04 Dec

Considerations on Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Stages of Life”

The period of the Romantic movement was a time in arts history that proposed people another way of approaching life than the one they had and of their everyday philosophy, pushing to put forward feelings, dreaming and emotions.

 

 

Romantic artists worked on creating beautiful works that would express the ineffable. One of the most renowned painters of the romantic time is Caspar David Friedrich. Together with other painters such as Karl Friedrich Lessing or Andreas Achenbach, Friedrich went to the Dusseldorf School for Painting. The school was very invested in teaching its students to create paintings that would put the accent on small details that were composing grandiose paintings that usually represented natural landscapes. The influence the school had on Friedrich’s work is thus quite clear, as his paintings contain many details. However, Friedrich brought a new way of looking at nature, and that was through the emotional filter of the painter. His paintings are allegories, where every detail is a piece of a puzzle the viewer is invited to decode.

Today, there are over 500 paintings attributed to Friedrich, one of the most known paintings being „The Stages of Life”, or, „Die Lebensstufen”, a title not given by Friedrich, but by the scholars who studied his works and life between the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth century.

In this 1835 painting, Caspar David Friedrich uses his brush to present us with his meditation over the passing of man through life. To do this, he carefully illustrated five boats lying at different distances one from the other and from the small people of different ages represented in the foreground.

At a first sight, the painting impresses through the strongly saturated, yet light colors of the sunset under which the scene develops. The composition of the painting features a great balance between the lines, the colors and the dark areas.

„Die Lebensstufen” shows a port at the Baltic Sea during sunset. While most of Friedrich’s paintings are not set in clear locations, this one has been pointed out to be set in Utkiek, a town nearby Greifswald, the town where the painter was born. Today, Greifswald is located in North-East Germany.

In the furthest level of the painting we see five ships on the water, then two adults and two children standing on a small hill and, in the front, an old man, holding his back to the viewer, walking toward the other characters. It becomes clear rather fast that the people are the reflections of the ships. Each of them is at a closer or further point from death.

The people in the painting have been identified as being the artist’s own family – the old man being the painter himself, the boy being his youngest son, Gustav Adolf, the girl being Agnes Adelheid, his daughter, and the older girl being his other daughter Emma. The man was identified as being his nephew, Johann Heinrich.

 

However, this painting is not a biographical piece. The characters presented in this painting, which can be described both as a landscape and a portrait (as many of Friedrich’s paintings can). The boats are mirrors of the people: the ones closer to the shore are similar to children, in that they don’t travel deep waters yet, while the boat located the furthest represents the old man who, after traveling on deep waters for a very long time, is slowly fading in the sunset.

„Die Lebensstufen” has a great atmosphere, which results from the careful color brushes. The spiritual beatitude conveyed by the painting is realized with the help of the glowing colors. The shades of blue, yellow and orange that fill the sky, we can see some soft gray lines that give a sense of tranquility and calmness. The dark soil is in strong contrast with the bold sky, thus placing the characters between two worlds.

This duality is also visible on a compositional level. The first axis that draws attention is represented by the line drawn by the mast of the biggest ship, which continues with the flag held by the children. Thus, the artist creates a painting where duality is expressed not only through chromatic choices, but also through composition. The dual nature of life, where people live between life and death, and good and evil is also described with the help of the line created by the people, which, when merged visually act like a thread of life, emotions and states. The left and the right of the painting are almost mirrored images, representing curved lines that draw more distant shores, in a way suggesting that we all go through many of the same human experiences.

At a closer look, we can analyze the direction in which the characters look. Thus, while it is not extremely clear, we can notice that the sailors in the first boat are looking at the characters, suggesting in a way the concept of looking back at a time of innocence, of origin, located in time maybe even before birth. The characters on shore, each representing a stage of life, look towards the direction they wish they would go or show an attitude towards the direction they are moving to. Thus, the young woman, who, as a sidebar, is dressed in the same colors as the children, looks towards them, caring for them, while the children are immersed in their own world. The younger man is facing the old man angrily and makes a hand gesture that can be interpreted in more ways: is he accepting him, is he telling him to stay there? The old man, while we cannot see his face can be described as serene, due to his posture. Moreover, he is the only character that seems to be detached from the group.

Next to them, we can see an upside down boat, which most likely symbolizes the generations to come.

