“Spin Me the Yarn!”

After yesterday’s summary of our 2011 accomplishments, I hope you’re feeling motivated to press forward. Remember that you can jump in midstream at any time with shorter works and go back to pick up earlier selections as you are able!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 102-132  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 204-246)
  2. Of Repentance” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 429-436)
  3. Rules for the Direction of the Mind by René Descartes, XII-XVI (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 240-257; I could not find a complete version of this work online, but this site contains at least the summary of each rule. Here is a volume containing the entire text.)
  4. Of Seditions and Troubles” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 12-17)
  5. Probability” by Pierre Simon de Laplace (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 325-338; Chapters I-IV of A Philosophical Essay on Probability)
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 527-542)

Three standalone works make this week another good one for first-time readers to get their feet wet. I wasn’t quite able to close the door on Moby Dick this week, but we’ll come within a few chapters of the end.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 93-101: The meeting between Ahab and the captain of the Samuel Enderby is illuminating; the contrast between the two men could hardly be greater. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale looks even worse when placed beside the jovial captain who lost an arm but bears the world no grudge.
  2. “The United States in 1800” by Henry Adams: I thoroughly enjoyed this selection, with a couple of reservations. By the end of Chapter I, you are wondering along with Adams how on earth the United States was able to amount to anything. Contemplating the difficulty of simply moving around the country made me appreciate modern modes of travel. What I disliked were the New England prejudice and the rhapsodizing on the American repudiation of European modes of thought.
  3. Rules for the Direction of the Mind by René Descartes, I-XI: None of this is too surprising to those of us who read the Discourse on Method in 2011, although the fixation on mathematics never ceases to intrigue me. Although I am not a Cartesian, I have to say that the problems of faulty reasoning about which he complains are really widespread today. But why does he dismiss dialectic? I thought that very odd.
  4. “Sanity of True Genius” by Charles Lamb: This is the last of Lamb’s essays in the GGB collection, but I want more. The anti-Romantic tone of this piece was refreshing. The great artist truly is master of his craft; he is not mastered by it.
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book VI: I confess I did not know there were still any people in 1600 who needed to be persuaded that the earth rotates on its axis.Gilbert effectively demonstrates this proposition, and then wisely ends his treatise by saying it would be imprudent to speculate further without evidence. I didn’t realize it when we started this work, but Gilbert really established a lot of things that are fundamental to modern science.
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book VI: I wasn’t as gripped by this book as I was by several of the others. I do think it’s interesting how Aristotle is so pragmatic in his recommendations. That the most stable democracies are ones where the Assembly hardly ever meets is worth noting.

I was without internet access for about five days last week; oddly enough, I didn’t have much trouble getting the reading done! Now I am more or less back in the saddle, although some deadlines coming up in the next two weeks will mean my posts may be infrequent. The reading, however, will go on. 2012 won’t know what hit it!

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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1 Response to “Spin Me the Yarn!”

  1. Jane says:

    Charles Lamb, Sanity of True Genius: “… the true poet dreams being awake. He is not possessed by his subject, but has dominion over it.” Great art might be fueled by flights of creative imagination, but is perfected by craft, a mastery over technique which takes practice; in Malcolm Gladwell’s view, at least 10,000 hours of it. One piece of excellent writing advice is to place your day’s work “in a drawer” and return to it at least a day later; presumably the flush of passion will have passed and the colder eye of reason can do the editing. Lamb adds that art resonates most when it stays close to its source material, life as we know it: “Herein the great and the little wits are differenced; that if the latter wander ever so little from nature or actual existence, they lose themselves and their readers.” The greatest novels, poems, paintings and sculptures present truths about existence that connect us to our world and one another.

    Adams, The United States in 1800: Three days to get from Boston to New York by stagecoach. Twenty days for mail to get from Maine to Georgia. “Of the eight rivers between [Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia] and Washington, five have neither bridges nor boats,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1801. America’s massive size made westward settlement a long, grueling, unprecedented process, little appreciated now when we can fly across the globe in a day and Amazon has made anything less than next-day delivery a vexing irritation. Key to the success of an early immigrant was the level economic playing field and the openness of opportunity to all who dared to seize it, along with “the idea that he was doing what he could to overthrow the tyranny which the past had fastened on the human mind.” “Europeans… found only matter for complaint in the remark that every American democrat believed himself to be working for the overthrow of tyranny, aristocracy, hereditary privilege, and priesthood, wherever they existed.” As Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty Gods or no God!” It is ultimately impressive how the founding fathers managed to honor this independent spirit yet channel and unite all its disparate, far-flung parts under the constitutional framework. On another note, for more insight into the challenges of frontier life, I recommend “Giants in the Earth” by O.E. Rolvaag, a highly psychological chronicle of a Norwegian immigrant’s struggle to establish a home for his family in the Dakotas in the mid-1800s.

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