Tuesday, 1 August 2017

And Brutus is an honourable man

As we begin Blaugust 2017 it seems only fair that we should begin on the series that has been a staple of recent years of our annual blogging festival, my seven year 'weekly' reading project that begins it's fourth year of life having only completed 17 iterations. That a blog series that has completed just 10.8% of its intended progress by this point is the flagship content around here should give you all a bit of an idea of exactly the kind of blog the Leaflocker is, just in case anyone new has just wandered in.

This 'Week':

With that inspiring introduction out of the way, let's check in with what we've been reading. This week started out as a great week for reading, with a lot of progress being made in he first few days, but then before I knew it it was Monday again and I still had Augustine and Euclid to wade through, and neither of them really lend themselves to easy reading.

Francis Bacon, Oxford Natural History Museum
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Chapters 17-18

There's a good smattering of quotable material in chapter 17 as the Controller and the Savage continue their discussion, climaxing in those wonderful lines 'But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.'

I particularly enjoy the collisions between the idea that the conveniences of modern life make bearing suffering unnecessary and the idea that suffering itself is required in order to experience the fullness of life. Bacon touched on some similar ideas as well this week, and I've no doubt that we'll visit something approaching it later on in the project as well, something I'm looking forward to, as Aldous plot resolution stuff forced by the fact that this is a novel really gets in the way of a proper discussion. #punachieved

It's probably also worth mentioning that even though Brave New World isn't one of the books in the GBWW, the way that it takes and plays with ideas both from Shakespeare and from classical mythology mean that it fits nicely into this idea of a Great Conversation.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
Book X

Last week's readings in the Confessions were hard work but rewarding because they were full of rich quotes and a sense of infectious joy. This week's readings were hard work without a whole lot to redeem them. 

In this chapter, Augustine reads like the worst parts of  Plato, going back and forth over definitions of 'knowing' and 'remembering' and eventually seemingly resorting to word-trickery rather than actual logic to see him himself out of the hole that he's dug himself. I'm sure the argument was useful in the context of the heresies that Augustine found himself writing against, but I found both the arguments and the conclusions to be unconvincing. 

If it's okay with you, I'm going to keep taking pleasure from life, as I am confident we are supposed to do. I recommend that all of you do the same, don't let Augustine bring you down.

Elements by Euclid
Book VIII

I am pretty confident that I managed to more or less understand everything that was going on with the number stuff this week, I'm just not convinced that either that I care enough about this content or that I've internalised it enough to use it further if we ever get to the stage where we use all these definitions for something. I guess being a visual-type person the immediate applications of geometry just make sense to me in a way that this number theory stuff just fails to click.

When I began the project I gave myself license to drop out of reading works that I didn't feel I was getting anything out of, and after a few weeks like this I'm getting pretty close to this stage with Euclid. Still, at least we've made to half-way, right? Ugh.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Let me start by saying that on another reading Julius Caesar remains one of my very favourite pieces of Shakespeare. It's a great length for devouring in a single sitting, because there's no time wasted with entire scenes and characters just to make fart jokes. It's full of the kind of quotable lines that people use all the time, even without knowing where they come from. Best of all, it's just weird, it doesn't feel like any other play that I can think of. The title character dies halfway through, with barely a monologue. There's not any villains and not really even a protagonist. The mastery of sarcasm is so evident in the 'Friends, Romans, countrymen' speech that it drips off the page...

I really like it. If you've never seen it, make the time, at least to read it, but going to a show would be even better. You won't regret it.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Book Seven, Chapters VIII-XI

It might have taken this long, but I love that Hugo has got us to such a state where he no longer has to show us inside Jean Valjeans head. The competing motivations behind every little action are clear to us. This stuff is one of the reasons that Hugo is so great. 

One of the reasons he's not that great is his tendency to use brute-force plot devices that just don't make that much sense. The whole 'everyone was so shocked that they just let him walk out of there instead of arresting his ass' plot point is almost as unlikely as the 'I'm just gonna steal this kid's coin for no reason' malarkey. Needed for the plot to advance, but frustratingly unrealistic.

