Who is Creon?

Here is the link to the new essay I just published, on whether Creon is a tyrant or a benevolent monarch looking out for the public safety: http://www.amazon.com/Who-Creon-Essays-Classics-ebook/dp/B00EVKABZE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377882892&sr=8-1&keywords=Who+is+Creon%3F+Essays+on+the+Classics

 

There hasn’t been one buyer for any of the essays I’ve already posted.  1,100 viewers on this blog and not one person has offered to pay me a dime for anything I’m doing.  So basically you’re all searching for free stuff.  I’m kind of disgusted, actually.

Charles Austen and Jane Dickens

So it turns out that my neighbor’s roommate (or just friend?) is the one borrowing my books (you can imagine I have a library of 1000+ of them).  Go figure.  I didn’t even know she had a roommate until a week and a half ago, let alone a pretty one.  Both of them are in school, I think about 19.

What book, then, did she need to borrow?  She needed to borrow Great Expectations for school; when she came to pick it up, I asked her what else she was reading–Jane Eyre.  Now I have unfortunately “read” this boring piece of crap.  Interspersed here was a discussion of why each time she sees the book it has a different color–nobody has taught her about the “public domain”.  Then there’s a discussion of what’s in my collection of books, which I had her look at, and which ones I was impressed by and which ones unimpressed by.  

Anyways, to get to the point, I know that this book is as worthless as one of my lovely cat’s whiskers would be to me.  SOOOO…I feel compelled to make a few comments on the matter:

1) We have choices as to what we read; in fact, we must make these choices because we have limited time, and there is so much out there demanding our attention.  These works need to be selected on the grounds that a) they tell us something new and/or important about the human character, or b) they tell us something about how the world works, physically, socially, or otherwise, that we need to know.  On any list of must-reads, we would have to put at least 500 works ahead of the best of Dickens’ novels, which is probably A Tale of Two Cities. A list of 100 of these will be at the bottom of this post.  Now for the reasons why this is especially true and justifies omitting Great Expectations and Jane Eyre.

2) With very few exceptions, most but not quite all of which are nonfiction, books containing straight narratives of over 500 pages are not meritorious.  Some of the notable exceptions are as follows: History of Rome by Livy (the extant portions of which are broken up by modern publishers into smaller segments); Parallel Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans by Plutarch (ditto); City of God by Augustine of Hippo; The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith; The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon; The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Ulysses by James Joyce; and History of the English-Speaking Peoples (notably cut up into 4 volumes of around 400 pages apiece) by Winston Churchill.  A few modern biographies may also fit the bill–Ron Chernow’s lives of Alexander Hamilton and of Washington come to mind.  And volumes of essays can be long and effective, but by their very nature the individual essays are much shorter, so they can be picked up and put down with ease.  But on the whole a book that long either repeats ideas, lacks good editing, or otherwise could be cut down.  Most classics are decidedly short, which is why it’s so embarrassing that they are not taught at all in schools these days.  It’s actually insulting to the intelligence of the students.

3) Industrial England is the single most boring society in modern European history.  It is generally at peace, but when it gets caught up in social unrest its “disasters” pale in comparison to those of other nations, such as France and Germany in 1848.  Notable events that took place simultaneously with Industrial England are the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the revolutions of 1848, and the race to colonize Africa.  The age before Industrial England is fascinating, being the Enlightenment and Age of Revolution; the age after it is horrifying but intriguing, as it is the age of world wars and leads to totalitarianism.  But Industrial England itself is pure, unadulterated boredom.

4) Dickens manages to thus combine lengthy, repetitve attempts and social commentary with a description of the dullest period imaginable.  The result is singularly predictable.

5) These thoughts apply equally to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.  Pure boredom.  And even worse, they have no idea what would appeal to someone who is not a bored woman in 19th Century Britain.

6) These works are therefore second-rate.

7) They thus have no place in schools, and any teacher who teaches them ought to be fired for incompetence and utter lack of literary taste and professional decency.

While I realize this may come off as overly harsh, I would like to point you to the list below, after reading some of which works you will be full well informed as to why these authors are second-rate, and why I therefore cannot bring myself to remember their names properly. 

