The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom by John Gray - review by Stephen Cave

Stephen Cave

Nothing New under the Sun

The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 179pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Early in this book, John Gray tells the story of Heinrich von Kleist, who tells the story of a Herr C, who tells the story of how he once fenced with a bear. Herr C was a fine swordsman, able easily to defeat most human opponents; ‘but the animal,’ the gentleman recounts, ‘seemingly without any effort, avoided any harm’, parrying all thrusts with a swipe of its paw. Herr C soon began to sweat as he thrusted and feinted, only for the bear to see through all these ploys: ‘looking me in the eye, as though he could read my soul in it, he stood with his paw lifted in readiness and when my thrusts were not seriously intended he did not move.’

For Gray, as for Kleist, this is a parable: we humans try to guess, second guess and third guess; we reflect and deceive. We are clever, but because of this very cleverness, we are also clumsy. Animals, on the other hand, are unburdened by reflection: they simply act. They therefore

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