Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets
Briunt Norton

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The American by Henry James: The New World vs. The Old World

An American businessman has made his fortune. He goes to Europe to get some culture and find a wife. In Paris he falls in love with a beautiful woman who is from a noble family that can trace its ancestry back to the tenth century. The novel tells how he wins her hand and why their union becomes impossible. She is from a very old noble family. She and her family reek of faded glory, lost power and poverty. Of course that is the relative poverty of a family with a country estate and a palace in Paris. The French Revolution and Napoleon removed such families from power but they do their best to keep a finger in by joining in Papal politics and wars.
Newman is so very American. He had almost no formal education. He is brevetted to brigadier during the Civil War. Then he traveled around the Western US working in many businesses. He finally made a large fortune in some kind manufacturing. Once he is financially comfortable he retires from business and goes to Europe to gain culture. Though he does not know precisely what that means: probably something connected with painting and the opera.
Newman also intends to find a wife while on the continent. The wife of one of his American friends went to school in France and has an old school chum she thinks will be a perfect match for Newman. And this begins Newman’s introduction to the de Bellegarde family. The family is not growing in money or power any longer. And they would not be too harmed by an infusion of cash and new blood from the American. But they are proud. It comes across that the prospective bride’s older brother, Urbain, and mother feel insulted that someone who once was involved in the manufacture of pots and pans would enter their drawing room and treat them as his equals. The younger brother, Valentin, mainly finds it amusing. Newman and Valentin end up becoming friends and companions.
Claire de Centre is not examined too closely. We learn her history: that she is a widow who had an unhappy marriage to an old man she could not bring herself to love. But she mainly remains a lovely and charming ideal. She is beautiful, educated, a dutiful child, graceful and a little bewitching. And there is never an aspersion cast upon her moral goodness.
There are two very similar subplots that tell the stories of women subjected to the carnal reality of Paris. These two women are poor but beautiful and amiable. One of them, Noemie Nioche, schemes to use her charms to become a woman kept by rich men. The other is an Italian who has had most of her money spent by an abusive husband and has fled to Paris to escape him. Valentin has become friendly with her, And he describes to Newman how he is going to enjoy watching her spend the last of her money and then descend into selling herself to survive.
Is this meant to equate in some manner the marriage of a French noblewoman to a rich foreigner to prostitution? That is how a member of that dying French nobility would likely have seen it. There is some indication that this is the case from the way Claire’s mother and older brother treat Newman. They are superficially polite but he is always reminded that he is an outsider. Then after some time as Claire’s fiancé and the Bellegarde family giving a large reception full of the old nobility Newman is told that the wedding will not take place.
Newman is outraged by being denied the bride that he had grown more fond of over time. He comes into the possession of information that is embarrassing to Claire’s mother and brother and plans to use it to blackmail them into letting the marriage proceed. But after a while he decides to release it and go on with his life.
I found the question of why Newman would give up so easily is the greatest mystery of the novel. The narration gives a partial explanation: “nursing a vengeance was, it must be confessed, a rather fatiguing process, it took a lot out of one.” But I found this less than completely satisfying. Newman can behave no differently. He and America represent a new start for the world and new ways of doing things. He cannot behave like a European nurturing grievances year after year and century after century because that would leave him no energy or time tobuild a new world. Also there is something much more compelling in a less than completely accessible Claire. She can serve as a symbol of the beauties of art, religion and culture in general. The European incarnation of these ideals can be seen and appreciated by the American but not fully possessed. If the American does what is necessary to fully possess Claire he ceases being an American and turns into just another petty middle class European.
I would not recommend this book for others to read. But my opinion on this must be severely discounted since I think my temperament makes it inevitable that little of what James writes will appeal to me. I find no fault in it as a work of art. The characters are well drawn and unfold logically. Nothing is wrong with the plot. But someone trying to decide if it is worth their time should consult someone more sympathetic to Henry James.

Friday, December 11, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas College Great Books List

St Thomas Aquinas is another college that uses only the great books as texts. Everything Below is directly from their site.

The Curriculum

The College's curriculum is an integrated liberal arts program based primarily on a study of the Great Books. Guided by College faculty, students analyze and discuss in tutorials, seminars, and laboratories these works of the greatest minds of our tradition. By daily practice in reading, translation, demonstration, and argument, students form habits of thought and discourse which will stay with them throughout their lives. And by means of these habits, they can better lay hold of the knowledge and wisdom recorded in the Great Books.

The textbooks that most colleges and universities use are soon outdated; they quickly go out of fashion and are discarded. New ways to think about things unceasingly replace the old. Yet a consensus exists among generations of thinkers and writers that certain works have enduring relevance. They never go out of style. Why is this?