Thus, the list of 100 must-reads (organized by genre but not necessarily to be taken as the 100 greatest books ever written): IliadOdysseyAeneid, PharsaliaDivine ComedyThe Song of Roland,  BeowulfTroilus and CriseydeParadise LostJohn Brown’s Body; Herodotus’ HistoriesHistory of the Peloponnesian WarThe Persian ExpeditionCatiline’s WarThe Jugurthine WarHistory of Rome, The Gallic WarThe Civil WarThe Annals of Imperial RomeThe Later History of RomeRepublicPoliticsThe PrinceDiscourses on LivyLeviathan, ArepoagiticaSecond Treatise Concerning CIvil Government, Reflections on the Revolution in FranceThe FederalistOn Representative GovernmentNicomachean EthicsOn Moral Duties, Moralia (Plutarch), ConfessionsCity of God, Essais (Montaigne), Essays (Francis Bacon), EthicsThe Theory of Moral SentimentsThe Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismThe Canterbury TalesThe Provincial LettersGulliver’s TravelsTom JonesJoseph Andrews, CandideThe Persian LettersThe Adventures of Huckleberry FinnA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Travels with CharleyThe Wealth of NationsPrinciples of Political Economy and Taxation, Essay on the Principle of PopulationCapitalThe Theory of the Leisure ClassThe Higher Learning in AmericaThe Vested Interests and the Common ManExtraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of CrowdsGeneral Theory of Employment, Money, and InterestThe Road to Serfdom; Old Times on the MississippiThe Tragedy of Pudd’nhead WilsonThe Turn of the ScrewThe Red Badge of CourageThe Call of the WildThe Great Gatsby, The Love of the Last TycoonA Farewell to ArmsFor Whom the Bell TollsLight in AugustDecline and Fall of the Roman Empire, History of the Russian RevolutionThe State and Revolution1984Animal FarmHistory of the English-Speaking Peoples; Autobiography of Benjamin FranklinNarrative of the Life and Times of Frederick DouglassThe Souls of Black FolkElements, Introduction to ArithmeticPrincipia MathematicaRelativity; Aesop’s FablesUtilitarianismOn LibertyTreasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeFrankensteinThe Birth of Tragedy.

I’m stopping here.  But there is not a single play on here, let alone any Shakespeare plays, and there are at least 400 more that go in front of anything Dickens or Austen or the Brontes ever wrote, many of which are also satires, simply better ones

 

And such is my ultimate point: our school system does not know better from worse.  It is screwing up our value system.  Hence, I am trying to do something amazing for so many people.  Help me do it!

Change in Plans

On the suggestion of a business partner (!), I’m going to run the classics courses in a fall section, a winter section, a spring section, and a summer section.  There’s one week left to enroll in the fall program, so please call me today at (310) 592-5681.  Again this will be done by Google Hangouts, so location is a complete non-factor.  (Essay and book lengths are in ebook form–“Perpetual Peace” is, in my Gateway to the Great Books set, only 35 pages; ebook pages are smaller, hence the discrepancy.)

For the fall essays, we will be approaching them very systematically–what are their strongest and weakest facts?  What kinds of facts do they use?  Do we agree or disagree with the authors’ positions?

And think about it: nobody would try to become a composer–or even an adequate piano player–without having looked at the likes of Bach and Brahms and Beethoven.  So why would writing be any different??

The reading list for the fall section, which is on philosophical essays, is:

1)   An Essay on Modern Education—Jonathan Swift (12 pages)

2)   A Modest Proposal—Jonathan Swift (13 pages)

3)   Politics and the English Language—George Orwell (12 pages)

4)   An Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe—William Penn (21 pages)

5)   A Lasting Peace Through the Federation of Europe—Jean-Jacques Rousseau (24 pages)

6)   Perpetual Peace—Immanuel Kant (53 pages)

7)   Tradition and the Individual Talent—T.S. Eliot (8 pages)

8)   The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent—John Erskine (32 pages)

9)   On Listening—Plutarch

10)                  Civil Disobedience—Henry David Thoreau (38 pages)

11)                  Of Cannibals—Michel de Montaigne (23 pages)

12)                  Of Refinement in the Arts—David Hume (16 pages)

The reading list for the winter section, which covers political and economic works from 1845-1920, is:

1)   A Disquisition on Government—John Calhoun (107 pages, 1849)

2)   Utilitarianism—John Stuart Mill (71 pages, 1861)

3)   Memoranda on the Civil War—Walt Whitman (76 pages, 1917)

4)   The Vested Interests and the Common Man—Thorstein Veblen (65 pages, 1919)

Press Release!

Atlanta, August, 2013: DIP Publishing House has released its NEWEST title;

‘The Decline of The Epic’ by Jason Goetz. The ‘Decline of The Epic’ challenges our very notion of literary greatness, in a world that largely embraces the most watered down versions of what is called literature.

This well written body of work will forever change our perception of “today’s writings” in comparison to the passion filled, intellectually sound expressions of those from the past. From Homer’s ‘Iliad’ to Stephen Vincent Benet’s ‘John Brown’s Body’, there is no lack of greatness on display throughout this book.

