Although these works differ in their respective themes, there remains a residual thread that binds them together.
Books form a significant but not an all-embracing part of my cognitive diet, therefore this account may appear abridged in relation to other mediums, however there is a pleasure in reading a work that is unlike any other medium. It is not superlative or subsidiary to others, only incomparable in the way that the information is perceived. For one, when I read a work by an author the work exists independently of a visual reference point and I intersperse the gaps with my imagination, and yet, it may be a great distance away from how the author imagined the work to be.
So I will present my favourites in no particular order of preference.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This work exists within the realms of the surreal and the sublime. I simply adore the notion of being able to escape into another world and experience something hitherto unknown. Within this work are bountifully sprinkled some gems of wisdom that are intrinsically psychological in nature.
There have been a number of times in my earlier life when I wanted to escape into another world and leave the troubles of the ‘real world’ behind and experience beauty, enchantment and adventure.
Some parts of the book continually speak to me in ways that I interpret at different points in my life. This work explores the question of identity and the self-image. The work cleverly uses size, perception, beliefs, linguistic phrases and logic to create something truly special.
Is Alice present in this world, or is this ‘Wonderland’ world a construction of her imagination? Alice continually has doubts about who she is, and where she is.
Alice: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.”
The notion of having a purpose is explored in a satirical way by using the apathetic mood of Alice to expose an issue that is the downfall of many to this very day.
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Alice: “I don’t much care where –” Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
The theme of madness is always apparent within this work, and it may be feasible to wonder whether Lewis Carroll was familiar with the quotation from Aristotle who proclaimed that, ‘’No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.’
“Have I gone mad? I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.” – The Mad Hatter
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” – Cheshire Cat
“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” – Alice
But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’ ‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice. ‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Antigone by Sophocles
Antigone is a work that is especially relevant for this age, and possibly for all ages. It addresses with the issues of power, piety, gender, reverence, freedom, authority, and law amongst other things.
At the time when Antigone was written circa 411 BCE the idea of law and order were divided into two areas. There was ‘Nomos’ which was the convention made by human authority and ‘Physis’ that meant the arrangement of the natural world.
The characters in this work highlight those distinctions between those two forces. I could go on for pages about these distinctions and the plethora of work regarding political philosophy and ethics that addresses exactly the same issues, and although Sophocles was not the first to address explore these issues, his work speaks to me because of the intimate nature of the work, combined with the seriousness of the situation.
There has also been much time and effort spent on the question of civil disobedience, and the question of how much autonomy an individual has in relation to the power of others.
The philosopher Albert Camus explored a issue that is uncovered within the work of Antigone and he wrote, ‘”There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide” Although he may be wrong on the account of their being only one serious philosophical problem, the issue of choosing to die with dignity rather than living in servitude is a very serious issue.
Martin Luther King addressed the issue of only following laws which are just, and to eschew laws which are unjust. This perspective however does not really address the route of the issue, as all laws whether just or unjust are all still created by legislators, and it appears to be more accurately presented by the antagonist Thrasymachus in the Republic by Plato, who bellowed, “Listen—I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.”
Although that may appear to be a simplistic utterance, the intrinsic message is one that provides a clear insight into the situation of Antigone, and ultimately into the psyche of this age.
If one studies the entire history of humans then it would be a simple task to understand that life is not and has never been fair to all parties concerned, and Antigone reminds us that there is always a choice when faced with situations that are uncongenial even if it means that we must relinquish our right to exist. King Creon represents authority, and many willingly bow to authority whilst simultaneously complaining about having to do so. Antigone teaches us that the no external authority can take away our freedom if we do not allow it, although the consequences may be fatal.
In the writings of the historian Cornelius Tacitus he notes an exchange between the Emperor Nero and the Cynic philosopher Demetrius. Tactitus writes, ‘Demetrius, the friend of Thrasea, did not escape the notice of Nero. The tyrant threatened instant execution. You may commend it, said Demetrius; you threaten with death, and it is nature who threatens you.’
This sentiment is also propounded by the Roman philosopher Seneca the younger who in a letter to Lucilius wrote, ‘To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint’
I’ll leave you to ponder that thought and I will return soon with my other favourite books, during the interim you can get in touch through any of the usual methods.