 

For a more in-depth analysis of any cultural product, we must take a look at the cultural and political context in which it was made. Thus, the first thing we notice is the Swedish flag. Knowing that the painting is set in Germany, Sweden is the country on the other shore. This country has had a very important role in the history of the town of Greifswald. Caspar David Friedrich considered himself to be half Swedish, as when he was born, Greifswald was part of Sweden. From a compositional point of view, the flag is placed at the very center of the painting. This can be interpreted as being a symbol for the concept of home. With the risk of pushing the boundaries of interpretation, the flag gives circularity to the painting. Because the flag is present before the sea and the actual country of Sweden is across the sea, the image may be indicating that we start from a symbolic „home” and end up at a physical „home”.

The artist uses a common theme, namely a maritime theme to speak about life as a journey, as a sea exploration and as a symbolic fishing experience. Thus, Friedrich invites the viewer to join him in a thoughtful contemplation on the nature of life, exploring the depths of the human soul.

Merging hope, happiness, sadness and a strong longing for the ethereal, Caspar David Friedrich’s painting is a masterpiece of the world’s visual culture.

 

 

29 Nov

Consideration’s on Caspar David Friedrich’s “Mountain Landscape with Rainbow”

Caspar David Friedrich was a German painter who lived in the XIXth century and who is considered one of the most important Romantic artists. His paintings are known for being charged with codes and allegories with religious allegories.

 

 

This is also the case in the painting titled “Mountain Landscape with Rainbow”, “Gebirgslandschaft mit Regenbogen” in original, which Friedrich painted in 1809-1810. In this work, Caspar David Friedrich presents us with an image filled with symbols and significations.

“Mountain Landscape with Rainbow”, which is currently on display at the Folkwang museum in Essen, conveys a sensibility typical for Caspar David Friedrich. On a descriptive level, the painting presents a few mountains under a very dark sky, cut by a very bright rainbow in the upper half of the painting and, in the lower half, a traveler who is contemplating the landscape in awe.

The traveler, lit by twilight is in strong contrast with the nature depicted in the painting, which is gaudy and dark.

The painting can be seen as having three juxtaposing layers. These layers can each be interpreted as symbols, and are connected to each other. The first layer is the space where the man sits. The secondary layer is the layer where the trees and mountains are placed. These can be interpreted as being the challenges one man needs to go through in life. The reason behind this interpretation lies in the geometry of the painting. The trees and mountains are all triangles, both large and small – a geometric shape that can stand for the ladders one needs to climb. Also, their dark colors recommend them as being something mysterious and unknown, but also as something dangerous. The chromatic of the landscape comes in stark contrast with the man, thus conveying the message that man is always faced with the challenges his environment brings. However, the relaxed pose of the man, who, while in awe, seems to be quite calm, shows that man can take on life, in the right conditions, which brings us to the third level. The third layer is the rainbow. The fine line that crosses the frame from one end to the other can be regarded as a state of continuity and order, both of which are characteristics of divinity.

Thus, Friedrich conveys the message that man can go through the challenges of life if lit by the hope of divinity. As the mysteries of life unfold before his very eyes in the shape of deep, dark and heavy clouds, the light of divinity is what balances them out, which ensures the continuity of the life of humans.

The rainbow usually represents the everlasting covenant between divinity and humans, but in this case, while that could still apply, we can see a white rainbow and not one composed of seven colors. This could suggest a presence of the Good, rather than a connection between man and his creator.

Caspar David Friedrich’s works are meant to convey memories of thought, emotions and states that words fail to describe.

While this painting can have many interpretations, one can be considered as the ultimate reading of this work. The conclusion is quite simple. Man lies between the darkness ahead and the light above and, whether he chooses to stand in the light that falls down over him is ultimately his choice.

 

 

03 Nov

Original Photography in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote in 1936 an essay called “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (or Reproducibility)” (German: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit), which was first published in the “Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung” (“Magazine for Social Sciences”). The piece has been highly influential across the world of humanities, especially in the fields of cultural studies, media theory, architectural theory and art history.

This is a text that many students in art colleges and academies meet in their curriculum.

The essay discusses the concept of an “original” work of art and of its value, in the context in which works of art can be more and more easily reproduced. The text is quite relevant today as well, maybe even more than it was when it was published, given that now we “mechanical reproduction” has increased by incomparable amounts compared to the first part of the 20th century.

