Arts: The Week In Radio - It's easy to mock
Saturday 22 May 1999
Monty Python's Flying Circus casts a long shadow, and it is hard to stave off memories of its "Philosopher's Song" ("Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar/ Hobbes was fond of his dram") and its seamless inclusion of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant, without suppressing a snigger, but the tricky and abstruse lectures on Postscript - Living Ideas (Radio 3, Monday to Friday daily), certainly managed it.
From remote Prussian Konigsberg, Kant postulated "Maxims" - criteria for principles of action fundamental to human life - and is now regarded as a politically correct proponent of ethical and, by extension, cultural diversity. Descartes' dualism theory of mind and body, we were told, has dated badly, but his rigorously modern view of science and the material world eclipses that of his contemporary, Isaac Newton - "frankly, a nutter" - whose world view was dominated by arcane cabbala from alchemy to biblical numerology.
The ancient echo of an equine corpse being thwacked hung over a good deal of David Puttnam's Century of Cinema (Radio 2, Tuesday), although the anecdotes saved it, as they tend to do. The silent movie actress Anita Page recalled her co-stars Buster Keaton ("He was a doll"), Clark Gable ("That poor darling man. I didn't want to get married"), and, 70 years on, managed a superannuated poke at her arch-rival, Greta Garbo ("She wasn't as pretty as me").
Dirk Bogarde, in his last interview, acutely summarised Judy Garland as "the most controlled piece of work I've ever seen", and Puttnam concluded with Ridley Scott surveying an exquisitely constructed Napoleonic interior for his film The Duellists: "Now I suppose we've got to bugger it up by putting all those actors in there."
Like cinema, cricket (The Game of Empire, Radio 4 Thursday) fulfils many of Kant's requirements for selective ethical universalism. Until 1947 though, this "Indian game accidentally discovered by the British" was a tool of Empire, "more free from anything sordid than any other game", according to the governor of Bombay in 1890. In India, it was sustained by colonial self-interest and communal rivalry between Muslims, Hindus and Parsees and the ruling Indian princes. After Independence, it became fundamentally inclusive, symbolic of the pluralistic nationalism of Gandhi and Nehru, and, together with free elections and the film industry, one of the unifying factors of post-war India, though the amiable trickle of the five-day match constitutes a perfect critique of modern life.
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