naive believer is automatically excluded because the Hilary persona is unable to depart from the conventional role Stoppard gives her. The male characters have more to say and are more rounded but they too are trapped in a script that is like a clever academic exercise.

The programme notes by Stoppard are more interesting and include an exchange of letters between himself and Richard Dawkins and an extract of a letter from Professor Armand Marie Leroi, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about where he, Stoppard, stands in the debate. I hope he isn't tired and hasn't lost his pizzaz, his ability to take on perennial philosophical questions and invigorate them in wildly original ways.

There's more to say on the Alter Ego theme but I want to wander away from it now. After the play I walked along the South Bank, always a pleasure, always filled with life and unexpected sights, sounds and smells, especially on a beautiful April afternoon. There's also a very speedy little movie at the bottom of the photos: skateboarders performing at their special hang-out.






  

video

15 comments:

marja-leena said...

Happy 12th blog anniversary, Blaugustine/Natalie! I am so happy to have met you and that you are still going strong! You are an inspiration. Wishing you many more years of sharing stories and your art.

Tom said...

I think the refusal of so many people to accept that there is a vibrant, living world beyond consciousness, that consciousness itself is not simply an emergent property of the brain, says a great deal about people's fear and denial. Such people seem to have a remarkable ability to follow a case logically and rationally, but then to leap to a wrong, but 'safe' conclusion. Safety in this sense tends to be a condition that does not conflict with the peer view, or seem to undermine one's own previously-held, entrenched opinions.

There was a time when such attitudes would anger me (particularly when I worked with these people), and frustrate me. Now I must confess, I no longer feel bothered. There is too much to do to become sidetracked in sterile argument.

May I also wish you a happy 12th. blog anniversary. And may there be many more to come.

Ellena said...

My selfish wish dear Natalie "please keep going at least until I am no longer able to read".

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Thanks dear Marja-Leena, knowing that I have your friendship and support is a tonic that never cease to refresh me.

Tom, I wish you had seen the play because, in spite of its flaws, it does raise questions that are not part of 'normal' conversations. In the theatre's cafe afterwards, I could overhear people intently discussing those issues. Hopefully a few individuals (perhaps including me) come away from the play encouraged to "walk barefoot" along that stony path.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dear Ellena, if that ever happens I'll send you voice messages!
Take good care of your eyes and your whole lovely self.

Beth said...

Heartiest congratulations, dear Natalie, and thank you for the delight, the laughter, the outrage, and the boundless creativity you've shared with us. Here's to the next douzaine!

Vincent said...

Wow, never knew your blog went so far back. I always like to look at how blogs take their halting first steps. But in your case, no hesitation whatsoever. It emerged fully-formed and sure of itself.

In no time I was taken to previously unexplored parts of your oeuvre, such as the satire of your exquisite comic-book interviews with van Gogh, Saddam, Tony Blair, GW Bush and much more
http://nataliedarbeloff.com/otherinterviews.html.

It would be easy to dwell in the past with so much done already.

Thank you so much for pointing out how far back your freely-available online work goes.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Beth, chère amie, many thanks. Let's hope I'll still be around to add another dozen years but if I am, blogs might be obsolete by then, replaced by something tiny worn on the wrist or over the eyes. If so, I'll be in a cabin in the woods, writing by hand on banana leaves.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Vincent, thankyou very much for going back and browsing my blog archive. It's amazing to me that I've kept this up for so long and I must give credit to the invention of blogging because it's provided me with a discipline (ie a worthwhile habit) which I don't normally have. There's an undoubted satisfaction in seeing something built up over years - like bricks ending up as a house.

Hattie said...

Love the vid! London looks so inviting in your photos,too. I'm in Seattle which has a similar climate and am off for a walk now. And happy bloggaversary!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Thanks Hattie, enjoy Springtime in Seattle. Those skateboarding boys are great. I wish I'd done that when I was a kid....or even now!

Roderick Robinson said...

On the contrary, Hilary does depart from the "conventional role" (I'd dispute this phrase) when she is required to take responsibility for the woman who fudges her data to get the results that are "hoped for".

You make this play sound very one-sided (Very Hollywood re. women) but a similar case could be made about the male characters, none of whom are, to use a US judgment about something else entirely, worth a bucketful of spit. As to the post-sex praying it has a structural function; up to then the young pro-science male has been getting the best of the argument with Hilary. Seeing her kneeling he is brought up short in a way none of her reasoning has contrived this far. I supposed he was asking himself the question (seriously, for the first time): can intelligence and religious faith co-exist?

Besides which Hilary is not really given to proselytising; unless my memory fails me, I seem to recall that most of the points she tries to make are not assertions but questions: seemingly phrased lightly but, in keeping with play's title, actually "hard", were anyone to take time off and listen to her.

My attention span is brief these days and I rarely try to come up with what movies, plays or novels are "about". Better to travel hopefully, if you like. For me The Hard Problem was like a now-outmoded theatrical entertainment called a revue. A number of quite separate scenes aimed at brilliance rather than profundity. Thus if one exchange fails, there is always another just down the pike. I particularly enjoyed the role played by the boss man (Kro?) despite his regular descents into caricature.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, wish I'd known you were going to see the play - did you come to London or has it been on tour? It would have been fun to see it with you and VR and engage in animated debate about it afterwards. Anyway, thanks for these observations. They are accurate but I stick to my critique, even though, admittedly, it only scratches the surface of a very complex subject. I like Stoppard's past work very much and was expecting too much from him on this occasion. The'revue' factor you rightly mention appeals to me and could be put to much better use in this case. It would take much too long to elaborate why I think this play fails to address the crucial issue that is its subject.

Dick said...

O happy day (of a month or two ago) Natalie! I'm pleased & proud to have wobbled alongside you for those 12 years. Congratulations on the depth, breadth & variety of posts that have kept 'Blaugustine' fresh throughout that time. The fact that the Patteran Pages still exists at all, albeit in so diminished a form now, is due in no small measure to your encouragement & example.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dick, it was only last month on the 27th so you're not that late! Thanks for your support and I hope you'll regenerate Patteran Pages.I still prefer blogs to Facebooking - never mind if the stats go down - keep on keeping on!