 

Problematics of photographic art by Liev Arts

 

Walter Benjamin brings in discussion the concept of authenticity and its relation to the concept of reproduction, saying that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” He argues that the “sphere of authenticity is outside the technical”, implying that the original work of art is independent of the copy. However, through the act of reproduction, something is still taken from the original, as its context is changed. Thus, Benjamin introduces the concept of the “aura” of a work and claims that in reproductions this is not present. This concept was borrowed from ideas Ludwig Klages had developed before him.

While there can be a lot of discussion and debate created around this text, one issue can be discussed in today’s context, where digital photography and print or online magazines are a big part of the cultural and artistic landscape.

Basically, what can be argued is that in the 21st century, an original work of art can be at the same time a copy.

When a photographer shoots a picture, the original is the digital file present in the camera’s memory card. Afterwards, that file, maybe a RAW file, is transferred to the computer. However, if the photograph is processed in Photoshop or a similar application, by cropping, making color corrections, masking imperfections, the result is a new original. That new original, digital file is then set in a processing program such as InDesign and could be cropped again to let room for the so-called ‘bleed’ – the margins a magazine needs to have in order to be printed properly. The file is then exported into a pdf file for example, which is then printed in say a hundred thousand copies, thus creating a hundred thousand new originals, given that the medium of the photograph has changed and that it is likely that the photograph has undergone a new, even though slight, cropping.

In short, if you take a photograph, even from the camera and print it out in numerous copies, isn’t each copy an original?

Looking at things from this angle, it can be said that there’s a different type of “original” when we talk about paintings or sculptures for example, compared to when we talk about photography or film.

Also speaking of this matter, we can also ask similar questions in regards to other mediums: for example, if someone is recording something, which is a work of art, with their webcam directly on a video streaming website and then publishes it, can we even speak of an original?

In other words, if in a thousand years, someone wants to buy the original version of the video at an auction, what will they be buying?

The same applies to literature: if you publish on a blog, is there still such thing as a “first edition”?

These are things that are definitely worth thinking about. The reason why they are important is because in the long run, they might redefine our relationship with works of art, which is something that has been very much the same for the last few thousands of years.

28 Oct

The Other Side – Seen Through Kartik Kumar’s Lens

Kartik Kumar is a software engineer from Bengaluru, India, who has a passion for photography and a great eye for amazing pictures.

His photographs are personal insights into Indian moments which he captures in bold images. In a way, many of Kumar’s photographs focus on seeing things from the outside. This theme is very interesting: Kartik offers a view of the places and the people that one does not normally see. He also goes a step further by stepping outside time and though his compositions offers a perspective that seems to be distanced from the time of everyday life.

 

God Maker – Bengaluru, India

Making Of Ganesha – Bengaluru, India

Marina Beach – Chennai, India

Friends – Khajjiar, India

Sailors Network – Malvan, India

Taj Admirer – Agra, India

Serenity – Hemis Monastry, Ladakh, India

The Balance – Bengaluru, India

 

More: flickr.com/photos/102770377@N03/

27 Oct

Horses of Nepal Book

The Royal Library of Denmark has a book catalogued as “Illustrated work with horses from Nepal”.  The book is mysterious in nature, given that the Library’s website does not feature any background information on it.

However, it does seem to be a copy or a derivate work of “A Treatise on the Nature and Illnesses of Horses”,  Asvasastra, Nepal, 18th Century.

 

 

 

29 Aug

Past Structures Revealed by Les Johnstone

Les Johstone’s photographs, if looked at for quite a long time, can have the power to turn into portals to world’s you’ve always known existed, but thought that were present only in dreams.

By shooting from a forward angle, Les’ images introduce you to an unfiletered world that reveals itself before your eyes. The urbex landscapes he captures draw the curtain from urban myths we’ve all heard about and imagined how they would be in reality.

From impressive ballrooms and abandoned planes to the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria, Les Johstone’s works open up the secret world available to anyone who takes a closer look at the world around them.

 

Budludzha in Winter

 

Buzludzha in Summer

 

Paragon Hotel – Ballroom

 

Abandoned Hospital in Ayrshire Scotland

 

Abandoned Hotel Artista – Office

 

Dodgems at Pripyat

 

Villa 1967 Abandoned Winery

 

Russian Scorpion submarine

 

Sunset as seen from Buzludzha

 

 

 

More: flickr.com/photos/9162791@N07/

22 Aug

Mixing it Up with Black Sugar

Black Sugar is a Thai fashion label that has at the core of its aesthetic the minimal use of colors and the use of special designs. What makes the brand’s clothes appealing is the play with softness and hardness and the balance between the simple chromatic and the intricate designs.