Of Adversity by Francis Bacon

Someone like Bacon, who takes a point from classical philosophy and expands on it in his 'modern' context fits so nicely into this 'Great Conversation' idea, and in fact the central point here linked nicely back into Brave New World this week, so this reading ties the whole week together quite nicely. I'm a little unsettled by his implication that virtues are only available to Christians, but I guess I'm willing to overlook it for the phrase 'Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New; which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God’s favor.'


Moral of the story, when you write history, write for a future audience and seek to be as truthful and unbiased as possible while still being interesting. But that doesn't really convey how much this one was just a hoot.

Lucian's withering wit is really a lot of fun to read, and I look forward to finding out if there's anything more to be read as part of the project. If not, I might just have to supplement it with a couple more choice pieces from Lucian, who seems to have his head screwed on tightly, even if it seems that he'd rather insult people for trying rather than actually doing any better himself. 

The Stats:

Few notable milestones were reached during this week. We passed 300 pages of philosophy and theology and 200 pages of texts translated from Latin on the back of Augustine, but that's about it. We sit at 999 pages of novels read, though, so next week we're sure to have something to celebrate.

Pages last week: 119
Pages so far: 1975

Week XVIII:

As we say goodbye to Brave New World, it's time to pick ourselves up some other longer-term reads. Doctor J's reading plan suggests Robinson Crusoe, so we'll grab that, as well as the Pickwick Papers, another Dickens title that I've tried and failed to get my teeth into in the past. This means this is a great week for some of you to pick up a new book and read along with me.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Book XI - XII (28 pages)

We're into the home stretch with the Confessions, and I'm very glad of it. I've enjoyed the ride, particularly the more autobiographical chapters, but the roundabout philosophical exercises on the last couple of chapters have been particularly hard work, as Augustine isn't the kind of guy to come straight at a point if he can talk circles around it, and the antiquated translation that I'm using doesn't help (why is it that all the easily accessible English versions of the early church fathers haven't been updated from the King James version?).

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book IX (20 pages)

The last couple of chapters have definitely been ramping up to something. I hope that we find out what that something is here in Chapter IX and that it's ultimately rewarding, but I'm not going to be holding my breath.

The Oath of Hippocrates
#gbww #philosophy #greek #oneshot
(1 page)

I am pretty sure that I know nothing about the Hippocratic Oath except 'first do no harm'. Is that actually from the Hippocratic Oath? I guess we'll find out.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book VIII (17 pages)

In the aftermath of the action of the courtroom, I think it's time for some good old-fashioned Valjean introspection, which is the sort of thing that Hugo does best. I've enjoyed the many things that have been left unsaid throughout Book VII, but I do look forward to seeing the battle between Jean's inner angels and demons laid out in front of us, so I hope that's what we've got coming.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english #new
Chapters I - II (27 pages)

I'm mostly picking up the Pickwick Papers just to frustrate Victor Hugo in his attempt to be the most-read author on my reading list, as he was due to overtake Dickens in the next couple of weeks. Starting Pickwick should delay him for a little while, at least. And I get to read more Dickens, which is always nice.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
#ggb #fiction #english #new
Chapters I - IV (32 pages)

I am relatively sure that I've actually read Crusoe before, at least in some kind of abridged children's book form, but I honestly remember very little about it, so I look forward to diving in. The equivalent of 32 GGWW pages is a pretty serious chunk to start with, so I hope I find Defoe's writing enjoyable or this already-bloated week of reading could turn out to be a bit more than I can handle.

Happy reading, everyone. Don't be scared to pick something and read along with me, I'd love to have someone to talk to about some of the readings. Or you could even pick up your keyboard and produce something cool for me to read this Blaugust yourself. Or if you're up for something that requires a little less effort, don't forget that there's 24 hours left to enter your answers for last week's history quiz.

2 comments:

Hans 'Pichy' Stockmann said...

"(why is it that all the easily accessible English versions of the early church fathers haven't been updated from the King James version?)."

Because it's the one true iteration of the Bible. This is undeniable fact because the word count is higher.

(I know someone who fervently sticks by this as his sole argument, completely blind to the source texts' Hebrew and Greek origins)

Thomas Diment said...

As a church secretary now, I get sent tracts claiming divine inspiration applies exclusively to the King James Version multiple times a year.