Lucretius was a Roman poet and philosopher who 2,000 years ago wrote a treatise called "On the Nature of Things." This title could well describe any of the Great Books. These works - whether philosophy or science, history or drama - describe things as they really are. They reveal the reality at the core of human experience, a reality that - regardless of time or place - does not change. A person hungry for wisdom can return to these books over and over again without exhausting their meaning. These are the books that have the power to shape human events and to change lives.

The following is a list of works read in whole or in part in the College's curriculum. They are not all of equal weight. Some are regarded as masterworks, while others serve as sources of opinions that either lead students to the truth, or make the truth more evident by opposition to it.
Freshman Year


Homer Iliad, Odyssey
Plato Ion, Republic, Symposium
Aeschylus Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides
Sophocles Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone
Herodotus Histories
Aristotle Poetics, Rhetoric
Plutarch Lives (Lycurgus, Pericles, Alcibiades, Aristides, Alexander)
Euripides Hippolytus
Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War
Aristophanes The Birds, The Clouds

Wheelock Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors
Nesfield Aids to the Study and Composition of English

Euclid Elements

Aristotle Parts of Animals
DeKoninck The Lifeless World of Biology
Fabre Souvenirs Entomologiques
Galen On the Natural Faculties
Harvey On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, On Animal Generation
Linnaeus Systema Naturae
Pascal On the Equilibrium of Liquids
Archimedes On Floating Bodies
Mendel Plant Hybridization
various authors Scientific papers of Driesch, Gould, Marler, Tinbergen, Goethe, Virchow, von Frisch, et alia
Measurements Manual

Plato Meno, Protagoras, Gorgias, Apology, Crito, Phaedo
Porphyry On the Predicaments (Isagoge)
Aristotle Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics
St. Thomas Aquinas Proem to the Posterior Analytics

The Holy Bible

Sophomore Year


Vergil Aeneid
Lucretius On the Nature of Things
Cicero Offices
Livy Ab Urbe Conditia
Plutarch Lives(Marcellus, Tiberius & Caius Gracchus, Marius, Sylla, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Brutus)
Tacitus Annals
Epictetus Manual
St. Augustine Confessions, On the Teacher
Boethius Consolation of Philosophy
Dante Divine Comedy
Chaucer Canterbury Tales
Spenser Faerie Queen
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Teacher

Wheelock Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors
Martin of Denmark Tractus De Modis Significandi
Horace, Cicero Selections
St. Thomas Aquinas Selections
Canon of the Mass

Plato Timaeus
Ptolemy Almagest
Copernicus Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
Apollonius On Conic Sections
Kepler Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, Astronomia Nova
Archimedes On Conoids and Spheroids

Aristotle On Generation and Corruption
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Principles of Nature,
On the Combination of the Elements
Lavoisier Elements of Chemistry
Avogadro Masses and Proportions of Elementary Molecules
Dalton Proportion of Gases in the Atmosphere
Gay-Lussac Combination of Gaseous Substances
Pascal Treatise on the Weight of the Mass of the Air
various authors Scientific papers of Berthollet, Couper, Lavoisier, Mendeleev, Richter, Wollaston, Cannizzaro, et alia
Atomic Theory Manual

Pre-Socratic Philosophers Fragments
Aristotle Physics
On the Soul


St. Augustine On Christian Doctrine,On the Spirit and the Letter, On Nature and Grace, On the Gift of Perseverance, On the Predestination of the Saints, City of God
St. Athanasius On the Incarnation
Gaunilo On Behalf of the Fool
St. Anselm Proslogion, Reply to Gaunilo
St. John Damascene An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith
Return to top
Junior Year


Cervantes Don Quixote
St. Thomas Aquinas On Kingship, Summa Theologiae
Machiavelli The Prince, Discourses
Bacon The Great Instauration, Novum Organum
Shakespeare Julius Caesar, King Richard the Second, King Henry the Fourth: Part One, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Sonnets
Montaigne Essays
Descartes Discourse on Method, Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
Pascal Pensées
Hobbes Leviathan
Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Second Essay on Civil Government
Berkeley Treatise Concerning Human Understanding
Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Swift Gulliver's Travels
Milton Paradise Lost
Gibbon Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Corneille Le Cid
Racine Phaedre
Rousseau Social Contract, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Spinoza Theologico-Political Treatise
various authors Articles of Confederation
Declaration of Independence
U.S. Constitution
Hamilton, Madison, Jay Federalist Papers
Smith Wealth of Nations
Kant Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Leibniz Discourse on Metaphysics

Plato Timaeus
Boethius On Music
Mozart Sonatas
Gustin Tonality

Viete Standard Enumeration of Geometric Results, Introduction to the Analytic Art
Descartes Geometry
Archimedes Quadrature of the Parabola
Griffin Mathematical Analysis
various authors Mathematical works of Hippocrates, Archimedes, Cavalieri, Pascal, Leibniz, Bernoulli, Newton, Berkeley, Bolzano, et alia

