In this week's TLS – a note from Deputy Editor
Love of innovative gadgetry and pleasure in gee-whiz devices might be a defining feature of our times, but Jules Verne was making them the basis of his most popular works from the 1860s on. Did he, though, in common with Robert Louis Stevenson and William Morris, come to see “the vast nineteenth-century expansion of human knowledge and power” as a dystopic Eden, whose troubling outgrowths included unpredictability, uncertainty, “loss and calamity”? A new study argues that they did; our reviewer Felipe Fernández-Armesto, while he finds the book an “irresistible, endlessly instructive pleasure”, is not so sure. It closes with a vision of “rolling apocalypse”, humankind self-condemned by reckless exploitation of nature. The achievements of Frank (F. P.) Ramsey, dead at the age of twenty-six, have been entirely overshadowed by those of Ludwig Wittgenstein, yet it is Ramsey who – according to David Papineau, reviewing a memoir by Ramsey’s sister – “singlehandedly forged the ideas that have come to dominate the philosophical landscape”. For Wittgenstein, “science was an enemy that threatened to coarsen the human spirit. For Ramsey, it was a friend that could help us understand the place of humans in a world governed by natural law”. Paul Bishop, meanwhile, reviews a selection from the work of another forgotten philosopher, and another Ludwig: Ludwig Klages, whose address to German Youth in 1913 was “arguably a founding document of the Green Movement”, and who offers a persuasive version of what it is to be “truly alive”.
To be truly alive – to feel all “the joy of living”, with its attendant risks – is one of the great themes of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, which is also “one of the great plays about syphilis”, as Sue Prideaux says. Syphilis was widely considered a hereditary disease; Prideaux’s Commentary offers fascinating insights into how and why Ibsen probably knew better. Paul Binding reviews a production that is the first since 1906 to make use of Edvard Munch’s set designs for the play.