Space, time and the texture of reality - that's truly posh

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The Independent Online

It is all very well to look for evidence of social trends in surveys and polls, but nothing beats the willingness of publishers to pay out hard cash to reveal a true indication of cross-cultural currents. Of course, no one could have been too surprised when Posh Spice garnered an easy £1m for the world rights to her autobiography, even though this set a new record in the celebrity genre stakes. The world seems to be full of bedazzled punters fascinated by the secrets of her slimming diet and any bedroom secrets she may reveal.

It is all very well to look for evidence of social trends in surveys and polls, but nothing beats the willingness of publishers to pay out hard cash to reveal a true indication of cross-cultural currents. Of course, no one could have been too surprised when Posh Spice garnered an easy £1m for the world rights to her autobiography, even though this set a new record in the celebrity genre stakes. The world seems to be full of bedazzled punters fascinated by the secrets of her slimming diet and any bedroom secrets she may reveal.

What does astonish is that Posh's good fortune was pushed into the background at Frankfurt Book Fair by a work on "space, time and the texture of reality" by Professor Brian Greene of Columbia University. His new book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, has picked up $2m (£1.45m) for US rights alone. As we can safely assume that the "texture of reality" will be set out on an abstract plane that will not include much about the doings of pop stars on planet Earth, there must be even more potential purchasers out there with a desire to smarten-up as to dumb-down. Never mind that Stephen Hawking's best-seller, A Brief History of Time, is said to lie unread on bookshelves around the world.

The interest in books of cosmology and other areas of science, such as evolution (see Richard Dawkin's many best-selling works), indicate that an innate thirst for knowledge about the ultimate nature of reality has spread from popular religion to popular science. And this at a time when we are told that there is a trivialisation of discourse in all areas, from politics to arts.

Our own belief is that widespread education has made all sectors of society reasonably literate and self-confident. This development has been followed, inevitably, by the development of interests in all manner of human activities, from the most banal to the most elevated. Nobel prizes continue to be awarded for the most abstruse works of science. And while television screens a never-ending succession of glamourous celebrity award-giving ceremonies, it also gives us Simon Schama. There have been many terms coined to catch the multiversity of modern tastes, from "post-modern" to "multicultural".

Of course, human beings are rarely just one thing or another. However we are still left wondering: is there anyone in the world who will be buying both Professor Greene's weighty tome and Victoria Beckham's flighty memoirs?

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