|Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)|
Friday, April 23, 2021
Friday, March 19, 2021
978 (Self-love): A separately sourced fragment
512: Difference between the mathematical and intuitive mind (a translator's title)
198, 199, 200: Transition from knowledge of man to knowledge of God (according to a note by our translator, A.J. Krailsheimer, these three Pensées form a "dossier on Man"
429, 430: "Against Indifference" (a translator's title)
678: Human nature. Style. Jesuits, etc. (a translator's title)
427, 428: Also "Against indifference"
148: "The Sovereign Good"
423, 424, 418 "The Wager" (translator's title)
Thursday, February 18, 2021
|Wine label given to me by|
onetime group member Alice Link,
who just turned 100!
At the outset of his Essay “On Friendship,” Montaigne states his intention to imitate the method of a painter in his employ. The painter starts with “the best spot, the middle of each wall” and there paints a beautiful picture “labored over with all his skill.” He fills in the empty spaces around it with “grotesques.” Montaigne compares his Essays to these paintings. He says his Essays are also “monstrous bodies,” without any “definite shape, having no order, sequence, or proportion other than accidental.”
He doubts his own ability to create a “rich polished picture.” He states his admiration for a work of his deceased friend, Étienne de la Boétie, entitled La Servitude Volontaire, which espouses liberty over tyrants. Montaigne laments that despite having been bequeathed La Boétie’s library and papers, he has not been able to publish more than one small volume of his friend’s work.
Nevertheless, Montaigne is grateful that La Servitude Volontaire is what brought them together as friends, and their friendship was so “entire and so perfect that certainly you will hardly read of the like, and among men of today you see no trace of it in practice.”
Montaigne’s admiration for his friend launches him into his discussion of different types of friendship. He talks about familial friendships, e.g., of a father for a son, between brothers, affection of men and women, (including marriage), and “licentious Greek love,” (a code term for homosexual love). In each case Montaigne argues these kinds of love fall short. He returns to his description of a “more equitable and equable kind of friendship” as embodied in his relationship with La Boétie.
In his closing paragraph, Montaigne defends his friend’s reputation and his patriotism. He states that he has decided to refrain from reprinting La Servitude Volontaire, and instead will substitute his sonnets (which in fact, didn’t make it into the last edition of Montaigne’s book, published in 1588).
No doubt the editors of Great Conversations 1 also selected Montaigne's Essay "On Solitude" as a companion piece to "Of Friendship." On Monday night we'll talk about whether the solitude of which Montaigne speaks can really be considered as parallel to his idea of friendship.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Friday, January 1, 2021
--Frederick Douglass, "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave"
To recap our doings in this covid-19 pandemic year of 2020, I offer the following list of our readings:
In January we celebrated our fifteenth anniversary with "The Devil Baby of Hull House," by Jane Addams, in which she recounts the rumors that swirled around the immigrant communities of the south side of Chicago.
February our selection "The Man Who Could Perform Miracles" by H.G. Wells was a "thought experiment" of what would happen if a man had the power to make the world stop turning.
In March, alas, we had to cancel our meeting because of the covid-19 shutdown. We took up the selection, Thomas Mann's eerie story of a family's sojourn at an Italian seaside resort, "Mario and the Magician" in May.
We held a special meeting in April in which we looked at Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, a masterpiece of plague literature. Fittingly, as a twenty-first-century response to a pandemic, it was our very first Zoom meeting.
April's regular selection was "Daughters of the Late Colonel," by Katherine Mansfield, on two sisters living in their father's shadow.
June's reading was the amazing play "R.U.R." by Karel Čapek, in which robots revolt against their human makers.
In July we looked at Mary McCarthy's memoir "My Confession" in which she recounts her involvement with the Communist Party in the 1930s.
August's selection was the impressionistic "Holy Week," by Deborah Eisenberg.
In September we took up "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," a book which strongly influenced the anti-slavery movement in the United States. In October the selection was "The Epic of Gilgamesh," with our Head of Adult Services Thérèse Nielsen filling in for me. Thank you Thérèse!
In 2021 we continue our reading and discussion of great literature and philosophy, a fulfilling and lifelong pursuit.
Monday, August 24, 2020
1. P. 475. Why does Dennis wonder if it was poor judgement to have brought his girlfriend Sarah?
2. p. 477. Why does the sight of the “solitary grower in the field” prompt Dennis to reflect on his own life? [Read last 2 graphs of Sunday]
3. p. 482 Any significance of parrot screaming after Dot saying people have to be more careful re: talking about their political affiliations in this country than they do at home?
4. p.484. Why does the owner of La Marquesa “smile with hatred” when he says he doesn’t know what the poor are eating now that the price of beans has doubled.
5. p.485. Why does Sarah ask Dennis, “Don’t you like me … why did you have to trot out my credentials for the McGees”? What are the credentials? Dennis then says, “I’d only been trying to provide her with an excuse not to see them.” Can anyone explain this?
6. p. 486. Does Sarah give respectability to Dennis?
7. p. 488. “What does the expression “persecuting loveliness” mean?
8. p.488 Why would it be “morally reprehensible not to enjoy possibly the most lavish Easter celebration in the whole of the New World?"
9. p.492. Why does Dot say, “they’re not interested in the Resurrection at all, really. Today and tomorrow are the big days. The Crucifixion is the part of it they all relate to.”
10.p.496. Read 5 paragraphs after “Next to me Sarah picked up a wobbly child who was steadying himself against her knees.” (Including crucifixion pronouncement).
11.p.497 and following pages (Maundy Saturday). Any comments on the exchange between Curtis Finley and Clifford McGee (p.498)? The De Léons dinner party and the story of their son Rubén who had been involved in left-wing student politics (p505)
12.Take a look at last 3 paragraphs on p.507. Does it give a satisfactory summation of the story?
Sunday, July 26, 2020
|Mary McCarthy (1912-1989)|
Why does McCarthy say "I see no reason to disavow my actions, which were perfectly all right, but my motives give me a little embarrassment, and just because I cannot disavow them: that fevered, contentious, trivial show off in the May Day parade is still recognizably me." (455)+
Why was "to be a Communist to possess a source of privilege?" (456)
What do you make of the hierarchy she proposes from most to least esteemed: (1) underground worker, (2) theoreticians and oracles, (3) activists (who worked on the waterfront). Last: rank and file, who made speeches, distributed leaflets, attended party and faction meetings, joining front organizations, marched in parades and demos, and that a low opinion was held of "fellow travelers" (457)
Why would being critical of the party be a compelling reason for joining it? (458)
What is significant about the story of Ansel, who learns to drive and takes a car to California to work as an organizer for the Party?
How did McCarthy unwittingly co-sponsor a letter calling for Trotsky to have the right of asylum and his day in court? (462)
What ensued when McCarthy demanded that her name be taken off the letter? What makes this a key turning point in McCarthy's "confession." How did it "change her life"? (465)