Wednesday, August 2, 2017

First Rule of Philosophy

Last fall I took a Philosophy class. I thought it would be a piece of cake because I'd been reading so much philosophy with the Great Books work. Well...it was ok. We mostly covered philosophical concepts and I can understand those to some extent. In fact, it's often much easier to understand a description of a philosophical concept than it is to understand the original philosopher's writings about it.
I wanted to mention a part of it though. One of the books that we worked with is a small volume called  'The Practice of Philosophy' by Jay Rosenberg. Rosenberg is very good at the descriptions that I mentioned above and the book is well worth your time. Much of the book is an expanded look at logic and logic forms.
The highlight for me though, was what he formulated as Rule One of philosophy:
Any opinion for which one can give reasons is admissible in philosophy, but once a claim has been supported by an argument, subsequent criticism must then engage the argument.

So if I tell you that X is better than Y for reasons 1, 2 and 3, you must then grapple with reasons 1, 2 and 3 if you're going to tell me that Y is in fact better than X. This makes complete sense, of course. If an intelligent reader sees you argue against 1 and then pretend that everything is settled, then they should be skeptical that you couldn't argue against 2 and 3.
Or worse, they may see someone dismiss any possible argument without even bothering to engage. That's absolutely plaguing our discourse today.
Would that this rule was taught in every school!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

To Be Or Not To Be

I'm reading Harold Bloom's 'Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human' and finding it fascinating. Bloom has a chapter on each play, grouped by category but also chronologically. This allows him to compare characters to previous characters and, in part, charts how Shakespeare's progress developed. I'm hugely enjoying it, and (once again) am thankful that I read all of the Bard's plays last year.
One very interesting idea that Bloom uses has to do with the Shakespearian soliloquy. He believes that the character, while talking to themselves, overhears what they are saying and then reacts to that. In turn, they develop their character based on what they've learned. In effect, they ideas that they lay out are not fully developed. They may even come as a surprise.
I'm imagining Hamlet's famous line then as something like this: "To be or not to be, that (?!?) is the question?" Hamlet is surprised that he has come to a question of suicide as a way out. He then weighs the pros and cons and continues.
Frankly I love this idea.


Bloom is also in love with Falstaff, especially of Henry IV, part 1. He loves Falstaff's vitality and life force. I can't blame him. Bloom also says that we are wrong to see Falstaff as a coward and I can't quite read that version out of what the text tells me. Which isn't to say that Bloom is wrong. Merely that I need to reread the play.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Brag

(Posted here because I'm not sure who because infrequent postings making this semi-private.)

In the past 14 months or so, I've read:

  • Moby Dick
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Odyssey
  • Chaucer's Tales
  • Don Quixote
  • Tom Jones
  • All of Shakespeare's plays
  • now 1/4 of the way through War and Peace
This is easily the highest quality per average book that I've had in my life and I don't know that I'll ever approach it again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quotes from Shakespeare

This weekend, I was working with my daughter on some passages from Shakespeare.  (I wrote about this project many months ago.  The project got side-tracked but we decided to start over with the school year.)  The passage she was memorizing is that great one where Puck ends with "Lord, what fools these mortals be!".
I told her it was one of my favorites and that I'd used it for a little project of mine.  Back in April, in time for Shakespeare's birthday/death day anniversary, I prepared a quote from each play.  The idea was to hang them on trees in a park as an homage to 'As You Like It'.  It didn't happen then, because I couldn't find the right place, but I still have hopes for it.
Each quote has its own page.  I showed them too her and she leafed through each one, trying to read them cold.  If her reading didn't make sense, I'd read it again.  As she went through, she'd give little commentaries on how she liked this one and that one.
I couldn't help thinking, "These are hand picked quotes from Shakespeare of all people.  Of course you're going to like them!"

Friday, September 2, 2016

Moving Forward

(This is kind of a 'state of the blog' type post.)


I've finally started my college classes.  Yes, this is twenty some years later than it should have been, but it's happening.  My goal is to get a degree before any of my children do so it has to start happening.  Given that I've had time to read some a couple of dozen pieces from the Great Books and all of Shakespeare's plays, I should have time to study for class right now.
The thing is, I don't know exactly what the demands on my time will be like.  Right now I'm focusing on the school work and setting aside other projects.  Whether that will be true a month from now, I really don't know. 
These past two weeks have been the first time all year that I wasn't actively reading something from the Great Books.  I've missed them.  So I'm sure I'll be back to some extent but I don't know how much or when.  In other words, posting is probably going to get light around here.  Not non-existent.  I'm not closing down.  But lighter and less frequent.
I still have a few pieces that I've read but not written about and I'll try and get those blogged out in the next week or so.  Or I may write about things from class.  (I'm taking an Intro to Philosophy class and I'm sure I'll want to write about that.)
So...not goodbye, but, less often.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books Read in August

My actual book reading was fairly limited in August.  I finished up Fielding's wonderful 'Tom Jones' and I'll write about that sometime soon.  Since then, I've wandered a bit through short stories and other things.  The biggest concentrated reading that I've done has been non-Shakespearean plays.  I've got an old text book called 'Masters of Modern Drama' and I've been reading through it.  In this past month, I've read several plays that are new to me:

  • Ibsen's 'Peer Gynt' - Loved this.  Peer Gynt is a larger than life story-teller/rogue from a small town in Norway.  He gets in serious trouble, is nearly married to a troll princess and then flees to the larger world.  Near the end of his life, he works hard to cheat death and goes through a journey of self-discovery.  Great stuff.
  • Ibesen's 'Ghosts' - A very realistic play about how societal rules require people to sin in the name of good and do good things in violation of law.  This is much more like the Ibsen that I've read in the past.  Disturbing and thought provoking.
  • Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' - Another play about societal bonds and the havoc they can wreak.  I thought it was only ok, but I can see how a good performance of this could be devastating.
  • Strindberg's 'The Ghost Sonata' - A dreamlike play, again with the hint of death and a strong sense of people having far too much control over others. 
  • Maeterlinck's 'The Intruder' - This is a short, atmospheric play that could be terrifying.  It all takes place in one room as a family gathers with a blind grandfather.  They all sense...something...come into the house.  They fear for death.  Shivers!
  • von Hofmannshtal's 'Death and the Fool' - Another short play about death, but this one all in verse.  I'll have to take another run at this when I'm in the right place, but as it is, I think I rushed through and missed out.
  • Synge's 'Playboy of the Western World' - An interesting Irish drama about how glamour and infamy can change people.  Apparently it caused riots when it first appeared on stage.
  • Yeat's 'At the Hawk Well' - A small, very arty play by William Butler Yeats, better known as a poet.  This is the type of play that people think of when they think of artists making art only for artists.
  • Cocteau's 'Orpheus' - Another arty play, but I loved this one.  A retelling of Orpheus with some modern twists and some stage trickery.  Would love to see it on the stage.
This is a fine text book and I'll probably keep working through it over time.