3,000+ pages of the Great Books down; only 35,000 or so more to go! I’m wondering whether to insert some of Adler’s recommended novels and poetry not in the Great Books series as bonus reading. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative) by Herman Melville (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 31-98)
- “Meditation on the Divine Will” by Abraham Lincoln (GGB Vol. 6, p. 758)
- Plato’s Republic, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 342-356)
- Federalist #46 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 150-153; Antifederalist responses are here)
- “A Laboratory of the Open Fields” by Jean-Henri Fabre (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 97-104)
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter VII (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 113-124)
I expect the reading will go very quickly this week because 70% of it is fiction, and much of the rest is from the GGB set, the pages of which aren’t as long as those of GBWW.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: An incorrect conception of the Jekyll/Hyde split has become deeply ingrained in our popular culture: Jekyll is good, whereas Hyde is bad. Stevenson, though presents Jekyll as a mixture of good and bad, whereas Hyde is completely bad. Jekyll feels the pull towards Hyde, but Hyde despises Jekyll. That makes it all the more horrible when Jekyll loses control of the transformations. The journal entries at the end make you despair along with Jekyll.
- “Resolutions When I Come to Be Old” by Jonathan Swift: These resolutions are commendable as well as humorous. Swift apparently saw among the elderly in his culture the behaviors against which he has resolved, just as we do today. Are these behaviors, e.g., endlessly recalling the glory days of one’s youth to uninterested listeners, universal?
- Plato’s Republic, Book III: Government leaders can lie to you, but you can’t lie to anyone. Gee, that sounds familiar. I wonder if the elites today recognize the power of music the way Plato does. Which is worse: trying to rewrite Homer the way Plato wants to, or just getting rid of it altogether the way 21st-educationistas would prefer?
- Federalist #45: These arguments for why the States have little to fear from the proposed central government sound reasonable, but history has given the lie to nearly all of them. The militia will be more powerful than the regular army? Sure.
- “The Sunless Sea” by Rachel Carson: Although the state of scientific knowledge described here is dated, Carson’s presentation is very effective, giving you relevant information in a methodical way while also sparking your imagination. In particular, the image of the sperm whale battling the giant squid in the blackness of the deep is compelling.
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter II: Much of this chapter is a paraphrase of Francis Bacon and John Locke; it’s instructive to see the intellectual heritage here. Dewey is surely right in urging that we make reflective thinking an educational aim, but I caught the scent of danger in the passage that downplays the actual content that is taught.
I certainly enjoyed the several days of low humidity in Albuquerque; Montgomery summers are so oppressive! I am staying indoors to read as much as possible this week. I hope you’re in a more temperate clime. If not, at least we’ll be able to go to sea with Melville this week. Happy reading!