At first, their clothes seem to be extremely rigid, architectureal and structured, but contemplating them a little while will unravel a whole other dimension, one of flow and movement.

Their clothes are an expression of a strong foundation, upon which strong decorations are added to emphasize the complex nature of the wearer.

 

 

 

 

 

More: blacksugar.co.th

10 Aug

Konstantin Panassyuk’s Flowing Structures

Konstantin Panassyuk is a passionate photographer from Russia. His works are mostly snapshots of everyday life, showcasing interesting moments of people in mostly urban environments. While not a full time pro of photography, many of Konstantin’s works are extremely promising and are the result of a talented mind.

His compositions are an interplay of empty-full, rigid-fluid, tense-relaxed. Konstantin’s photos feature a weird balance between shapes that are sturdy and shapes that are flowing. Often, it seems that these shapes are meant to morph, moving between a solid state to a liquid state. This way, he conveys a complete image of a moment’s expression, which captures both the steady, the flowy and the in-between.

 

 

Tree

 

I like summer so much!

 

Hard voleyball

 

 

More: flickr.com/photos/127725679@N05

 

 

25 Jul

Catching Up with the ET’s in Art and Culture

Life on other planets is a concern that people have had for many years now, even more so since the “space exploration age” started in the 1960s. Aliens have fascinated people because they are the ultimate mystery: extraterrestrials can be imagined in any way, shape or form, given that they are one of the big unknowns of life. Recent revisionist semi-conspiracy theorists have claimed that aliens were even represented in medieval paintings.

However, in recent decades aliens have been on trend and off trend, depending very much on the happenings in global culture and, more than that, on the developments of technology.

 

 

Back at the end of the 1980, during the 1990s and even in the early 2000s, one could see a plethora of stories of UFO sightings, alien kidnappings and alien meetings. Extraterrestrials were in fiction (the X-Files), in magazines and even in many prime-time documentaries. People were filming UFOs with their VHS cameras and others gave in-depth testimonies of how they had been in contact with gray or green creatures with big eyes from other worlds.

In a way, from a science-culture point of view, this boom is explainable. As more and more people owned VHS or beta video recorders, they were able to record more and more and, of course, besides birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, people also want to record the mysterious. Bigfoot was another big trend during those decades, but seeing Bigfoot is not as accessible as spotting aliens is: you need to be in a cold, mountainous area and preferably to have a night vision cam to capture him. The fact that people gained more and more access to advanced technologies during the late 1990s and 2000s made nature more exotic and strange – this is how the Bigfoot phenomenon could be explained but also movies featuring aliens that were coming to destroy the world as which was in opposition to how aliens were often portrayed before in films such as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” from 1982, where aliens were making friends with people.

Also, the testimonies about alien life forms people gave were in tandem with the freak show trend that Western television was experiencing at that time. Overall the aesthetic of the 80s and 90s was one of hidden things, of shadows and the underground. For example, looking at music videos from the time, one will notice that almost all of them are placed in a dark setting: a club with glowing neon lights here and there, an alley or some sort of undefined place. These come in high contrast to what followed, in the 2000s, when it was all about public living, the suburbs and public openness.

But back to the UFOs, these almost disappeared from the mainstream collective mindset in the mid-2000s or a bit earlier. They were replaced by historical conspiracies and secret truths, which had nothing to do with extraterrestrial life. This, of course, can also be explained on from a science-cultural point of view. The new communication avenues – mobile phones and especially the Internet – made it possible for people to not only read about things that they then connect them in any way they want, but also to have access to imagery that supports a culture that claims to connect things that might not be connected. This idea is also visible in the high arts, as collages were very much in fashion in the late 2000s and especially in the lower arts, where whole “documentary” movies were made from archive footage and pictures from many sources and where the “cut and glued together” aesthetic dominated everything from advertisements to book covers.

The rise of digital equipments and technological possibilities – namely the fact that anyone had access to a digital camera and software such as Photoshop; made the alien culture disappear from the mainstream. Consumers quickly understood that not only can anyone photoshop a picture to make it seem that there is a UFO in it, but given that anyone had digital cameras, people understood how easily it is to fake a picture, sometimes even unintentionally. For example, if you toss a coin in the air and photograph it with a flash you get an instant mysterious sky sighting. These could be only one explanation why extraterrestrial beings and machines disappeared. Another could be that UFOs and aliens were generally depicted as highly advanced, yet the technologies described by abductees quickly became upstaged by the technologies that were available to anyone in the industrialized world. For example, cell phones, sensor-operated doors, video communication are just some examples.

