Category Archives: History

The wreck of the Psyche

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

On 22 December 1870 there was a total solar eclipse.

A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, wholly or partially blocking out the sun as viewed from earth.

A total solar eclipse is a rare event, and even then its totality is only visible across a narrow band on the earth’s surface.

On 22 December 1870 the narrow band included parts of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Sicily, Greece, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

The British Royal Astronomical Society organised an expedition to observe and record the eclipse.

solar eclipse 22 December 1870
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Let’s get metaphysical

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

Why am I so interested in what some random bearded Victorian dude thought about anything?

Here is one reason (in three parts):

(i) An important branch of philosophy – epistemology – is concerned with knowledge and belief.

(ii) An important position in epistemology – evidentialism – holds that beliefs should only be based on relevant evidence.1

(iii) Random bearded Victorian dude William Clifford effectively kicked off evidentialism.

knowledge and belief
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Evidence, m’lud

Part of a series which began with Fake news and the ethics of belief.

Evidence was a 1922 silent film directed by George Archainbaud and starring Elaine Hammerstein.

This article is not about this Evidence however but about evidence as something that may or may not support a belief.

Evidence movie starring Elaine Hammerstein
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When in doubt, answer a different question

When politicians are asked a question they don’t want to answer you expect them to employ their usual tactic. This is to answer a different question, one they are happy to answer, and hope no one notices.

But it’s not only politicians who do this.

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions 10 April 2020 there were two politicians and two non-politicians. About 34 minutes into the program Jill Morris from Stafford asked what I thought was a very interesting question:

Does the coronavirus prove that God does not exist?

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Fear and misery

While I was sorting through stuff in the house I came across another theatre poster, this time for The Fears and Miseries of the Third Reich by Bertolt Brecht.

The poster says August 2-7 but not what year. It must have been 1976 though as it was certainly around that time and August 2-7 in 1976 would have been a run of Monday to Saturday, which makes sense.

I remember we played to packed houses, but that wasn’t difficult as The Little Theatre Club auditorium only held about 50 people. Even though, that was during the 1976 heatwave, so it must have been quite cosy. Most evenings after whatever theatre performance was on there would be jazz, folk or blues until the small hours.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich Bertolt Brecht
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A Nazi drama in seven characters: Act 3

We looked last time at one ‘character’ from Peter Handke‘s The Ride Across Lake Constance who escaped the Nazi regime and one who didn’t manage to.

To complete the seven we now look at an Austrian actor who portrayed Nazis from the safety of Hollywood, and two twins who were born in Nazi Germany.

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A Nazi drama in seven characters: Act 1

We mentioned last time that in Peter Handke‘s The Ride Across Lake Constance the actors do not play characters as such. Instead they ‘are and play themselves at one and the same time’.

To avoid calling them ‘Actor A’, ‘Actor B’ and so on in the published text Handke names the parts after well-known actors. The dramatis personae therefore reads like a who’s who (or wer ist wer?) of 20th Century Germanic cinema, with all that that entails:

Emil Jannings
Heinrich George
Elisabeth Bergner
Henny Porten
Erich von Stroheim
Alice and Ellen Kessler

More on the first two below.

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Ride across Lake Constance

45 years ago I was in a play called The Ride Across Lake Constance. We put it on at a little fringe theatre club in Regents Park Road, Primrose Hill, called The Howff. ‘Howff’ is a Scottish word for meeting place or haunt. The building seems to be a wine shop now, so I guess it could still qualify as a howff of sorts. But to give you an idea of what it was like in the early 1970s, a review in the New Musical Express of a Sandy Denny gig the previous year talked of ‘the customary Howff fringe-theatre crowd who usually yap in cultured Hampstead tones’.

Our production was done on a shoestring, as you can see from the poster:

Peter Handke Ride Across Lake Constance
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