Monday, August 30, 2010

What is it like to be a child?

There's a good book with a title I don't like called Waking to Wonder. If Disney ever started a chain of churches I imagine this is the kind of thing they would come up with as an advertising slogan. But, to be fair, Wittgenstein himself wrote about the importance of awakening to wonder (albeit in German, making it less cloyingly alliterative), so it's an understandable choice for a title.

Anyway, Ronald L. Hall of Stetson University (where I hope they all wear big hats) writes about wonder and Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations. It's not a bad paper, but I don't agree with all of it. For instance, Hall writes that, "The child's world is enchanted with fairies, monsters, and magic; indeed, everything is wonderful in its own way and nothing is really mortal." He says a few more things in this vein, but I think this quotation is enough. It sounds like a Victorian fantasy of a child's world, or perhaps something from Chesterton. It does not sound like something a parent would write, except perhaps one who has not done much parenting lately. There is some truth in it, but then there is some truth in Mark E. Smith's singing "You can cry for your lost childhood, ... but remember how you hated it" in "Futures and Pasts." There is fantasy in childhood, but also lots of reality too, some good, some bad.

Hall is right that Wittgenstein believed in wonder, and I think he's right to connect this with "It's a Wonderful Life." But "Ikiru" is relevant, too, and doesn't have any magic in it. You can love the world, love life, without sentimentality or fantasy. Or that's the hope, anyway.

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