Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Coast of Utopia

Had I a blog back in April, I would have posted on a play I went to at Lincoln Center called The Coast of Utopia. The play is by Tom Stoppard and starred Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup. I mention the play because the first third is about the influence Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel had on a group of young Russian revolutionaries, the anarchist Bakunin, the liberal socialist Herzen and the literary critic Belinsky.

I was originally interested in the play because of the figure Bakunin. I certainly did not expect to hear Ethan Hawke, as a young Bakunin, utter lines about Fichte:
Agriculture? I'd rather kill myself than study agriculture. But after three years in Berlin I'd be qualified for a professorship. I am prepared for it. I was on the wrong track with Fichte, I admit it--Fiche was trying to get rid of objective reality, but Hegel shows that reality can't be ignored, on the contrary, reality is the interacion of the inner and outer worlds.
Ok, so Stoppard is no Dieter Henrich (more of an Isaiah Berlin), but his attempts to connect the development of German Idealism from Kant to Hegel (and its shift toward the materialism of Marx) with the Bildung of the Russian petty bourgeoisie is fun to watch on stage. You can also read the play. I should mention that the play itself is an achievement--in fact it is really three plays, Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage that make up The Coast of Utopia

One of my favorite lines in the play is spoken by Billy Crudup's character Belinsky: "But the truth of idealism would be plain to me if I had heard one sentence of Schelling shouted through my window by a man on a galloping horse."

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