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Top 40 Philosophy: The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night”

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, Music, and Top 40 Philosophy

The fifth of six Beatles songs to go #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1964, “A Hard Day’s Night” is our next-to-last song this week. Watch (with delight!) the opening credits for the movie of the same name.

I’ve always liked this song. It creates a distinct world, and you live in that world for the duration of the song. The world is claustrophobic and dark. Only two people are ever present in this world; there are hints that other people exist, but they are always absent. And you only have two places you can be: home and work. Unless you’re the “you,” in which case you only ever exist at home. And it’s always night.

The world created by “A Hard Day’s Night” is kind of scary, in other words. But movies and roller coasters are scary, and that makes them fun.

Worlds and Flavors

C. S. Lewis said somewhere that great works of literature have their own flavors, and if you want to experience a particular flavor again, you can’t go to just any book. It’s like the taste of pineapple; you can only get it from pineapples. So, you have to go back and re-read the book that has the flavor you’re looking for.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis talks, for instance, about the “northernness” you experience in reading the Nordic myths. But, having never read those myths, I would refer you to the atmosphere of Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle Earth. These are places that works of art open to us, and it’s worthwhile just to go and be there in them for a while. (This is one reason why I don’t complain about there being three, overly-long Hobbit movies. The more time we get to spend in Middle Earth, the better.)

Imagination and Possibility

The world of “A Hard Day’s Night” doesn’t actually exist, of course. It feels like a horror movie to me, but it’s all imaginary. And because my experience of the song requires my imagination, you might experience it differently. Though our “faculties” of sight and hearing open onto the same world, our imaginations do not. Or, at least, they might not. “Intersubjectivity” — which we have discussed before — is harder to achieve in imagination.

There is a debate in philosophy, however, about whether imagination might actually tell us something about reality. If you can imagine something, that means it’s at least possible, many philosophers have claimed. And then we get into arguments about how and where “possible things” — like Hogwarts and Narnia — exist. These “possible worlds” don’t actually exist “here in the real world,” but they also don’t “not exist” in the same way as impossible things.


The Hidden Track

Q: What kind of philosophy were we doing today?

A: AestheticsOntologyEpistemology.

Continue your investigation at:

  • The links above.
  • Possible Worlds” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  • Imagination” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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