Also, in the context that there were no government-confirmed alien encounters during the 1980s and 90s, it was pretty expected for these cultural productions to fad.

 

Recently however, just as it appeared that UFOs had disappeared from the global cultural and entertainment horizon, one can notice that we’re seeing a new rise in the presence of these concepts in our culture. Now, we don’t see much of people claiming to be kidnapped by aliens – again, the science-culture aspect explains it – if you go on camera on a documentary and claim to have been kidnapped by aliens becomes your biography and identity. And today, biographies are created online, on social media websites, so once somebody goes on camera claiming to have been abducted by aliens, they can become a meme, which will be more than their ID. Of course, these mediums also allow people to discredit and attack the testifier in casue, making the act of exposing yourself more risky than it was in the 1980s and 90s. Wanting to avoid this or to be considered crazy by a potential future boss who searches for you online makes people be hesitant to sharing their alien stories with the masses. There is also the possibility that many of the alien stories told during the 1980s and 1990s are in a way self-induced, the cultural climate combined with some sort of physiological experience can generate an involuntary imagination process, taken by the body for real. Of course, this opens the discussion of what is “real” – is reality based on the outside reality or on your own individual perception of it? This is a discussion that philosophers have always had.

Today’s aliens are quite different than those from the 20th century: they are more mysterious, obviously, but they are also more abstract (no IBM chip-shaped crop circles anymore and very little to no AI). If you look at how aliens are presented today, you will notice that they are seen as transhuman beings. They have surpassed their original, biological state through technology – some of them come from the future, others come from other dimensions. It is possible the next wave of aliens will be one that has a more anthroposophical approach, meaning that the aliens are spiritual beings. However, this will be connected to technology in a way, like a transhumanist 2.0 version.

Interestingly enough, the discourse about aliens itself is more prominent today than the visual aspect. The web is full of so-called “leaked” videos, but nobody seems to care that much altogether. Many people have accustomed their minds to automatically dismiss this type of information, especially when, as most of them do, come from an “unreliable” source.

The concept of “aliens” in recent visual culture is a very complicated one. Between the extremely high number of ideas, voices and thoughts, there’s a lot to think of.

One more thing that is noteworthy when it comes to aliens is the way in which these are portrayed in the blockbusters of today. In Avatar 1, we can see how the aliens, reached through some transhumanist processes, connect their bodies to plants and other natural elements. In the recent “Alien Covenant” film, the plot involves a merger between plants and animals. Obviously, these are a reflection of the ecological, biotechnical and technical advances made today.

 

There are many contradictions when it comes to aliens, space and science in the arts and in other cultural products. Are there secret alien bases on the moon or have we not even landed there yet? This contradiction, however, is part of the reflection of today’s society: for any statement made, there seems to be a contrary statement. It’s maybe part of that “post-truth” we hear so often about.

And that raises the question again: what is reality? Is it what we perceive, is it the exterior world or is it a combination – can it be? The truth of the matter is that until there is no credibility attached to aliens and UFOs, the field will remain open.

 

 

21 Jul

Discovering Reality: An Analysis of “Alice in Wonderland” (1951)

“Alice in Wonderland” is a classic animated film directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske. The movie, adapted after Lewis Carroll’s novel with the same name is a production that has been seen by millions of children (and, why not, adults) from around the world. The story, while it may be packaged as an easy children’s journey, can be seen as a philosopher’s exploration of the real world, in a way similar to Plato’s cave story, of a man who goes outside the cave where he and his fellow people could only see shadows on the walls, thinking they were reality and then telling them about what the world really looks like, its colors and shapes but is disregarded and mocked by his people.

 

 

Right at the very beginning of the film, when Alice is sitting under a tree, she is reading a book. The book is a book on history, a choice that tells the viewer that Alice is, more or less by choice, interested in discovering the world, but that she is presented only a controlled, superficial version of the world, as history can be correctly described as the current establishment’s view of the world.

 

It’s not long before the beginning that Alice starts chasing the rabbit that is always late and soon enough she finds herself going down the rabbit hole. As she falls, she is first passed by objects of art, the highest expression of people’s emotions and living and then she is passed by everyday objects that compose the medium in which humans live.

