Being born now – imagine how much there is to get caught up on. And then imagine that you want to know all there is to know – but not waste your life in a Jorge Luis Borges perpetual library. Well, have I got an answer for you.
Sapiens, a famous book from several years ago by Israeli academic Yuval Noah Hariri – is another purported brief history of humanity in the great tradition of H.G. Wells and Bill Bryson – but it is so much more: it is a brutal shattering of illusions – all illusions: religion, nation-state, the limited liability company.
Indeed, as Yuval explains, what ultimately led to Sapien-ascendancy is our ability to cooperate better than Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalensis – and the how is deceptively simple yet also revelatory – we have told ourselves lies, or as Yuval terms it in a more politically correct way: fictions. How to get scores of people to work together – propagandise an all powerful god and commensurate religion – and so goes the nation state – and so goes companies like Peugot in Europe and Apple in, well, the world.
Of course Yuval covers much other related ground – from the struggle between the species (looks like Homo Erectus, Neanderthalensis and Sapiens all have battled for the same land at the same time) – to the first empires, writing, the ascendancy of Europe, mass farming, and eventually trans-humanism and other cyber-subjects coming to the fore even in the academy.
By the end of Sapiens I felt for the first time even after the thousands of books I had previously read that I understood how we have got here. I didn’t need to read any more history, or theology or even other social science any more. I was done. However some years later issues such as the climate crisis as described in David Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth, and the corrupt business model of big tech as covered in Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism forced me back into reading mode.
At around the same time I read Sapiens I saw this new Nolans film Interstellar. This seemed a perfect epilogue to Sapiens: pointing in a hyper-visual way – the way forward for us all, at least if Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have anything to do with it. Reprinted below is a short review of the film I wrote for Cinema Montreal:
Interstellar solidifies the brother team Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (the director and writer, respectively) as the best filmmakers working in Hollywood, and probably the world, today. No one, it seems, can quite write like a Nolan, and Jonathan wrote a dozy – and despite the action and effects that inevitably come with any grand space movie going back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar is all about story. I see some other mediocre reviews here, even some bombs. I can only explain this to say that Nolan movies neatly fit into exactly what I like in particular, cerebral, technically well made films, which really push the storytelling capacity of film to its limits in a thoroughly forward looking way. From Memento (written by Jonathan) to Inception (written by Christopher), to Interstellar – as mentioned with Jonathan back with the writing credit – not to mention the best comic book franchise, Batman, somehow thrown in, I don’t think any brother duo working today even comes close (with the possible exception of the Coens), with the Wachowskis long ago descending to a kind of nouveau kitch, and well, the Farelly’s doing Dumb and Dumber Too: only the Nolan’s are left to break new ground.
This movie pushes all the boundaries and ultimately tackles some of the biggest questions and challenges we are now, or soon will face. Complete with plenty of surprises and a neatness only the Nolan’s can provide: I will be living in this world for the foreseeable future as I cannot conceive how Interstellar can possibly be topped any time soon.