We are both happy and proud to publish ‘The Decline of The Epic’ and fully support its cause in bringing aboutimprovementsthroughouttheliteraryworld.

Currently the ebook is available through www.Amazon.com andwww.DIPPUB.com. Mr. Goetz is available for appearances and interviews by phone, online, and in person.

For details, please contact Media Relations at: mediarelations@dippub.com.

Limitations

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude

Website: http://www.goetzeducation.org

Books: The Bubble BoysThe Decline of the Epic?Rules for WritingThe Role of the Gods in The IliadFolksiness in History and Baseball!; Logic Requires Asking QuestionsAeneas as Six Sigma Leader

One of my students just moved into Pepperdine this week, where he’ll be a freshman this year.  Pepperdine is one of the four decent Los Angeles universities–the others being USC, UCLA, and Loyola Marymount–and is the one that I would say is most imbued with a sense of tradition and a link to the past.  The kid is a midget (a paltry 6’8″, and I’ve told him he’s too short to his face), and he plays tennis, so their renowned tennis program made it a natural fit.  He wants to study business, because, as is typical of youth these days, he thinks there are “careers” in it, whereas he believes that there aren’t in other fields.

To my surprise they (the academic advisor to the athletes) enrolled him in a Great Books Collegium, under the tutelage of Michael Gose.  Naturally I’ve been on his case about enrolling in my own Great Books program, to no avail.  But he seems to be genuinely interested in the material.  I’m not entirely sure why he won’t join, though that’s between him and himself, I suppose.  But he’s in this thing, and, to my surprise, the parent texted me yesterday asking my thoughts on the curriculum.  (And please note, if you are looking only for a credential, that a parent asked a 25 year old with no credential to examine the list of books assigned by a Ph.D.  Age and credentials fly out the window once you have encountered me, for very obvious reasons.)

So I got to looking at it.  You yourself should take a look: https://faculty.pepperdine.edu/mgose/Gbooklist_Pepperdine.html (keep this open in a separate tab as you read the rest of this)

My first reaction was that it is fantastic.  At the very least this man is trying to teach the Great Books, in an age where they’ve been mostly thrown out of college curriculums, replaced by “real-world experience” courses, or placed on a par with work of dubious literary and intellectual merit.  Many if not most of the major obvious classics are present.  There is a misattribution–the play Medea is by Euripides, and he attributes it to Sophocles–but it appears to be an honest error by someone who was moving too fast and didn’t proofread.  Most of these books are ones I have already published essays on, so my student and his classmates can and ought to use the resources I’ve provided for them, which may well guarantee them an A in the class.  On the ones that I haven’t published essays, if they want them, I’ll write and publish them–I have lots to say about Creon, the villain in Antigone (one of Sophocles’ Theban plays), and whether he is a tyrant or a protector of the public safety (or, more realistically, one who claims to be one so as to be the other).  Some of them I already have written and only need to publish–the one on Augustine and Aquinas (which includes Dante and Chaucer and the Bible as well, and whose implications can be extended to Luther and Calvin et al).

But then I started to think a little deeper.

Look closer at the list: there are no classic histories.  None.  One can say to themselves that the histories are long–that there is only so much time in a semester (or a full college year), and that to ask students to read 500 pages of Herodotus and 450 of Thucydides and even only the first 500 of Livy would make them miss out on the other stuff.  That’s fine.  But this is not true of all classic histories, and the works of Xenophon (The Persian Expedition is around 250 pages), Sallust (Catiline’s War, for instance, is 45 pages or so; The Jugurthine War is some 130 pages), and Julius Caesar (The Gallic War is about 220 pages, and The Civil War maybe 240) are no longer than many of the other selections.  They are certainly shorter than City of God.  What’s particularly objectionable about this omission is that the great fictional works are all commentaries on real human behavior in the societies in which the authors lived and worked.  To really understand them, then, on a deep level is to understand the historical events that shaped their worlds.  The students aren’t getting that.

The objection to Herodotus and Thucydides–that they are too long, and there is only so much time in a college semester or year to study what needs to be learned–can also be looked at as a limitation on the efficacy of any college or university.  In terms of learning what you need to know, especially by gaining the experience provided in writing by others, four years is not enough for most people.  Certainly when you mix in all the other garbage they try to teach and present as important, it makes the limitation insurmountable.  But of course this is not a reason to place more emphasis on university education, and demand more years of such learning.  In fact, the clearest and sharpest way to circumvent this is to recognize the limitation, and work hard outside of what they ask to make up for it.  The duty is on you as the student and you as the parent to fill in the gaps that are left.  I learned more from Edward Gibbon and from Winston Churchill than I did from an entire semester of lectures from any college professor I had; but they were much too long to teach, or so they claimed, (certainly Gibbon is), and I had to read them on my own.