 

In order to be able to pass through the door she encounters, she drinks what others call poison. It can be said that for ages the truth has been seen as something that is not be wanted and presented in a negative light. The first encounter with something different is of course a negative one: soon enough Alice is sad and floating on a sea of her own tears. She regrets it because it’s not what she expected or wanted, but there is no going back, regardless of what she may want.

Looking for the white rabbit who is in a hurry, she enters the forest, a clear symbol of the mysterious and the natural. The first characters she meets are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. These two characters, which appear human, but immediately show that they are not are trying to keep Alice from going further, they want to lure her with their actions and words and the reason is not apparent. They are the distractions one meets along the way: they make crazy images and sounds, they morph and don’t get hurt when hit and act silly and foolish making an illusion of interest, when in fact they are just there to keep a philosopher from going. The “razzle dazzle” is something a veritable philosopher always encounts: the flashes of the world, of arts and culture that seem to be full of meaning, but are not more than an empty way of spending time trying to make sense of them.

After getting away from the two, Alice meets The Dodo. While he is a cheerful and polite character, The Dodo is also absent-minded and quite aggressive. He is the reflection of a politician whose main problem is that he does not know where his job begins or ends. The confusion that is in his mind leads to a lot of harm, for which in a way, he cannot be directly blamed.

Alice is now slowly making sense of the world, she is confronted with all the appearances and obstacles that compose the world. No wonder that at this point, every time she eats something she becomes either very big or very small. Every truth she comes in contact with, every decision she makes is taking her on a rollercoaster. A philosopher either feels on the top of the world for conquering things or small as an ant in the face of the discovery of what is yet to be discovered.

After having faced entertainment in the shape of distractions and politics in the shape of collateral damage, she needs to be faced with one of the biggest challenges: the talk of the town. While some people have physical power over you, the chatter of the community can “talk” you to non-existence quite easily. To express this, Alice meets with some flowers who mistake her for a flower, lacking the ability to see beyond their world. While they appear to be friendly, as most moralists in life do, the flowers become quite aggressive and condescend towards her quite rapidly, only one young and innocent flower being able to see Alice for who she is and saying she liked her.

 

After dealing with the three blocking entities, Alice starts to meet the holders of the truth. She first meets with a caterpillar. Pretentious and wise, the caterpillar is resembling a guru who knows things, but whose overconfidence can do him harm. He asks Alice who she is and she says that she is not herself anymore. To our heroine, everything is confusing, but not to the caterpillar. What is remarkable in the conversation between Alice and the caterpillar is that she says she doesn’t remember things the way she used to. And that is a sign of a strong philosopher, who, after dealing with the façade of the world and coming in contact with truth speakers, does not see the world, and more specifically, their own world the way they used to. A truth seeker does not get stuck in the way they perceived the world when they were younger, he reconsiders his past and his present, seeing them through a different prism.

 

After taking the big step and overcoming her caterpillar-caused frustrations, Alice meets with one of the deepest characters of Wonderland. She meets the cat. The cat, whose presence is mysterious and captivating, is a representation of the detached “madman”. He knows so much about the world, that the world would see him as the complete outsider. And the cat is OK with that – he knows that he can’t dumb himself down for the world and that those who refuse his truths won’t grasp them, regardless of how much he may try. This is why, he has no intent to make himself like the others. Alice is scared, she says she does not want to go among mad people, but the cat explains that there almost everyone is mad. If the outside world is fake, then the underworld, or Wonderland is the truth. However, given that in Wonderland the creatures use the same language as they do in the outside world, one needs to understand that “madness” in Alice in Wonderland actually means “right”, “correct” or “true”.

 

Meeting the cat is just an introduction to “madness” , as the next characters she meets are the Mad Hatter and the rabbit who were having the maddest of mad tea parties. Right from the start, the couple seems odd: they celebrate when somebody doesn’t have a birthday, an indicative of the fact that people can be more than it says on their birth certificate. The fact that the Mad Hatter celebrates any other day but one’s birthday shows that a person who sees the truth can choose very well who they are. A philosopher selects and makes his own choices about who he is, he does not follow society’s dictates. It’s about choice rather than giving in to defaults.

Alice is asked whether she wants “more” tea, but she replies that she cannot ask for more, given that she did not have any yet. However, the Mad Hatter replies with a deep thought, that you can have more of nothing. With this, he puts the pin on life as acceptance: this sentence is a brief, but compelling discourse on the nature of the anti-element, of the fact that an element can have two types of opposites, the non-element and the anti-element and that they are not equal and the same.

