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.