Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Blaugust 18/31: The Good Samaritan is a Bad Economist

This post is the 18th part of the Leaflocker's second-annual attempt to complete Blaugust East, and the fifth-annual attempt to complete Blaugust Prime. It's all going very well so far.
A reminder that last week's quiz will be marked in the next 24 hours. The only way to lose is not to play.
If you're not a regular visitor to these fair climes, you might not know that by local custom, each Tuesday features the weekly round-up of the Leaflocker Reading club, which is currently 7 weeks into a 350 week project to read The Great Books of the Western World at a gentle, sleepy pace agreeable to the gentlemanly scholastic after a hearty luncheon. That means we're about 2% of the way through already! We'd love you to join us by picking up some or all of the readings for this week and dropping by next week for discussion on them.

Due to a short turnaround after the delays of last week, I once again struggled to get all the reading that needed to be done complete in time. But never fear, we have a plan to hit the emotionally intense Lolita earlier in the week, then move into the heavier philosophical and scientific works, and dip into the lighter fiction if and when I need a break. This seems to have the advantage of leaving me Dickens to catch up on Tuesday nights, which is proving a light way to finish up the week and put me in the right mental state to prepare for another week. 

What method are you using to tackle the task that is before us, fellow reader?

Week 7 in Review

Last week: 119
Conversation so far: 748
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Part One, Ch. 28 - 33
We conclude Act I of Lolita in a big rush, very much the big rush, with all of the pieces falling into place for the Great American Road-trip novel that Michael assures me is what is awaiting us in the second half of the piece. Nabokov continues with his mastery of discomforting the reader, leaving much unsaid, darting back and forth from a distant position as narrator to right up close through his frustratingly inconsistent chapters. I'm thankful for the unreliable narrator here, and if such a concept was developed through books like this one then I think I appreciate the power of it as a literary device, to discombobulate the reader, all the more.

I can't say at this point that I'm likely to become a regular reader of this one.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Book the Second, Ch. 10 - 12
Well, Blackpool as at least escaped the spotlight, for now. Instead, we focus on the trials of poor Louisa and the man that she might or might no be in love with, having been so thoroughly Gradground as to not be able to tell the difference. The joy of these chapters was in watching Mrs. Sparsit (I cannot yet decide if she's a hero or a villain) rush about like a mad hen and be so successful about it, too.


