A quick look at my calendar confirms that the rumours are true, July is basically finished already, and that means that if I’m going to get back in form for the annual festival of frantic typing and fevered late-night web-trawling that is Blaugust it’s about time to dust off the old typewriter and get back on the blogging bandwagon for another year. I get the feeling that Blaugust is going to be a real struggle for me this time, but a boy has to try. Heck, it can hardly be worse than some of my lacklustre attempts over the years, can it?
What better way to begin the ride with a return to my long-running, oft-neglected attempt to read the Western Canon one little chunk at a time? At last count, each ‘week’ of this theoretical 7-year project has taken an average of just under three months, but here’s hoping that the next month or so can improve that average a little.
The Odyssey of Homer
Well, Poseidon is really not the kind of guy that you want to piss off. And he’s definitely not the sort of guy that you want to be pissed off by one of your casual acquaintances, is he? I do think there’s an awful lot of irrelevant nonsense that could have been cut from these chapters if Homer had a decent editor. Odysseus so much time hanging out with pigs, trading stories with and telling lies to loyal retainers, Eumaeus well wonder if he’s completely lost all his marbles. #punachieved
Phaedo by Plato
So, we come to the end(?) of the Socratic dialogues. Meno was unintelligible, the Apology was grand comedy, and Philo featured some great arguments. How does Phaedo stack up? Well, in some ways it’s a bit of a summary of the greatest hits of the others. Socrates is less of a jerk, as he’s among friends, but he still a bit of a smarmy git, and some of the ways he argues, like the way that he dismisses the others’ similes as just similes but presents his own as facts, are just plain annoying. For me the strongest parts are the bits about the nature of death and the soul (most of it, I guess!).
Socrates is also pretty hilarious in this one. His friends are all weepy and worried about the future, and he’s cracking some great lines: “And in what way shall we bury you?” “In any way that you like; but you must get hold of me, and take care that I do not run away from you.”
What a card he must have been.
There’s some other great lines in there too, and of course there’s final words of the greatest Western philosopher. Classic. Overall, I don’t think “the one with the chicken” was as good as Philo or the Apology, but it’s totally worth the read for the interesting insights into the way that the Greeks saw the world, and also just to finish off the story with a bang.
Elements by Euclid
I don’t think I’m going to enjoy reading Euclid very much, which is a little bit of a pity, because if I keep up with the project he and I are going to be acquaintances for quite a while. Quite possibly just becoming a little bit more familiar with how the whole thing is set out is going to make my life easier. Reading it with the guide open as well is pretty handy, as I often want to check the processes of my own modern mathematical brain, and it seems to provide a helpful hand for that. Still, this is the first distinctly different work on the list, a mathematical treatise is definitely not a Socratic dialogue, and I admit to finding the idea pretty interesting in theory, even if the practice leaves me a bit cold so far.
There are a lot of familiar words here, and for good reason, the Declaration is a moving piece of writing. Much of its power comes from the fact that it just seems so reasoned and deliberate, so divorced from the political discourse of today that it just makes you yearn for some real statesmen. Sadly, I feel some of its power is diluted by including in the list of grievances acts committed during the war in the document that was supposed to be listing reasons for the war, but I suppose this is a minor quibble about what is otherwise a scintillating historical document. Definitely worthy of canon status.
For those that don’t recall, we’re following along with the reading list provided here, a few years behind (but the project looks to be abandoned, so we’re actually catching up extremely slowly). I take the weekly readings from this list and subtract from and add to them based on a combination of my secret spreadsheet, special sauce, and weekly enthusiasm level.
This weeks readings were to include the US Articles of Confederation, which is in the Great Books (unsurprisingly, the project was unapologetically focused on Usonian studies) but I’ve cut these since almost no-one else thinks they’re important to read. From the Gateway series, I’ve also cut a letter by George Washington that looks pretty unimportant, as well as something minor from John Stuart Mill, we’ll be getting plenty of him later in the project so I don’t feel particularly compelled to jump right in now. On the other side of the ledger, we have the return of Les Mis and the advent of a little more modern sci-fi.
The Odyssey of Homer
#gbww #fiction #greek
Books XVII-XX (48 pages)
I think the chances are about 50/50 that Odysseus actually gets around to doing anything in the next four chapters. There’s suitors to investigate and a wife to carefully avoid, after all, plus he has to make room to tell some more unnecessary pork pies, because he’s Odysseus and that’s just how he rolls. And gosh doesn’t Athena just love him for it?
Of Friendship by Francis Bacon
#new #ggb #reallyshort #philosophy #english
When was the last time we dipped into Bacon? I don’t remember being particularly impressed last time, but let’s see if Friendship makes for a better topic for Bacon to really get his snout into than whatever unmemorable thing we did last time. This quickie represents our only philosophy for the week, so I hope that it is at least vaguely philosophical.
Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book II (21 pages)
After the joy of last week discovering some of the properties of lines and circles, I bet you’re all just gagging to experience the wonders of Euler’s geometric algebra. Sounds thrilling, I know. All this maths reminds me of first-year high school, and while the memories are generally positive, I don’t feel like I want to dwell on them.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Five, Chapters I to IV (16 pages)
When we last dug into Les Mis, Fantine had been forced to leave her daughter behind with some generally horrible people in order to be able to work enough to put food on the table. I expect in the next chapters the actual sad stuff starts, and it’s unlikely to let up for a while. Such a cheerful book, this one.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 1-3 (36 pages)
Since we needed to fill a few more pages this week and I felt the duel need for something a little more modern and something I could easily get my hands on in paper form, we’re also starting up another novel that is on many lists of the most important books but that I personally have never found very interesting. Let’s find out if not having to study the thing for classes makes it any more enjoyable. It is also available online, though, so just because you don’t have a paper copy like I do doesn’t mean that you’re excused your reading homework.
On that note, please do feel free to join in on the fun by reading along with some selection of this week’s texts if you’ve half an inclination. It’s always good to have company and someone to force me to really think about things instead of just skimming over the good stuff.
Speaking of company, it’d be great to have some fellows along the mad little Blaugust road, too. If you’re interested in joining in, all you have to do is make a plan to post something, anything, during the calendar month of August. Challenge yourself, explore the possibilities. I’ll be hoping to aim for daily posts again, but weekly would be fine too, aim high and fall gloriously short if you have to, it’s more fun that way. Let me know in the comments so that I know to look out for your stuff.