Faust Was a Keynesian

I confess that there have been a few times since beginning this Great Books project that I’ve looked at my reading list for the week with trepidation, as a chore to be accomplished. This past week, though, I kept on running into passages that got me excited and eager for more. Every week the connections among all the great writers get a little clearer.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 524-548)
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 388-416)
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book II (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 310-324)
  4. Federalist #44 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 144-147; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. The Sphinx” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 2-4)
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter I (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 92-101)

By reading Herodotus’s Histories over the last couple of months we have gotten way ahead of schedule on the Man and Society portion of our readings and way behind on the Imaginative Literature. Next week we’ll start making up for that.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters XVIII-XX: It struck me as odd that the book doesn’t end with Crusoe’s escape from the island; I’m probably just too influenced by the narrative techniques of film. The adventure with the wolves was pretty intense. The scene with Friday and the bear could never be written today; the author wouldn’t be able to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of seeming to endorse cruelty towards animals on one side and criticizing an indigenous culture on the other.
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book VIII: Themistocles was a sneaky little devil, wasn’t he? I love the part where he argues with Adeimantus. The anecdotes of this book seemed more relevant than those of the others, since most of them were directly related to the main narrative. (Except for the one near the end with the guy scooping up the sunlight . . . that was bizarre.) Artemisia is a fascinating character, too.
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book I: I’ve read this several times in the last few years, and I always wonder about Plato’s separation of ruling as a craft from the interest of the ruler. Is it no part of the shepherd’s job to slaughter the sheep at the appropriate time to benefit himself or his employer? Of course, I’m not sad to see Thrasymachus confuted.
  4. Federalist #43: Lots of random stuff in this one. I find it significant that Madison invokes “necessity” near the end when trying to justify repudiation of the articles even if some states don’t ratify the Constitution. Isn’t this secession?
  5. “The Sand-Reckoner” by Archimedes: Wow, I felt like I was reading Euclid again! This selection was hard enough with recourse to Arabic numerals. I can’t imagine trying to comprehend it with Greek “multitudes” and the like. You may remember that Kasner and Newman cited this work in discussing the difference between huge (but finite) numbers and infinite numbers.
  6. “Goethe’s Faust” by George Santayana: I found this essay fascinating; it even gave me an idea for a conference paper. I’ve been running into this whole seeking-is-better-than-finding talk for a few years now, and now I can trace it to German Romanticism. I imagine many “seekers” will be unsettled to learn the provenance of their ideas. I’m going to have to go back and read Santayana’s Dante essay at some point; I assume Adler left it out of the Gateway series because he included an essay on Dante by T.S. Eliot.

I’m into my new house now, but I have no internet service until next week, so the postings will probably be few and far between for one more week. The silver lining is that without the web to distract me, I shouldn’t have any problem doing this week’s readings on time!

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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3 Responses to Faust Was a Keynesian

  1. Jane says:

    Nearly a year later and I’m picking up the threads again. My father, whose books I am reading, passed away last July at 93, so my head just wasn’t in the right place for a while. Now I hope to keep going in his memory.
    Robinson Crusoe: I likewise was surprised by the adventures continuing post-island and by that whole scene with the wolves. It’s fun to now know the source of the term “His Man Friday” and sad that said Friday doesn’t make it through the sequel, unfortunately still pegged to (enslaved by?) Crusoe and getting killed in a sea battle…
    Histories of Herodotus, Book VIII: Love that these are in free audiobook format on the internet so I can crochet at the same time. In this chapter I was most impressed by the antics of the queen & naval captain on the Persian side, Artemisia. A trusted advisor to Xerxes, she somehow gained even more cred after ramming and sinking a ship from her own coalition because it was in the way of her escape route. I also picked up on the description of the Persian relay messaging system that was appropriated by the US Postal Service: “These men will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they have to go, either by snow, or rain, or heat, or by the darkness of night.”
    After Federalist #43, I looked to see whether 3/4ths of states were still the requirement for amendment ratification, and it appears so. Then I read about the most recent one to pass, #27, prohibiting any law increasing or decreasing the salaries of members of Congress from going into effect until the start of a new term. It failed to pass when first proposed in 1789 as one of 12 amendments; the ten that were ratified became the Bill of Rights. In 1982 a university student brought it to light and renewed a campaign for ratification that ended successfully on May 5, 1992, completing a record-setting ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.
    Archimedes, The Sand Reckoner: I can easily grasp that the number of grains of sand on earth, or in the whole solar system, must be finite though really, really big thanks to Kasner and Newman. But I had never heard the term “chiliagon” before, or (when I looked it up) “myriagon.” I guess those are really, really big polygons whose angles are invisible unless you’re Atlas or something. I give Archimedes credit for describing the earth as rotating around the sun, though he was a bit off on the diameter of the sun compared to the moon: not 30 but 400 times greater.
    Finally, Santayana on Goethe’s Faust made me think of the problem of hedonic adaptation. We humans seem to be engineered to fall back to earth after every high; reaching goals and fulfilling dreams bring only momentary pleasure. “Every romantic ideal, once realized, disenchants. No matter what we attain, our dissatisfaction must be perpetual.”
    Perhaps this accounts for the wisdom of focusing more on the journey than on the destination. “…the spirit of nature is itself romantic. It lives spontaneously, bravely, without premeditation, and for the sake of living rather than of enjoying or attaining anything final. And under natural conditions, the vicissitudes of an endless life would be many; and there could be no question of an ultimate goal, nor even of an endless progress in any particular direction. The veering of life is part of its vitality – it is essential to romantic irony and to romantic pluck.”

    • Dr. J says:

      Jane, it’s nice to see you back here on the site! I’m sorry to learn of your father’s passing, but it sounds like he lived a very full life. I hope I can make it to 93.

      • Jane says:

        Thanks Dr. J! While my dad lost a great deal of ground cognitively in his later years, he was blessedly content to spend time in his two favorite places (home in CT and summer place in RI) among family and friends, listening to music and watching birds through the window or from a chair on the deck. Perhaps what’s really important is arranging one’s life in such a way to afford those simple luxuries – supportive, loving relationships and a safe, aesthetically pleasing place to live. Such is my aim!

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