Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser takes up the most serious piece of art or literature in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, edited by William Irwin. (Other titles in the series deal mainly with TV shows or movies.) It consists of fourteen footnoted chapters, written mostly by professors of philosophy or graduate students.
Divided into four parts, this analysis of the world of Alice, as found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, often falls short as either a defense of philosophy or an insightful treatment of these masterpieces of nonsense literature.
A few authors are more intent on grinding an ax than on examining Alice in her dream world—feminism, anti–Cold War jargon, logic is important (you silly undergrads), induction is the way to go, philosophical realism (reality is real), and, yes, there is such a thing as language.
Part 1, “Wake Up, Dear,” is an almost complete disappointment in which the authors seem more like clever undergrads writing pieces for the campus newspaper or literary magazine than serious scholars. The authors’ attempts at humor are painful.
It gets better in part 2, “That’s Logic,” as chapter 5, “Six Impossible Things before Breakfast,” presents Alice as Socrates in a world populated by the Sophists. Socrates uses logic to discover reality in a search for truth, but the Sophists/Wonderlanders use logic to disguise reality in a quest for victory. Here scholars George A. Dunn and Brian McDonald present the best piece in the volume. Other chapters in this part are somewhat tedious.
Part 3, “We’re All Mad Here,” starts weakly again, with one author treating us to his drug experiences and essentially saying that we can do drugs or read Alice. Yeah, man.
However, the book is practically saved by the last four chapters. Rick Mayock, in chapter 11, does an excellent job of using Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea that we all have a “will to ignorance” and a “will to knowledge” in a good treatment of Alice and her Wonderland experiences. It also serves as a nice introduction to the German philosopher, who was Carroll’s contemporary. Mark W. Westmoreland, in chapter 12, with the help of Augustine and Bergson, deals seriously with a major theme of Alice—the nature of time.
Starting in part 4, “Who in the World Am I?”, Alice is seen in the Socratic tradition of nonsense by scholar Charles Taliaferro and Elizabeth Olsen, CFO of a consulting firm, where nonsense only works in reference to sense. The business of nonsense can be taken only so far—and Carroll is one of the best at it. The volume ends with good observations on another major theme in Alice—memory—by Oxford graduate student Tyler Shores.
Scott B. holds a PhD in political philosophy.
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