Hapgood --- The Main Themes
As Kerner explains on pp 572 and 573, in each of our characters is the working majority of a dual personality, part of which is always there in a submerged state. Like the wave-particle duality of nature, these dual aspects of a personality are not expressed at the same time.
This is symbolized in Hapgood's name ("half-good" or "perhaps good") and her Hapgood/Newton personas, in the behavior (personal vs. technical) of some of the characters, and in the twin Russians and twin Ridleys.
In the electron double-slit experiment,
the electron acts like a wave and produces an interference pattern if you don't ask which slit the electron passes through,
the electron acts like a particle and does not produce an interference pattern if you do ask which slit the electron passes through.
When you ask nature a question ("Is the electron a particle or a wave?"), you get what you interrogate for.
The same thing occurs with the double (and triple) agents in Hapgood, where on p 500 Kerner remarks that "... a double agent is more like a trick of the light." Each side gives Kerner enough information to keep him credible with the opposition, so when each side asks "Is Kerner working for us against them?" the answer is "yes." On p 501, Kerner says, "Frankly I can't remember which side I'm supposed to be working for, and it is in fact not necessary for me to know." Ridley turns out to be a Russian double agent working for the KGB, and Kerner is --- by his own admission --- well past being a triple agent who has been working for both sides.
Interestingly, Kerner always tells the truth in the play, just as nature always tells the truth. However, Kerner's dialog in the play can have more than one meaning, and the listener gets what he or she interrogates for.
Spies would find it useful if they could adopt the weird quantum behavior of electrons, as Kerner explains on p 544. Stoppard uses the spy analogy to emphasize just how strange this quantum behavior is.
Stoppard's concerns with physics and metaphysics are brought out on p 544, where Kerner says, "There is a straight ladder from the atom to the grain of sand, and the only real mystery in physics is the missing rung. Below it, particle physics; above it, classical physics; but in between, metaphysics. All the mystery in life turns out to be this same mystery, the join between things which are distinct and yet continuous, mind and body, free will and causality, living cells and life itself; the moment before the foetus. Who needed God when everything worked like billiard balls?"
The importance Stoppard places on this passage is apparent in his quote from Richard Feynman at the beginning of Hapgood. Stoppard is saying that the non-determinism of quantum physics does not explain the mysteries of the conscious mind and free will. It does, however, liberate us from the determinism that excluded the possibility of a conscious mind and free will. In Stoppard's view, such a determinism reduced God to a cosmic trick-shot artist who merely set the billiard balls (atoms) going in the beginning. Stoppard's "missing rung," the "mystery in life," is the metaphysical description of just how quantum physics fits into the overall scheme of things. What is the role it plays in the conscious mind and free will?
As in the spy novels of John le Carré, Stoppard's play is concerned with the moral ambiguity of the business of espionage. As Ridley makes clear on pp 583 and 584, spies have a kind of moral uncertainty principle because they do not have an exact position (belief) about things or an exact momentum (plan of action) based on moral principles. Kerner's reason for defecting to the West had more to do with technology than morality, and he sees both East and West as corrupt (pp 573, 574). Betrayals abound in Hapgood: Ridley and Hapgood betray each other (from their respective points of view) and Blair betrays Hapgood by putting her son at risk. Hapgood finally sees espionage as an arbitrary game that ultimately goes nowhere when she says (p 591) "... we're just keeping each other in business, we should send each other Christmas cards ...." At the end of the play, both Hapgood and Kerner have quit the espionage game.
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Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2004 11:11 AM