Alice belongs in Wonderland, not a thesis
Some poncy academic has compiled a book of essays on the philosophy of Alice in Wonderland. It infuriates me when brainiacs do this.
I get it. They’re bored of fossicking around in their corduroy jackets, trying to restructure the periodic table or extract metaphysical themes from 17th century poetry, so they cast their brilliant minds over popular culture.
And so we get wordy polemics on satire in South Park, the didacticism of Lady Gaga and this beauty: Perspectivism and Tragedy: A Nietzschean Interpretation of Alice’s Adventure.
You see, the real reason Alice is a cool chick is because she’s curious. Fabulously, recklessly so. Ignore her influence on the questionable headband-wearing habits of women and focus instead on her inquisitiveness. The girl throws herself down a rabbit hole rather than make a daisy chain.
Intrepid, too, are Harry Potter and the kid from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, venturing through a wall on Platform 9¾ and a dusty cupboard into another world.
Having wandered through Narnia, Hogwarts and Wonderland lately, thanks to a reluctant reader, I’ve been reminded how childhood is so infused with curiosity. “Do the Famous Five ever go to the toilet?” asked my daughter, replicating a question I once pondered myself.
So where does our curiosity go? Is it slowly bled out of us when wonder and imagination aren’t enough for their own sakes; when we have to repackage them in essay format or abandon them altogether as we focus on profit margins and mortgage repayments? Or has Google simply answered all life’s questions?
Recently, as my kids strapped sponges to their feet, à la Pippi Longstocking’s floorwashing technique (I have to allow some fun since I’ve refused to ever again make lolly bags), I vowed to regain my curiosity. You see, it’s all very well being a ‘commentator’ – which I moonlight as these days – but I know what I think.
Far more interesting is stuff I don’t know, or stuff other people know or wonder about. That’s why it’s better to ask a question than give an answer; every week I tell Today show viewers my opinion on the news when, really, I’d love to ask Leila McKinnon if she’s read any good books (she’s a mega-reader, that girl).
On a recent ski trip, I lunched beside a table of men having a robust conversation. One wore a hand-knitted jumper, circa 1970. Another was in The North Face techgear. I listened as they discussed Wall Street, wine and faith (one was a priest). Schnapps-happy, I wondered out loud how they knew each other. Turns out, they were at Harvard Business School together in the ’80s and still meet every year to ski and share ideas. Weeks later, I’m still pondering their chitchat.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s a jolly fun way to go. By wanting to “put a ding in the universe”, Steve Jobs has changed the way our world works and plays. Einstein reckoned he had no special talents, other than being “passionately curious”.
So check out the blog Curiositycounts.com (it makes me smile every day), download the brilliant talks at Ted.com, plant sunflower seeds, gaze at the stars. As the White Queen tells Alice: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
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