As millions of movie-goers have donned funny glasses to see what some have said is a Depplorable remake of Alice in Wonderland, interest in the original has also been rekindled. Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," though full of linguistic antics and absurd characters, also hold up a mirror to human folly in our own world.
In a bit of pre-planned serendipity, a new collection of essays uses the Alice books as a springboard to take up such issues as feminism, procrastination, logic, appearance and reality, memory and identity. There's nothing stodgy here, though. The writing is breezy and full of references to the likes of Abbott and Costello and Plato; Keith Richards and Richard Rorty; Kant and Kafka.
"Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser" ($17.95 in paperback from Wiley), edited by Richard Brian Davis, is part of the extensive "Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series." The book is not connected to Carroll or to the film, but it's a fitting companion to both.
Chief among the essays is "Nuclear Strategists in Wonderland" by Ron Hirschbein, semi-retired from Chico State University's philosophy department, dubbed by one writer (me) as the "Professor of Pun-ology." This is vintage Hirschbein at his most playful as he deconstructs the Cold War policy of "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) that has governed the nuclear age. (One gets the impression that some of the participants were a bit into the vintage themselves, if you know what I mean.)
Hirschbein takes the reader into the world of nuclear strategists. "They call their make-believe stories 'scenarios'--it gives them gravitas. Lewis Carroll wrote a similar genre of literary nonsense--but he realized what he was doing." Here is a world of "Nuclear Jabberwocky" in which "the United States didn't drop atomic bombs on Japan; it used two devices--Fat Man and Little Boy--to end the war. (These names sound like hamburger combos at Big Boy; not weapons of mass destruction.)" It is a world in which civilian deaths are "collateral damage" and missiles are called "Peacekeepers."
Though Hirschbein is far from neutral, his railing against obfuscation can be appreciated by most readers. When the railing gives way, it's then we're most likely to fall down the rabbit hole.