Friday, December 09, 2011

Adam and Dave Visit 300 years later!

Mark Fisher (9 December ) reports in The Scotsman (9 December) on a new theatre production at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre (for which for many years in the 1970s and 80s I was a subscribing member) HERE

"Bringing Adam and David up to date"

“Time-travelling fathers of the Enlightenment have been given a chance to appraise our world, for good and ill, by the Traverse and playwright Jo Clifford”

“ON Edinburgh’s High Street there are two statues by monumental sculptor Sandy Stoddart, placed a stone’s throw from each other. On one side of the road, next to St Giles’ Cathedral, stands Adam Smith, a proud 10ft (3m) tall bronze. The man regarded as the father of modern economics has a ploughshare behind him and a beehive to his side, symbols of the agriculture and industry on which he built his doctrines.

Further up, near the crossroads, sits David Hume, also larger than life, wearing a toga, brandishing a book and currently boasting some rather fetching nail varnish. The author of A Treatise of Human Nature was a major influence on Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham and Charles Darwin. As well as his contribution to empiricist philosophy, he founded the study of cognitive science.”

The two men were born ten years apart in the early 1700s and helped establish Scotland as the cradle of the Enlightenment. Now, 300 years later, they are unexpectedly back together at the Traverse Theatre.

In Jo Clifford’s The Tree of Knowledge, they find themselves transported to the 21st century where they come across Eve, a woman whose idea of a new town is the streets of Glenrothes rather than the Georgian boulevards of Edinburgh.
“I thought it would be fun to contrast two very different sorts of new town and to think about the sort of values that both express,” says Clifford. “It tells us something about the world we live in.” ...

Written as a result of a creative fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, the play reminds us that Smith was a more subtle thinker than his reputation would suggest. There was certainly more to him than many of his free-market followers would have us believe.

“He was a far more complex figure than that,” says Clifford. “He and Hume believed very strongly in what they called sympathy, which is our capacity for fellow feeling; we’d call it empathy. Smith is most famous for The Wealth of Nations, but he also wrote an extraordinarily interesting book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, where he’s thinking about empathy. He felt this capacity for fellow feeling should be at the heart of our social relationships, our justice system and our economic arrangements.”

“Hume and Smith had a vision that the market would set human creativity free and, to a certain extent, they were absolutely right,” she says. “But particularly in the last ten years when we’ve had this total disaster of right-wing free market economics that is governing the world in a destructive and appalling way, it’s desperately clear that we need to find a new economic model. We have to or civilisation is not going to last.”

… During her research, one of the most interesting people she came across was Deirdre McCloskey, an American economics professor and fervent believer in the free market. The Tree of Knowledge reflects her views too.
“She reveres Adam Smith and believes the free market economy is a force for good in the world. Capitalism – and this is undoubtedly true – has transformed living standards, particularly in the west. Her books are very stimulating, and all that is in the play as well.” ...

Clifford is also aware of capitalism’s contradictions. Like all of us, she has benefited from the very economic system she calls into question. “I’m sitting with a little plastic ring in my heart that’s keeping it working.” She had heart surgery a few years ago. “That’s only possible because I’m living in one of the most advanced economies in the western world.”
Her challenge in all this was to bring to life two historical characters in a way that was dramatically dynamic and that did justice to their ideas. “They were economist-philosophers who were incredibly clever, so the challenge was to get myself in tune with their thinking. They were remarkably progressive, intelligent, humane, wonderful thinkers. The play is a love letter to Hume and Smith.”

[The Tree of Knowledge is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, tomorrow until 24 December.]

Looks interesting, especially because the author says she is influenced by Deirdre McCloskey, author "Bourgeois Dignity: why economics can’t explain the modern world", Chicago, 2010 (reviewed on Lost Legacy).

The Scotsman, Scotland’s national newspaper, gave it an illustrated two-page spread.

I hope very much to get to see it, weather and mobility permitting. Catch it if you can.


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