John Cornwell

Bounded in a Nutshell

The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head


Atlantic Books 324pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

There is an Oxford story featuring Maurice Bowra, the outlandish bachelor who was Warden of Wadham College half a century ago. On a stretch of the River Cherwell, known as Parsons’ Pleasure, male dons used to skinny dip. One day a group of women punted off course into this area, prompting the men to place their hands over their privates. With one exception. Bowra put his hands over his face, explaining to a friend: ‘My dear, in Oxford I am usually known by my face.’ Raymond Tallis has written a book ostensibly about the physiology and anthropology of the head, but which masks an earnest social and philosophical treatise in which he resurrects a version of the Bowra anecdote to make a profound point about the human soul: ‘If, as Wittgenstein said, “the human body is the best portrait of the human soul”, then the face is the essence of that portrait’, writes Tallis. The soul, he says, resides not in the stuff of the brain, and still less within an indwelling spooky stuff, but on the surface: literally, on the face.

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