Odyssey of Homer
Books I-IV
There are more than a hundred published English translations of the Odyssey. The distinguishing feature of the Rieu translation that I'm reading (apart from the Rieufully dis-respectful cover art) from that of the earlier Butler translation that I've been linking to is that the physical copy uses the Greek names for things whereas Butler and most of the classical translations use the Roman ones. As someone who grew up with the Greek, this feels much more comfortable to me. I'm in no position to judge the accuracy or quality of translation, this being my first reading of the Odyssey in about a decade and me not reading ancient Greek and all, but the Rieu translation seems to be the less poetic, more literal of the two. Since I'm reading this for the story, not the translators art, I think I prefer that. If you're a fan of another translation, do let me know.
We're not really into the meat of the story so far, so all I can really say on that point is that I hope that Odysseus fellow makes it home some time soon, as it seems like something is rotten in the state of Ithaca. I'd forgotten that Athene played such a 'physical' part in this story, taking on the guise a various persons and interacting with the characters directly person-to-person. It's nice to be reminded that the Greeks believed in this kind of interaction with their deities, rather than just the kind that requires turning into swans, etc. that you usually hear about.
Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
What a powerful orator Lincoln must have been. These words are pretty darn timeless, aren't they? I can imagine that this paragraph could easily be used in our Remembrance Day or ANZAC day services, had they not the religious connection and the obvious association with the US once you get to the "for the people, by the people" bit.
The Eruption of Vesuvius (Letters LXV and LXX) of Pliny the Younger
So far the Roman historians seem far too interested in pushing their own political agendas for them to be taken too seriously in a modern context. As it's going, Pliny might be an excellent candidate to run an Royal Commission.
How a chronic asthmatic got to be a naval commander is a little beyond me, but if I were that naval commander I don't think I'd go rushing into the noxious clouds of a volcano, obstensibily to rescue friends, since it's apparent that those same friends got out fine without Pliny's intervention. Maybe it's forgivable since its obvious that the Romans at this point had no idea what a volcano was, but still, there's a fine line between bravery and stupidity here. If nothing else, there's the beautiful image of roman nobles rushing about with pillows stuck to their heads to try to avoid falling pumice, that's got to be good for a laugh or two.
On Old Age by Marcus Tullius Cicero
Through the medium of Librevox, I tried to ear-read this one on the journeys to and from work this week, with varying levels of success. The philosophy was enjoyable, but the technology was letting me down a little. I might have a to try a more sophisticated solution to my time-budgeting if I'm going to make ear-reading work for me. I'm also not totally convinced that driving is the ideal situation in which to contemplate philosophy.
There's also a section in his conclusion in which Cicero refers to that puzzling section of Plato's Meno that we covered last year, suggesting that the soul is immortal and that it 'remembers' things rather than having to be taught them. I find it fascinating that so many philosophers got hung up on this point. Cicero has some things to say on the immortal and indivisible soul in these closing passages, but I'm convinced that others will argue the point better, if less concisely, over our Conversation, so I'll let him go for now...
Anyway, yes, this is a lot sexier than "On Friendship". In "On Old Age", we've given Cicero the time to set out a long-term argument, that we can better see the power of persuasion for which he is so renowned. As to whether the content of the letter is true, that a fulfilled old age is better than one's youth, I suppose that I'll have to keep using this little brain of mine and return in a few decades to see if it holds true. Is this a great book? Honestly, yes, I think it is, for Cicero's method of argument more than his points. I begin to wonder that this whole attempt of labelling some of these books as great and some as not is a vanity that is becoming increasingly preposterous, but I guess it's too late to stop now...

Week 7 Readings

Since we're leaving the GGB stuff allocated to us by by Dr. J at the door this week, we have a pretty light week of mandatory readings before we start ramping it up over the next fortnight or so. We're going to take the opportunity to really make some solid progress with our ongoing trio of novels. I hope you're all strapped in for the return of Hugo and some good progress with our now familiar friends, Dickens and Nabokov.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#not_gbww #copyrighted #fiction #english
Part Two, Ch. 1 - 2 (24 pages)

I'm all psyched for the second book and whatever good stuff is coming my way as Humbert and Charlotte tour the Usonian countryside. Don't let me down Victor/Michael.
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english
Book the Third, Ch. 1 - 5 (40 pages)

I'm all psyched for the third book in which all the baddies get what's coming to them, if the narrative tradition and Mr. Dicken's moralising can be trusted. I mean, there's no point detailing the criminality of the upper classes and then letting them get away with it, is there?

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Four (10 pages)
I think it should be a nice change to get back to Hugo after another week off. Every time I come back I am attracted once again to his gentle, infinitely distractable style all over again. Unless I'm very much mistaken, this book should detail how Fantine came to leave her daughter behind her.
The Odyssey of Homer
#gbww #fiction #greek
Books V-VIII (34 pages)
There's the off chance that the story will finally catch up to Ulysses/Odysseus and there's a good chance that we might even find out what he's been up to these long years. Mrs. Owl doesn't think that Greek Epics are appropriate out-loud bedtime reading, for some reason.

To the Reader by Michel de Montaigne
#new #oneshot #essay #gbww #french #reallyshort
(1 page)
One page? One page? This looks like a preface... Presumably this is the lead-in to something else later in the GBWW. I hear Montaigne pretty much invented the literary essay, so I guess we'll have to see how that goes.

Good luck with all your endeavours, literary and otherwise, this week. And try to keep warm!

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