Do Russian Authors Ever Write Happy Stories?

I’ve been limping through last week’s Great Books readings over the last ten days (no, it’s not the result of watching election coverage) and am finally ready to post on them. I have some catching up to do (Kant is still killing me), but the good news is that we should cross the 2,500-page mark in the Man and Society category this week!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Passion in the Desert” by Honore de Balzac (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 436-447)
  2. The Physics of Aristotle, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 312-325)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part One, Chapters 1-5 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 9-48)
  4. Parley Time is Dangerous” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 60-61)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book II, 9-13 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 56-76)
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Analytic Book II, Ch. 3 and Appendix (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 93-108; begins on p. 180 of the linked PDF)

I’ve never read Balzac before and am looking forward to it!

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. akaky-akakiyevich-in-the-new-coat-1905“The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol: We’ve read a number of Russian authors over the past couple of years. Their stories are all great, but nearly all of them have a tragic quality that leaves me slightly depressed afterward. This one was no exception. The protagonist scrimps and saves for months to buy a new coat, enjoys it for one day, gets mugged, runs into bureaucratic indifference, and freezes to death. The fact of his ghost’s getting a measure of revenge didn’t help too much. 
  2. The Physics of Aristotle, Book V: Once again, Aristotle walks us through several possible meanings of a term (“motion” this time) in an effort to nail down what we’re talking about. The section about contraries got a little tricky. At first I got a little flustered when he tried to turn midpoints into extremes; I suppose it was a result of my Ethics hangover.
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Author’s Preface: Although I’ve read most of this work in bits and pieces in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever actually read this section, which is most illuminating. Tocqueville sees democracy as an inexorable force that needs to be tamed and directed in order to avoid the worst of both worlds.
  4. “Of Money” by David Hume: Hume has sound instincts on money. I’m not sure about his discussion of an introduction of new money stimulating increased effort by economic actors, and the converse debilitating effect of a withdrawal of money from a system. The rest was really good, though.
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book II, 1-8: This section features a painstaking calculation of how and when the sun reaches its zenith in different latitudes. I confess I skimmed some of this. “The ____ parallel is that whose longest day is ______ hours. And it is ______ from the equator and is drawn through the ______ . . .” repeated umpteen times.
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Analytic Book II, Chapter 2: I ran across a quotation today from a new book claiming that Immanuel Kant caused the financial crisis of 2008. Poppycock, no doubt, but maybe I should work harder at understanding this book, which is proving very difficult for me.

It has gotten chilly here in the evenings. I know some folks up north are having snowstorms and the like, so I guess I’m still pretty well off. I hope I’ll be able to post on Monday or Tuesday of next week to get back on schedule.

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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2 Responses to Do Russian Authors Ever Write Happy Stories?

  1. Jason,

    You are right to be skeptical about Hume’s argument at that point. He demonstrates an early monetarist contradiction that, alas, is still with us. On the one hand, increasing the stock of money does not increase a nation’s wealth, so we have what one could call money neutrality. On the other hand, increasing the stock of money just a little bit DOES increase our wealth by greasing the wheels of exchange so to speak.

  2. pdefor says:

    I’ve often heard the depressing quality of Russian literature blamed on their winters. Living in Minnesota, I can tell you that it’s *very* hard to be cheerful once winter enters its fourth month. And it still isn’t over…

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