When Alice mentions the cat, mayhem breaks and it takes some time until things cool down. The rabbit tells Alice that if she does not think before she speaks, she should not speak. This remark is in relation to the fact that language is extremely important, not only in the Looking Glass, but everywhere and that words are the tools which we use not only to understand, but also to shape the world and establish its boundaries.

 

Tired and fed up, Alice wants to go back home and she finds a path that she thinks will take her home. However, a dog shows up and sweeps it away. The dog is a usually a symbol of trust. In this case, it can show the creator’s thoughts that one needs to trust the road to cohesion in thought and that once that way is taken, there is no going back.

At this moment, Alice realizes that there is more to the truth than wisdom. As she is angry and sad, she says that she gives herself good advice, but has a hard time following it. She thus understands the difference between the abstract knowledge and the actions one needs to take. At this moment, the cat appears again, being the right companion for a mood where you have a hard time taking things seriously.

Alice learns that all the ways are the queen’s ways and that there is no way reserved for her. She must either take the path between the roads or follow one of the queen’s paths and see what happens. Having little choice, Alice takes a path that goes to the queen’s castle. The first interaction she has in the land of the queen is with some playing cards whose job it was to paint all the roses red. The queen is angry and downright furious all the time and asks for the roses to be painted red for no apparent reason. She is a symbol of a tyrant (not necessarily a political one) who forces everyone to do as she wants, otherwise placing bad consequences on others. She is the symbol of the unhappy person who is always forcing others into her unmotivated unhappiness. The white rabbit Alice chased throughout the story finally shows up for his job at the court and we understand why he was so scared all the time. Not only from a narrative point of view – because he had a job, but also from a psychological point of view: the rabbit who can never be on time is a symbol of a person living in the shadow of a tyrant who can never be pleased and who imposes their requests through aggression and blackmail.

The king, a character who has a just heart does not seem to have much power, but he influences the way things happen in a strong manner. He is the person shaping people’s minds and events from the background, he is a symbol for the unknown people who stay in the shadows of rulers and who influence the world for good, without the tyrants to notice or to change. He is a hidden gem.

 

Right when Alice was going see the queen’s fury, she remembers that she had some mushrooms in her pockets, which she eats and grows large enough to scare the queen for a while. She then has the courage to tell the queen everything she thinks about her, before turning small again.

This is a powerful symbol, the mushroom here is a placeholder for consciousness, relating maybe to experiences people have when exploring their minds with the help of different substances. When taking in mushrooms, representing her own true consciousness, Alice not only grows a lot, but finally sees the world for what it is and dares to speak the truth in a manner that resembles the way the cat talks, detached and ironic.

But such a position does not last for long (just like the cat always quickly disappears) and Alice must run away from all the chaos that is around her. She runs through a tunnel resembling the cat (the highest expression of “madness” – again, in the looking glass “madness” being “reason” and “truth”) and finally goes back to her outside self.

 

While Alice did learn about truth in her excursion in Wonderland, she must get out or else she can end up badly. She puts order in her consciousness and structures information, but in the end, she must get out because living only inside your mind can have some bad consequences. We need the world, but we also need “dreams” or deep thoughts to be able to navigate the world. To learn about the workings of the world, one needs to go in their consciousness, that is where structured and uncensored information lies. Through systematic learning, a philosopher will get to be able to merge the two: the physical world and the truth.

 

We may not live only on one part of the world, just like we can’t have a completely careless life. In the end, if it wasn’t for problems, we would not go down the rabbit hole. In the end, this is what the white rabbit is: he is someone full of problems and dysfunction. Alice follows him and discovers the truths which will help her have a full and virtuous life. In a way, he is a symbol of the cross one bears to eventually find the truth.

 

The book and film have been analyzed in a variety of ways: as a fairytale, as a biography, as a social satire, many of the names of the characters being references to movers and shakers of the time, but also from a mythological (referencing Persephone, Proserpina and even Ēostre), theosophical, philosophical and even a mathematical point of view (for example, the cat could be a reference to the “catenary”, which is a shape of a perfectly flexible chain suspended by its ends and acted on by gravity).

 

Anyway you look at it, “Alice in Wonderland” is a profound story about how curiosity might lead to trouble, but how it is also highly rewarding, as, as Alice would say, “it would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.” And that’s the veritable mission of the philosopher.