Hell Is Other People…And Other Observations From Abroad
“Need a bit more philosophy in your life?” asks Correspondent Paul Lewis, filing from London this morning. “You may need philosophy, if you are, for instance: frightened of death; worried about why love makes us both happy and miserable; anxious to improve the world but don’t know how; or frustrated with your current circumstances but unsure if you can engineer a change.
“Now a newly opened London shop offers ways of thinking intelligently about the strains and stresses of modern existence in carefully packaged amounts. Called The School of Life, it is situated at 70 Marchmont St. in the middle of intellectual Bloomsbury, midway between the British Museum and Saint Pancras Station.
“Calling itself a ‘cultural apothecary,’ The School of Life offers short courses, lectures, learning expeditions, and restaurant discussion groups that help customers think rationally about their lives, fears, and desires.
“For example, you could join a group that bicycles around East London, pausing occasionally to discuss ‘a central of question of identity and freedom.’ Or you can lie on your back, staring at the sky, and reflect on the beauty of clouds and the inspiration artists and writers have drawn from the heavens.
“The new shoppe is the inspiration of a young British writer and philosopher, Alain de Bottom, one of whose recent books is called, not surprisingly, ‘The Consolations of Philosophy.’
“Philosophy has its price, however. Six weeks of 2 ½-hour weekly courses costs just under 200 pounds sterling, or roughly US$320.
“Philosophy is also in vogue this summer on London’s Underground, where train-drivers have been given a book of appropriate quotations from great thinkers, which they read over the P.A. system at suitable moments. The book by artist Jeremy Deller, which has been given to drivers as part of an initiative to promote art on the Tube, quotes Sartre’s observation that ‘hell is other people,’ which might be used when rush-hour trains are stuck in the tunnel.
“Another quotation is Gandhi’s observation: ‘There’s more to life than increasing its speed’,’ could also be used to console passengers suffering from delays and poor service.
“But when the train finally gets going, the driver can remind passengers of Friedrich Engels’ observation that ‘an ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.’
“It’s a lot more entertaining that the standard lugubrious London Transport exhortation to ‘mind the gap’ when trains come to stop several inches away from the station platform.”