I don’t know about you, but I am ready to say farewell to Sigmund Freud for a while, so it’s a good thing this week’s Great Books readings include the conclusion of The Interpretation of Dreams.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Samson Agonistes by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 335-378)
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book III (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 245-248)
- “A Trait of Certain Ambassadors” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 80-81)
- “Politics as a Vocation” by Max Weber (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 73-108; Part I Section IV of Essays in Sociology)
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VII, Sections D-end (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 366-398; pp. 179-212 of the linked PDF)
- The Timaeus of Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 442-477)
I decided to dip into Weber for the first time this week in part because I needed to cite this essay for the book chapter I just finished writing.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- “The Death of Ivan Ilyitch” by Leo Tolstoy: This is a great story, although there’s actually more ambiguity at the end than I would have liked. Ivan Ilyitch has his realization that his life has not been lived well, but we don’t really find out what reconciles him to that beyond a reference to “falling into light.” The last few pages do a lot to set highlight the pettiness of the survivors at the beginning of the story before the flashback.
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book II: The opening of this book was a lot to chew on. I couldn’t decide whether it was a penetrating insight and laudable expression of forbearance or an insufferable condescension towards all non-philosophers. There’s an interesting expression of the cyclical view of history in section 14: “a man cannot lose either the past or the future . . . all things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle.”
- “One Is Punished for Defending a Place Obstinately without Reason” and “Of the Punishment of Cowardice” by Michel de Montaigne: These two essays together seem like an exploration of the two vices on either end of Aristotle’s mean of courage. Montaigne refers to “rules of war” that determine the defensibility of a position; if a commander persists in defending a place that ought to be surrendered, he should expect everyone under his command to be slaughtered. We also get numerous classical references of similar executions of soldiers or commanders judged to be cowards.
- “On World Government” by Dante Alighieri: It looks to me like Dante is guilty of some part-to-whole fallacies here, just as Aristotle does with his “State as the man writ large” notion. I can forgive him for proposing this idea as a solution to the warfare of his day, but from a 21st-century perspective it sounds like a cure that could easily be worse than the disease.
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VII, Introduction-Section C: I was not satisfied with Freud’s attempt to answer what he acknowledges to be a potentially fatal objection to his entire system: the faulty recollection of dreams by the individual relating them. His proposal of a regression by “memory trace” got all weird, and he started throwing acronyms around.
- The Rhetoric of Aristotle, Book III: Aristotle gets down to brass tacks in this section, proposing specific ways to make your address more persuasive to the hearers. Some of them were specific to the Greek language, but others translated pretty well into English. I also thought his emphasis on separating the stating of the case from the demonstration of the case was interesting.
It’s an indoor week here in Alabama; when it’s not hot and humid, it’s raining. I’m doing a little rearranging of my home office and trying to get rid of books I no longer have room for both at home and at work. It’s a painful process, as you might imagine.