Monday, December 09, 2013
"An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky" ratifies what I know: tall men have it better
“Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky”, by Michel Gondry, is a cute enough idea to make abstract philosophical thoughts, especially from a pundit well known for (left-wing) moralizing, filmable. Chomsky, now 85, talks, with great articulation, and Gondry draws. It’s rather like Salman Khan drawing to teach his lessons. Chomsky was a linguistics professor at M.I.T.
This little film deals with Chomsky’s meta-philosophy. In his mind, what makes us different from animals is that our concept of something has to do with its permanence and not just its physical form. He posed questions like whether a tree grows from a seed is the same tree as its ancestor, but it’s probably, in biological terms, to ask that question with respect to asexual reproduction. If a flatworm is cut in half and both halves regenerate, are both bodies the same being? We could go into the logical paradox posed by the 1954 film (and remakes) “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Sexual reproduction is actually biology’s answer to entropy in thermodynamics.
What does make someone “who he is?” Chomsky says his first memory is at age 18 months (mine is at age 3 getting an electric train for Christmas). He denies the afterlife. A tragedy led to the loss of his wife, which he doesn’t want to talk about.
The question has practical and moral consequences in relationships, especially marriage. In 50 years, most or all of the cells of a person’s body are replaced, but he or she is still the same person. Permanency of an intimate relationship requires to go beyond “what we see”. The idea of fantasy comes into this discussion.
Chomsky gives some ideas as to how man became different from animals, and developed a cognition enabling culture to develop. It could have happened several times and died. He says that all cognitive thinking is a kind of "talking to yourself."
Toward the end of the film Chomsky gets more specific, saying that after World War II, some of the Allies kept some Holocaust victims interned for some time, especially in France. I had not heard that. He also discussed the anti-semitism in America early in the war, including the voyage of the “St. Louis”, depicted in the 1976 film “Voyage of the Damned”.
The title of the film is based on a grammatical paradox, but I can say I would not want to be the tallest man in a bar. To be honest, there is an advantage in our culture to being tall, even very tall (if male) and lean. Chomsky practically restates Mark Zuckerberg's famous retort to Diane Sawyer when still the toddler CEO, "Is that a question?" Jimmy Kimmel has even mentioned it.
Technically, much of the film is set in the old 4:3 aspect ratio. (But so was “The Artist”.)
The official site is here.
I saw the film before a fair Monday night crowd at the West End Cinema.