Author: David Cohen

Remembering Karl Popper

It’s the end of the wartime workday at 14a Westenra Terrace in the Port Hills of Christchurch, New Zealand, high above the southern terminus of the city’s streets. The one-bedroom apartment offers commanding views of a region shaped by the heaving of the Earth’s crust and the dry winds that blow in from the north-west and across the southern alpine range. But for the Austrian husband and wife living here, there’s not much time to contemplate these natural elements. This is the 1940s, and their focus remains instead on the heaving of their native European crust and the calamitous trends of intellectual history now bending their homeland out of shape. Inside, the youngish Karl Popper—dark-eyed and slightly stooped—glances at his handwritten notes. His wife, Hennie, waits, a sheet of fresh paper rolled into the typewriter behind which she is seated. Slowly, he begins to dictate his latest thoughts for a work that he privately fears will receive as little enthusiasm from prospective publishers as he has received from many colleagues in his adopted home. “Great …

Songs from Orwell’s Glass Asylum

In 1947, the year David Bowie was born, a tubercular George Orwell shuffled over to the bedroom window of his cottage on the storm-lashed Scottish island of Jura and thought about London. He was always thinking about London. The ailing Orwell—moustache and cigarette drooped downward, clad most of his days in just the same old raggedy dressing gown as he propped himself up in bed with a typewriter—was in a race against time to polish off the manuscript of what would be his ninth and final book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian satire about totalitarianism and the cynical manipulation of language set in the British capital in the not-too-distant future. Orwell later said that the book was about his fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” This he fleshes out by way of a doomed romance between Winston Smith, a wavering individualist who has begun to doubt the wisdom of the media that ceaselessly broadcasts the Party’s bizarre slogans, and a freckle-faced young sensualist named Julia. Both characters meet …