I’m happy to say that I’ve caught up two days on this week’s Great Books post. The big development this week is that we will finish the Dickens novel after ten weeks. We’ll finish Bacon next week and perhaps Tocqueville just after that. If you plug away on these works long enough, you eventually finish them!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 54-57 (GGB Vol. 2)*
- The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book V (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 533-547)
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Three, Chapters 1-10 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 301-320)
- “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 573-610)
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IX.1-4 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 270-290)
- Novum Organum by Francis Bacon, Book Two, Parts 27-39 (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 157-157-170)
*Seven chapters from The Pickwick Papers are excerpted in the GGB series. I’ve elected to read the entire novel and have listed page numbers from Volume 2 of GGB when I reach excerpted chapters. Chapter 34 was the last excerpted chapter, so from now until the end of the book I won’t be listing page numbers.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 49-54: Has anyone noticed how Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Tupman have practically vanished from this story? These chapters revolve primarily around the effort to deal with the fallout from Mr. Winkle’s impetuous marriage. We get closure here on the plot line involving the elder Mr. Weller: upon the untimely death of his wife, he finally has an opportunity to pummel the man who tried to turn her against him.
- The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book IV: In this passage Aristotle treats us to a detailed consideration of the Law of Non-contradiction. If I’m reading him correctly, he’s saying that this law gives us an appropriate foundation to assert that there are essential attributes of physical bodies. Almost as an afterthought, he tells us about the Law of the Excluded Middle at the end of the book.
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Two, Ch. 10-20: I have to admit, I found some of these chapters unsettling, primarily because it seems intuitive that Tocqueville has us pegged. Americans have prosperity but are still restless. Our focus on material advancement leads us to risk denigrating the things of the soul. The natural concentration of wealth in the progress of industrial advancement opens up the possibility of a new aristocracy unrestrained by the codes of conduct painstakingly developed over centuries in the Old World.
- “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This story was a hoot. Practically every character is a caricature, even the narrator. How many works of imagination posit some a land of fabulous wealth somewhere “in the West”? The only thing that irked me was the editorializing on religion near the end when Washington tries to bribe God.
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book VIII: The first part of this book is a continuation of the tables begun in Book VII. Then we get into an analysis of the points at which the stars in the various constellations rise and set.
- Novum Organum by Francis Bacon, Book II, Sections 1-26: Much of this section consists of an application of Bacon’s proposed method of induction to the specific question of heat: where we observe heat, where we observe a lack of heat, etc. Near the end he wrote about how rose water removes the smell of putrid or rancid food, and I felt smart because my wife and I had just watched a Bones episode where the intern put rose water on bones retrieved from a sewer for exactly that purpose.
The story in Alabama has been rain, rain, and more rain for close to a week. Now we may actually get snow after temperatures in the mid-70s last weekend. Some January! I think I’ll just stay inside to read.