Monday, January 2, 2017

2017, Let us Read!

Welcome back, friends, on this second day of 2017.  Some of you may have felt I abandoned the battle.  Fear not!  I wrote before that I wanted to get far enough ahead in the Great Books Challenge so that my posts would have a little more heft behind them; heft they shall have!

I spent the latter part of 2016 trying to overcome several reading goals.  First and foremost was getting into the Gateway to the Great Books and the Great Books themselves.  Mission accomplished.  Next, I was true to my O.C.D. and trying to finish off the reading challenge I had elected on Goodreads (Goodreads is Facebook for cool people at  Finally, I was trying to make headway with my physical books at my house.  I don't know about you, but the books come in from Amazon faster than I can get them out.  I have a real addiction to buying books and then never getting to them.  Who's with me on that?

The Great Books Challenge is enough to occupy my reading habits year-round, but I need to work through my house books as well.  My plan is to do both, giving each physical book to a friend once I'm done reading it.  This way it isn't languishing on my shelf and I get the benefit of sharing something with someone I think may be interested in the subject.

Meanwhile, back at our regularly scheduled programming: our last posted reading created some interested debates between myself and I in the shower.  A common theme we see in self-help writing today is the importance of getting into habits.  The argument is that habits breed efficiency.  From TED talks to the bestseller The Power of Habit, experts are telling us that we must repeat our daily living consistently for a better life.  What about living the same day over and over creates a better life?  I first addressed this question reading Emerson in his essay Self Reliance when he said,

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."

This caused me intellectually pause.  I revisited the issue reading "The Art of Life" from Studies in the History of the Renaissance by Walter Horatio Pater.  Pater was an aesthetician and believed that humans should seek the best of everything in life.  In fact, he argued that we should attempt to go from one ecstasy to the next; that anything less was a lack of meaningful existence.  He said,

 "To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist’s hands, or the face of one’s friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch. What we have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own. Philosophical theories or ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us. “Philosophy is the microscope of thought.” The theory or idea or system which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this experience, in consideration of some interest into which we cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not identified with ourselves, or of what is only conventional, has no real claim upon us."

I know I'm supposed to drop a major truth in this conclusion paragraph, but I don't have one.  Instead, I'll go back to thinking on this.  Your thoughts on the issue are welcome.

Here's the reading for the next week:
  1. The Odyssey of Homer, Books XIII-XVI (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 427-466)
  2. The Declaration of Independence (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 1-3)
  3. Biographical Sketches” by Thomas Jefferson (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 522-526; note there are two links here to different letters by Jefferson in which he gives his reminiscences about Washington and Franklin; on the second link, begin reading at the heading “FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN / REFLECTIONS REGARDING “)
  4. Phaedo by Plato (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 220-251)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book I (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 1-29)
  6. Second Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 760-761)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been." -Marcus Aurelius