Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans, and a pleasant early July day to the rest of you. I neglected to schedule any selections from American authors in this week’s Great Books Project to celebrate. Nevertheless, we press forward with our efforts to enlighten ourselves.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- “The Death of Ivan Ilych” by Leo Tolstoy (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 646-699)
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book II (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 242-245)
- “One Is Punished for Defending a Place Obstinately without Reason” and “Of the Punishment of Cowardice” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 78-80)
- “On World Government” by Dante Alighieri (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 383-399; Book I of De Monarchia)
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VII, Introduction to Section C (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 340-366; pp. 161-179 of the linked PDF)
- The Rhetoric of Aristotle, Book III (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 653-675)
We’ll finish Aristotle this week and are close to finishing Freud. I went ahead and scheduled two Montaigne essays because their topics seem to go together naturally.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- “The Gentleman from San Francisco” by Ivan Bunin: This was the first Ivan Bunin I’d ever read; it was pretty satisfying. You only get hints of the true personalities of the characters, but there are subtle questionings of naturalism and the hostility between social classes. The gentleman’s world, Bunin suggests, is built on pretense, but there is no hint of any alternative from the author who had seen the disaster of post-1917 Russia up close.
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book I: In this first book the main theme is the acknowledging of influences on the author from many sources, particularly from his youth. Aurelius seems to appreciate his good fortune and associations keenly.
- “That the Taste of Good and Evil Depends in Large Part on the Opinion We Have of Them” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne comes off sounding very Stoic in this essay. I would say he comes off sounding like Hamlet, “Nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” but Montaigne wrote this first. Is Montaigne arguing that we can’t know the essence of a thing, or is he saying that only the philosophically inclined can? I couldn’t really tell.
- “Montaigne” by Sainte-Beuve: What I took from this encomium to Montaigne was a heightened appreciation of the difficult circumstances he encountered during much of his career. As a local official during the Wars of Religion, he had to contend with violently opposed interests. It’s significant that the turmoil only rarely comes through in his essays, although his interest in sieges and parleys makes more sense now.
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VI, Sections H-I: “The expression of affects in dreams cannot be disposed of in the contemptuous fashion in which we are wont to shake off the dream-content after we have waked.” I confess I could have done without the vivid description of the dream with the open-air latrine, but on the whole the discussion was pretty interesting. I was surprised at the digression into daydreaming in the latter half of this section.
- The Rhetoric of Aristotle, Book II: Aristotle delves into the various emotions that impel people to cast their votes a particular way or to issue a particular verdict: pity, shame, envy, kindness, etc. It’s useful to bear in mind throughout the discussion that Aristotle envisions rhetoric being employed primarily if not exclusively in the public assembly for the purpose of swaying voters.
I was actually on track to post on schedule this week, but my wife went into the hospital over the weekend with pregnancy complications, and things at my house have been higgledy-piggledy since then. I’m taking advantage of the holiday to try to clear the decks and do some catching up. However, I still plan to get some reading done. How about you?