I note with horror that it has been more than a month since my last post on this blog. A big part of the reason for that was my difficulty in getting internet access during a 3.5-week research and conference trip from which I returned a week ago. I spent many hours driving, flying, sitting in archives, sitting in conference sessions, etc., all while trying to manage my classes remotely when I could get online at all. Now that I am back home until the Thanksgiving break, it’s time to move forward again on these readings!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- King Lear by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 244-283)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXVIII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 457-467)
- “To Sir Henry Vane the Younger” and “To Mr. Cyriack upon His Blindness” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 69-70)
- On Sleep and Sleeplessness by Aristotle (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 696-706)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XIII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 315-359)
- “Of Drunkenness” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 202-206)
When I originally charted this group of readings, I expected I would be reading Lear along with my doctoral seminar. The best laid plans . . .
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Epilogue: This ending certainly doesn’t satisfy the modern reader who wants all the loose ends tied up. Will Dmitri escape? Will he have a future with Grushenka after the scene with his formerly betrothed? Will Ivan live? Will Alyosha marry? I suppose this is the reason why Dostoevsky ended with Ilusha’s funeral and Alyosha’s pact with the boys. Life is full of uncertainties, and the best human beings can do is to commit to live in an honest and loving way, looking forward to the resurrection.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXVII: Some of Gibbon’s condescension towards Christianity is on display in this chapter, which covers Theodosius, St. Ambrose, and St. Martin of Tours. He makes much of Theodosius’s decrees against Arians and other heretics and pretends that they were all motivated out of a simple hatred of different opinions, whereas other historians have pointed to the very real civil unrest occasioned by the doctrinal conflicts of the age. He praises St. Ambrose’s and St. Martin’s “humane inconsistency” in protesting Theodosius’s executions of some who deviated from Nicene orthodoxy. I confess there was much rolling of eyes here.
- The Suppliant Maidens by Aeschylus: When discussing this with my doctoral students, I asked them to consider whether the maidens’ grounding their appeal to Argos on their distant blood relation changed the requirements of justice on the part of the Argives. The question produced some interesting exchanges.
- On Memory and Reminiscence by Aristotle: Serendipitously, Aristotle deals tangentially with conception (see below) in this work, primarily to insist that memory is not conception. Nor is it perception. Rather, he defines it as “a state of affection of one of these, conditioned by lapse of time.” It is essentially a function of sense-perception, not intelligence; thus not only humans but other animals possess it. He distinguishes remembering from recollection in an interesting way.
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XII: This chapter’s topic is conception, which James defines as “the function by which we thus identify a numerically distinct and permanent subject of discourse.” According to him, conceptions are unchangeable; they “form an essentially discontinuous system.” He goes to offer some strong words for the modern nominalist tradition which denies the existence of abstraction and universals. I know James has his flaws, but when I read this stuff I can’t help but like him.
- Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I Q. 40-43: St. Thomas views the essential attributes of each person of the Trinity primarily as the relationship it bears to the other two persons. I was a bit unclear on the term “notional act,” which played a significant role in one of the questions.
Thanks to those of you who written in to check on me during this unintended hiatus. It’s good to know that many are following along with this project. I have several significant projects ongoing at the moment, but I plan to resume regular posts for the foreseeable future.