Book: Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy
Author: edited by Richard Brian Davis
Why Did I Read This Book: I got it in January, a release clearly meant to tie in with the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland cinema release. It seemed interesting to me, so I grabbed it. I am not a person for whom deep philosophy holds much resonance but I reckoned I could hold my own in a book from the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture collection. Turns out I was mostly correct in that respect.
Availability: You can get a copy here:
Comments: Whenever I think of Alice in Wonderland, I always think of a passage from Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, wherein one character is going on at length about his theories and another tires of his monologue:
“The very latest approach to Alice is just to dismiss it as a rather charming children’s book.”
That was always my opinion, too, that it was an outlandish story told to amuse a little girl and that all the analysis many put into the book was all so much hot air. However, there was always a niggling idea that Carroll could have hidden meaning that did not register in my young mind when I read the book. I wondered how differently I might look at Alice in Wonderland if I read this book. I already had the drug culture down, thank you very much Grace Slick. So it was possible there was more to the book and varying ways of interpreting it.
Overall, this book was a disappointment to me, and that may be a user problem, I am ready to admit. I wanted this book to explain the philosophy of Alice in Wonderland. Several articles used Alice in Wonderland to explain philosophy, and if that seems like a fine distinction, it really isn’t. The former explores philosophical points in the book. The latter uses book elements to illustrate philosophical points. You can do the latter with anything. I could, if I tried long enough, find a way to illustrate any philosophical tenet using my cats, organic bathroom cleaners or the content of the junk drawer in my kitchen. You can use just about anything to prove a theory if you don’t mind stretching a metaphor until it almost breaks. That seems to happen a lot in some of these articles, and while it wasn’t what I particularly wanted, the book is titled Alice and Wonderland and Philosophy, which means that my complaint is just me… well, complaining. The book didn’t misrepresent itself. I just wanted something else.
Of the essays that discussed the philosophy in Alice in Wonderland, several were quite informative while still being entertaining to me. “Wishing it Were Some Other Time: The Temporal Passage of Alice” by Mark W. Westmoreland and “Reasoning Down the Rabbit Hole: Logical Lessons in Wonderland” by David S. Brown both satisfied my need to explore the philosophy in Alice yet were easily read and understood by a philosophical layman like me. There were several other very good essays in the book but those two stood out for me as the best.
However, despite the fact that about half of this book was quite good, two of the essays were so bad that I wondered if perhaps it was my lack of philosophical grounding that caused my reaction, but ultimately, I decided it was that the articles were, in fact, not that good.