And look again at this list.  There is no economics.  Yet in terms of relevance the classical economics texts are the most obvious bunch with what appears to be the most value.  (What appears to be the most value.  Note my use of language.)  While some of them are dull, and two are too lengthy to teach–Adam Smith and Karl Marx–most of them are short, and it is imperative that students be exposed to the ideas of Ricardo, Malthus, Veblen, and Mackay, at the very least, if not Hayek and other 20th Century thinkers.  How is one really to understand economic policy when they come to the polling place if they have not absorbed these ideas?  If they do not understand this, are they really to vote in their own interests?  What are people to know about incentives and constraints without these things?  If my student really wants to go into business–if that’s what so many students want, nowadays–isn’t this an essential element of their education??

And look yet again at the list: no political theory.  Sure, he’s got Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince.  This is a start.  But those are almost completely irrelevant to the system in which we live.  That system was founded on the ideas of Machiavelli, but in Discourses on Livy, his great treatise on republics, and not The Prince; and on those of Locke in his Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government (a short 56 pages in the GBWW edition) and A Letter Concerning Toleration (some 22 pages in the same), Hobbes in Leviathan (250-odd pages in the same), Milton in Areopagitica (33 pages in the same), Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France (250 or so pages, not in the GBWW), The Federalist Papers (400-some odd pages, but in 5-page essays, of which one could choose selections), Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government (80 pages), and Lenin’s The State and Revolution (120-odd pages).

I would argue that many of these works are far more relevant to students in the 21st Century than are the works of Euripides or of Luther and Aquinas.  It is not that Luther and Aquinas aren’t relevant, but that you have to work much harder to find their relevance, and the chances of the professor adequately showing this are slim.  But more than their relevance, I question whether students don’t spend much more time reading the works assigned to them under this program because they are much harder to understand.  Locke is EASY; so is Burke, and so is Calhoun.  So is Malthus.  On the other hand, Dante, Shakespeare, and Augustine are very difficult reads.  One of Augustine’s sentences in Confessions runs 205 words in my translation; Washington’s entire Second Inaugural Address ran 135.

I think this particular program, as I told the parent and the student, is too heavily inclined towards fiction and religion.  It does not appear as though the works that were left off were penalized for having been on the Pope’s Prohibited Index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum), but there is something weird about the volume of religious texts and the lack of political theory, economics, and history, especially at a Jesuit institution which makes no bones about bringing it into the classroom.  I wonder how they’ll teach Luther, that’s for sure.

The teacher’s credentials are in English, Education, and Religion, which explains part of it.  This is not a new program, however, and I wonder to what extent they have been willing to modify it over time.  You are all well aware that I love epic poetry, and there are several on the list.  But I love it in the context of history and political theory and economics, not in isolation, separate but equal, so to speak.  Plessy v. Ferguson is as outdated, in my eyes, as is Aquinas (who may be one of the only thinkers I say is completely out of date, not in theoretical construct–as his work remains the orthodoxy of the RCC–but in presentation).

There is yet one other reason why I feel the list of any curriculum presented by any college must inevitably be deficient: many of the most powerful works I’ve read are considered “secondary classics”.  Again the time issue arises: students only have so much time, so, it is said, they should focus on primary classics.  But in my experience books like The Song of Roland, Sir Gawain and the Green KnightDiscourses on LivyA Disquisition on GovernmentThe Theory of the Leisure Class, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and The Law of Civilization and Decay have had an equal if not superior impact to the likes of Virgil and Goethe.  These works provide a much greater context wherewith to understand many of the classics.  They are themselves works of the highest merit, and they deserve, nay, they demand to be read.

Look again at the list.  See if you do not see what i see.  And then call me.  (310) 592-5681.

A Lesson in Satire

This is brilliant.

Prodigious Leaps!

You may have heard by now about Matt Forney’s “humour” piece entitled “How to Rape Women and Get Away With It.” Trigger warning: this piece ‘jokingly’ condones rape and describes it in vivid terms. EDIT: A mere 2 hours after I wrote this piece, the original article is down, but I think you can get an idea of its content based on the title alone. He did however post this hilariously insincere apology, which is almost as good. In response to backlash this caused, Forney has informed we “pansies” who were offended that his piece is satire.

But is it?

I am increasingly seeing satire being held up as a shield for comedians to hide behind when offensive aspects their work are challenged. They claim that readers are taking their works too seriously, as they are meant to be light-hearted. Many writers seem to believe that satire is…

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