Thursday, January 25, 2007

"The Human Touch" is Out of Touch

Michael Frayn is the UK's foremost comic playwright and a distinguished novelist. Occupying this position is more risky than it sounds because it means that if he were to write something that is utter garbage, it would probably get published. Then his reputation for being very clever and very entertaining would suffer. Sadly, Frayn has fallen into just such a temptation with his foray into philosophy The Human Touch. This book was not published because it was any good, but because Michael Frayn wrote it.

It is best characterised by the word 'prattling'. It just prattles on with a series of unconnected ideas, occasionally raises itself to a rant and then subsides back to prattling again. No doubt, all the ideas are brought together triumphantly at the end, but frankly I just didn't care. The philosophy in question is the sort of solipsism that undergraduates indulge in for a term or two until they grow up. Frayn still seems to believe in it. Although he includes the entire human race in the hive-mind that generates reality, he really seems to think that if our planet blew up tomorrow, the rest of the universe would go with it. Why? No one left to look at it. You know the one about trees falling over without anyone hearing them...

The London intelligentsia who reviewed Frayn's book were generally kind. After all, they were having him over to dinner next week so they could hardly insult him. Even Simon Blackburn didn't feel he could wield the knife, although his TLS review gave the impression that he'd like to. But the American Jerry Fodor tore The Human Touch to shreds in the LRB. Even he, though, didn't utter the most damning criticism. Frayn's book is boring.

Put it this way. I'm now reading The God Delusion, and it is much, much better than The Human Touch.

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