Monday, July 29, 2013

two messages

I have already gotten two important messages today.

The first said something like "Hey!  I depend on a post from your blog to get my morning bounce.  Please get your act together and get something to me each day.  I need it."  This message reminded me of my relative's question about regular, dependable daily delivery: "Why do you think we pay you the big bucks?"

As is usually the case, I have energy and interest and opportunity today.  I know it is good for me to use a keyboard and I like and admire my friend so here I am.

The second message said something like:"You have read the classics.  I haven't but I am getting a little hunger for them, I think.  Where should I begin? What do you think of my giving Walden by Henry David Thoreau a try?"

I really haven't read the classics.  In fact, I can cite good evidence that there is wide disagreement on which works are in the classics and which are not.  Sometimes, the word refers to people, conditions and writings from the ancient Greeks and Romans.  More often today, it means "the really great writings, the ones that have counted the most". Naturally, once one asks "counts with whom?" and "counts for what purpose?", the matter of what counts gets even more difficult.

To be even more difficult, as people have traveled and communicated with others, what passed for the classics in the colleges and universities of America have come into criticism for being too narrow and restricted.  Until recently, few women writers and thinkers were included, especially if you look outside the area of fiction and poetry.  It is not just a matter of fairness and balance.  Women naturally have a different view and experience of life.  Further, in any sort of puzzle or mystery such as encountered in all of science, women often have very good insights.  Just the other day, Google Doodle celebrated the work of Rosalind Franklin, the British scientist whose insights into the structure of DNA led to the current understanding of the double helix but who got elbowed out of the credits.

Similar criticism and recognition of blinders apply to the range of geography and ethnicities.  China has excellent credentials as the highest and most advanced civilization over the longest period of any country or culture.  Works of influence in India, Japan, Korea, and all of the countries in southeast Asia have been unknown or slighted in most Western schools, libraries and reading lists, although work is proceeding to make some changes so we are not so ignorant.  You can see why the book by David Weinberger "Too Big to Know" can be a help.

The attempts by the University of Chicago and its Mortimer J. Adler, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Clifton Fadiman and others to lay out the important works for an educated college graduate to read were brave and notable.  The set of 60 volumes called "The Great Books of the Western World" can be purchased.  I admire the effort and feel the pain of trying to decide what to include and can imagine the scorn of others who could not believe X had not been and Y was.  Personally, the only thing I read was the introductory volume called The Great Conversation, which can be downloaded for free as a PDF here.

I will write a little more about where to start and how to proceed in my next post.  Meanwhile, Walden and the Apology of Socrates by Plato (both available for free or very low cost) would be good.  Just about any library would have copies for borrowing.

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