As we forge ahead with the Great Books Project, this week we get an encore reading from T.S. Eliot. We also, at long last, wrap up Book I of Epictetus’s Discourses and get what I hope will be something lucid from Immanuel Kant.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- “Tradition and the Individual Talent” by T.S. Eliot (GGB Vol. 5, pp. 404-411)
- “What We Ought to Have Ready in Difficult Circumstances” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 130; Book I Chapter 30 of the Discourses)
- “Ceremony of Interviews between Kings” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 68-69)
- Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 441-475)
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VI, Sections F-G (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 298-319; pp. 126-141 of the linked PDF)
- The Rhetoric of Aristotle, Book I (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 585-622)
I’m looking forward to Aristotle’s Rhetoric. I have colleagues who talk about it all the time, but I have never read it. Perhaps my posts will become much more eloquent after I finish it.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare: I enjoyed this play, but had several questions. Was the queen really faking her death for fifteen years? How does that stay hushed up? Why is Bohemia involved in rites honoring the Roman pantheon? What’s the point of Autolycus? Why does a bear eat Antigonus?
- “On Constancy” by Epictetus: The dichotomy between the inner and outer man is pretty stark here. Epictetus says that only the body of Socrates, not Socrates himself, was harmed by the Athenians. The external is meaningless: “Take my poor body, take my property, take my reputation, take those who are about me.”
- “Of Constancy” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne seems to equate constancy with fortitude, standing firm in the face of danger, particularly in a military context. As usual, he cites both ancient and contemporary examples. Then there’s this: “Neither do the Stoics pretend that the soul of their philosopher need be proof against the first visions and fantasies that surprise him.” In other words, it’s okay to be frightened by sudden phenomena (like thunder) as long as your reason asserts itself and masters the natural reaction.
- The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapters 13-14: Veblen’s philosophical materialism leads him to view higher learning, culture itself, as essentially wasteful. For him there is no higher reality, so study of the classics, for instance, is pointless. After all, it won’t lead to more efficient or higher industrial output. He sees the same things in early 20th-century American life that everyone else sees, but because his interpretive framework is flawed, he simply gets it all wrong.
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VI, Section E: This section deals with Freud’s theory of repression; the dream is where stuff the dreamer’s conscious mind has suppressed will manifest itself. No matter how hard he tries, those “infantile wish-impulses” will never go away.
- The Phaedrus of Plato: This dialogue has one of the longest uninterrupted monologues of Socrates I can remember. The conversation addresses the nature of love in ways that are reminiscent (to me, at least) of the Symposium. Is it better for one to “accept” the lover or the non-lover? Socrates argues for the divine nature of love.
I am on the road for the next two weeks, but I’ve tried to arrange things so that I can keep up with the readings and continue posting on schedule. It’s really going to depend on what internet access is like aboard an Alaskan cruise ship!