My favourite philosopher, Hannah Arendt, believed that space exploration, particularly manned space exploration, created a new paradigm for human beings. For the first time in history, humans could physically see what astronomy and math had only proved before, namely that we were just animals on a little planet in some little corner of the universe. This upended nearly everything humans believed in their existence, in a way that theory alone could not.
Stoppard seems to have a similar reaction to the moon landing. He has written an absolutely hysterical satire of modern philosophy posing as a murder farce. I love plays like this, which combine intellectual discussions with absurd situations – mirroring the absurdity of some of those discussions – and a nice dramatic convention, in this case a murder mystery, which is often maddeningly in the background.
Stoppard’s attitude to the absurdities of modern philosophy in this play reminds me of a little quip about the obsession with “social construction” in post modern philosophy. Unfortunately the name of the person who wrote it is escaping me right now because I haven’t thought about it in some time but, basically, he said “What happens when you are shot by a socially constructed bullet? You still die.” Stoppard seems to share a similar exasperation in his readings of some of the more absurd claims about knowledge – or lack there of – and I share Stoppard’s concerns about ideas being taken to their logical conclusion.
I don’t necessarily entirely agree with Stoppard, I think, about all of it, and I feel like his satire is of the most extreme positions, i.e. those positions most easily mocked. But I still laughed out loud a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the thought-provoking discussions.
I will have to seek out more of his plays. Also, I will have to see this if it is ever performed in Toronto.
8/10, perhaps even 9/10