I took advantage of the holiday this week to catch up more ground in the Great Books Project. I’m now within one day of being back on schedule! Moreover, we’re going to start the greatest satire in the English language this week. I’m fairly tingling with excitement (as should you be).
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Part I (GBWW Vol. 34, pp. 1-42)
- The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 547-550)
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Three, Chapters 11-17 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 320-332)
- “On Swift” by William Hazlitt (GGB Vol. 5, pp. 280-283; excerpted from Lecture VI of Lectures on English Poets. Scroll down to the paragraph beginning “Swift’s reputation as a poet . . .” and stop at the phrase “. . . failings of its offspring;” in the middle of the second paragraph following.)
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IX.5-11 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 291-311)
- Novum Organum by Francis Bacon, Book Two, Parts 40-52 (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 170-195)
This is the last week for us to gain any insights from Francis Bacon. It’s a little hard to believe after reading him so often during the first two years of this project: essays, The New Atlantis, The Advancement of Learning, and now Novum Organum. But we have exhausted his offerings from our two book series.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 54-57: I wonder whether Dickens felt as though he had exhausted these characters’ possibilities by this point. The Snodgrass/Wardle marriage seemed rather perfunctory and obligatory. However, the final scene of everyone around the table at Pickwick’s new house is really quite nice. I suppose serial novels of this sort were the 19th century’s equivalent of today’s sitcoms. You always want your favorite one to be renewed, but there comes a time when it’s necessary to hang it up. Farewell, Mr. Pickwick!
- The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book V: This book is taken up entirely with the definition of terms. It’s no wonder so many modern readers can’t stick with Aristotle over the long haul.
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Three, Ch. 1-10: I’ve always found this part of Tocqueville absorbing. This time around I began connecting his observations of the influence of democracy on wages to Marx’s positing of the “cash nexus” created by the rise of the bourgeoisie. The two seem to dovetail pretty well. Marx said that the bourgeoisie had destroyed the “sentimental” element of employer/employee relations, and Tocqueville says nearly the same thing when discussing masters and servants.
- “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann: This was my first time to read Mann, and I found his writing enjoyable. The negative reminiscences about vacationing on Italy’s Adriatic coast seem merely cranky at first, but take on a new cast when Cipolla becomes the focal point. It’s pretty obvious that Cipolla represents fascism/demagoguery in microcosm. Mann brilliantly avoids sermonizing about its evils by having his narrator repelled and attracted by it at the same time, lingering at the performance long after he knows he should leave.
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IX, Parts 1-4: Ptolemy now comes to an examination of “the five planets”: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Most of this section of Book IX consists of tables tracking their cycles. The translator inserted one or two helpful footnotes explaining the problems Ptolemy had to deal with in explaining their movement assuming a geocentric model.
- Novum Organum by Francis Bacon, Book II, Sections 27-39: Bacon here continues his listing of “prerogative instances” begun in last week’s reading. Basically, these are Bacon’s suggested guidelines for reliable induction. As with the idols in Book I, Bacon coins creative names for these, such as “instances of the cross,” “instances of the lamp,” etc. In the discussion of each instance, he gives examples of how it can help shed light on particular problems.
The spring semester is in full gear everywhere by now, and I suppose those of you not in school are settling back into work routines following what for many was a holiday yesterday. Remember that when the daily grind wears you down, the Great Books can revive your spirit. Give them a try sometime this week.