Ivan & Adolf: The Last Man in Hell

Vicchio, Stephen

Verlag: Inst for Public Philosophy, 2002
ISBN 10: 0971374813 / ISBN 13: 9780971374812
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Inhaltsangabe: Two characters--one drawn from literature, the other from history--wind up as Hell's last tormented residents, each searching for the key to redemption. Cared for and guided by the wise maid Sophie, Adolf strives to attain forgiveness and Ivan struggles with his inability to forgive. Who will be the last man in Hell?

Vom Autor: "A work of fiction is a mirror dawdling down a road." Stendahl (Marie Henri Beyle) De l'amour

"The method employed is directly calculated to deceive-egregiously deceive3/4the superficial skimmer of pages." Herman Melville, from a review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mose From the Old Manse (1846)

In one of his finest essays, Henry James observed:
The great question for the poet, the dramatist, or the novelist is 'How does he feel about life?' What, in the last analysis, is his philosophy? When vigorous writers have reached maturity, we are at liberty to gather from their works some expression of a total view of the world they have been so actively observing. This is the most interesting thing their works offer us.

James believed that the philosophical dramatist ought to be concerned not only with issues generated from the essential terms of his existence, but he also should be committed, in a self-conscious way, to creating a work of art that stands as an unalterable record of the urgency of that quest, and similar quests of other thoughtful people, living and dead. The best of philosophical dramas ought to reveal a kind of triple bond. The absent playwright and the present theatergoer come to a meeting ground which is the play - a world created for the stage, but a world displayed so that it might be commented upon and interpreted by any who happen by and willingly enter into it. The task of interpretation is a difficult one. It is much like the job of a primitive shaman left to read the future of the tribe in the entrails of a sacred pigeon, and the results are just as important. One way a spectator at the theater may interpret the dialogue between playwright and viewer is to see the work as autobiographical. On these terms, the drama is to be understood as referring to, or connected with, the life of the playwright. The play becomes a literal or symbolic revelation of a personal history, a kind of complicated ink-blot test exposing the mind and heart of the playwright. Certainly Ivan and Adolph can be viewed from this perspective. While writing the play I was in the midst of a divorce. Accusations flew back and forth with the regularity and the bone-numbing exhaustion of transcontinental commuting. Both sides saw themselves as wronged. Both parties had, as best I can tell now, an inability to see any truth on the other side. It takes no deep understanding of psychology to see that these issues dominate the play. But the philosophical play also must be something more than this, something greater than the ruminations of the playwright about his broken home. A good drama should tell us at least as much about the play's world, even if it is not the world, as it does about the playwright. In the process, it also should call to mind questions that are relevant for our world. In a good philosophical play, these questions are of the most profound kind. They are questions about the nature of reality, the definition of truth, the existence of God, the foundations of morality, the nature and limits of authority (both inner and outer) and the anatomy of virtues (intellectual and moral). These are questions that thoughtful people in every age have found it necessary to ponder. One of the profound ironies of the latter part of the twentieth century is that these questions so infrequently are raised by, and among, professional Anglo-American philosophers. In an autobiographical statement written at mid-century, Karl Jaspers already had come to something like this same conclusion when he contrasted his experiences as a practicing psychiatrist with his life as a professional philosopher:

The memory of the intellectual fellowship of our hospital in Heidelberg has accompanied me throughout my life. My later work in philosophy, however, was undertaken independently and at my own risk, without contact with a professional group. The comparison enabled me to measure how diffused, artificial, and unreal are the professional associations of professors of philosophy, no matter how often its representatives may meet each other in congresses or express themselves in journals and books.

What frequently is lacking in professional discussions among Anglo-American philosophers is, for lack of a better term, an existential commitment to the big questions, or, if the adjective unnerves you, the traditional questions. In my own career, it has become increasingly obvious that it is one thing to become familiar with the vocabulary and the stock moves and counter-moves of the history of philosophy, but it is quite another to suffer from what Edmund Husserl called "the despair of one who has had the misfortune of falling in love with philosophy." Josiah Royce in his Spirit of Modern Philosophy suggested that philosophy should be about the "more serious business of life." In contemporary academic circles, philosophical discussions are rarely about that business. The most direct result is that English speaking philosophers talk to themselves, and to each other, but rarely to the rest of the world; frankly, the rest of the world would find them boring. One antidote for this condition is to read and to view the work of philosophical dramatists, men and women who create worlds in which the serious business of this world is discussed at length and depth. It must be done with attention to plot and character, but in the best of philosophical dramas these big questions are never absent from the stage. Indeed, they are the very reason for the play's existence. In Ivan and Adolph I have attempted to engage the audience in a dialogue about some of the most serious business of life. I have chosen to do it by using one character with historical roots, Adolph Hitler, and another with literary ones, Ivan Karamazov. In order to avoid charges of historical inaccuracy, I have taken these two figures out of historical time and placed them in the realm of the afterlife. The claim that "Adolph Hitler would not act that way in the afterlife," seems an odd one, indeed. It is perhaps akin to an ancient Scandinavian freshly and miraculously returning from the dead to announce that Hamlet was not like Shakespeare's version at all. Could we not say, "fair enough," and then move on to talk about the timeless importance of the play, about the larger philosophical and religious issues that moved the Elizabethan playwright to borrow from the history of Denmark. What many viewers may find difficult about this play is that I raise the possibility that even Hitler someday in the distant future might be capable of receiving forgiveness. Clearly this raises one of the major dramatic tensions of the play, a tension that resides not only in Ivan Karamazov, Hitler's protagonist in the drama, but also among many of those who read or come to see the play. Ought the worse man who ever lived receive the joys of salvation and the communion of those he has murdered? At a literal level, I try to ask in Ivan and Adolph just how long Hell ought to last. In the early rabbinic tradition the answer to that question was an interesting one. The Babylonian Talmud suggests that it ought to be long enough that the sinner comes to genuine contrition. But the Talmud also points out that the mourning prayer, the Kaddish, is only to be said for eleven months after the death of a loved one, because any person seeking forgiveness in the afterlife will by that time have come to full reparation with God. The ancient rabbis do mention special cases, where a soul's sense of the good is so distorted they may never come to the possibility of forgiveness. But these souls, according to the ancient sages, disappear. They become nonentities devoured by their own spite; they do not languish in Hell for all eternity. In Ivan and Adolph, Sophie warns Hitler in Act II that he is dangerously close to having his soul disappear completely. For the ancient rabbis, there are no damned souls. At a more allegorical level, the play raises a couple of the central questions of the serious business of life. Although these questions are raised in a created world, they are also meant to be reflected upon in, and about, this world. These questions are simple to state. They are incredibly difficult to answer with any authority, beyond that of personal moral intuition. Is it worse to be a morally corrupted person, or one who cannot forgive that person no matter what, even if God could? Are there necessary and sufficient conditions for forgiveness? Is contrition one of them? Are there some acts and people who by their very natures might forever remain unworthy of forgiveness? Is it possible to forgive without forgetting? Is it possible to forget without forgiving? I don't know the answers to these questions. I have, nevertheless, taken a position on some of them in this play. The point of view I have taken will provoke some, I hope it will move others. More importantly, I hope it will cause those whom it provokes to speak and listen to those whom it has moved.

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Titel: Ivan & Adolf: The Last Man in Hell
Verlag: Inst for Public Philosophy
Erscheinungsdatum: 2002
Zustand: very good

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