Descartes Principles of Philosophy
Galileo Two New Sciences
Newton Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
Aristotle Nicom. Ethics

St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologiae:

On Sacred Doctrine
On God
On Law

Return to top
Senior Year


Tolstoy War and Peace
Goethe Faust
Hegel Phenomenology of Mind, Philosophy of History
Flaubert Three Tales
Feuerbach Essence of Christianity
J. S. Mill Utilitarianism
Marx Capital, Communist Manifesto, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, German Ideology
Melville Billy Budd
Willa Cather My Antonia
Engels Quantity and Quality, Negation of the Negation
Darwin Origin of Species
Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, Use and Abuse of History
Twain Huckleberry Finn
Austen Emma
Freud General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
Jung Analytical Psychology
Newman Development of Christian Doctrine
Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments
Ibsen A Doll's House
Dostoyevski Brothers Karamazov
Eliot Ash Wednesday, Journey of the Magi, The Waste Land
St. Pius X Pascendi Dominici Gregis
Leo XIII Aeterni Patris, Rerum Novarum
Pius XI Quadragesimo Anno
Pius XII Humani Generis
Vatican II Lumen Gentium
Plato Phaedrus
Vico The New Science
Tocqueville Democracy in America, The Old Regime and the French Revolution
Husserl The Idea of Phenomenology
Lincoln and Douglas Debates
Flannery O'Connor A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Enduring Chill
St. Thomas Aquinas The Division and Method of the Sciences

Pascal Generation of Conic Sections
Taylor Integral Calculus
Dedekind Essay on the Theory of Numbers
Lobachevski Geometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels

Einstein Relativity: The Special and General Theory
Huygens Treatise on Light
Newton Optiks
Maxwell A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism
Gilbert De Magnete
Ampere Papers
various authors Mechanics, Waves, and Optics Manual
Electricity and Magnetism Manual

Aristotle Physics, Metaphysics
St. Thomas Aquinas On Being and Essence

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae: On the Trinity, On the Sacraments, On the Passion of Christ

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

St. Johns College Great Books Reading List

St. Johns College uses the great books instead of traditional text books. This link will take you to a Quick Time video of students and teachers from this unusual school discussing their experiences.

The Reading List
The reading list that serves as the core of the St. John's College curriculum had its beginnings at Columbia College, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Virginia. Since 1937, the list of books has been under continued review at St. John's College. The distribution of the books over the four years is significant. Something over 2,000 years of intellectual history form the background of the first two years; about 300 years of history form the background for almost twice as many authors in the last two years.
The first year is devoted to Greek authors and their pioneering understanding of the liberal arts; the second year contains books from the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods; the third year has books of the 17th and 18th centuries, most of which were written in modern languages; the fourth year brings the reading into the 19th and 20th centuries.
The chronological order in which the books are read is primarily a matter of convenience and intelligibility; it does not imply a historical approach to the subject matter. The St. John's curriculum seeks to convey to students an understanding of the fundamental problems that human beings have to face today and at all times. It invites them to reflect both on their continuities and their discontinuities.
HOMER: Iliad, Odyssey
AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax
THUCYDIDES: Peloponnesian War
EURIPIDES: Hippolytus, Bacchae
HERODOTUS: Histories
PLATO: Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
ARISTOTLE: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
EUCLID: Elements
LUCRETIUS: On the Nature of Things
PLUTARCH: Lycurgus, Solon
NICOMACHUS: Arithmetic
LAVOISIER: Elements of Chemistry
HARVEY: Motion of the Heart and Blood
Essays by: Archimedes, Fahrenheit, Avogadro, Dalton, Cannizzaro, Virchow, Mariotte, Driesch, Gay-Lussac, Spemann, Stears, J.J. Thompson, Mendeleyev, Berthollet, J.L. Proust
THE BIBLE: New Testament
ARISTOTLE: De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories
VIRGIL: Aeneid
PLUTARCH: "Caesar," "Cato the Younger," "Antony," "Brutus"
EPICTETUS: Discourses, Manual
PTOLEMY: Almagest
PLOTINUS: The Enneads
AUGUSTINE: Confessions
MAIMONIDES: Guide for the Perplexed
ST. ANSELM: Proslogium
AQUINAS: Summa Theologica
DANTE: Divine Comedy
CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales
MACHIAVELLI: The Prince, Discourses
KEPLER: Epitome IV
RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel
PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli
VIETE: Introduction to the Analytical Art
BACON: Novum Organum
SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets
POEMS BY: Marvell, Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
DESCARTES: Geometry, Discourse on Method
PASCAL: Generation of Conic Sections
BACH: St. Matthew Passion, Inventions
HAYDN: Quartets
MOZART: Operas
BEETHOVEN: Third Symphony
STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms
CERVANTES: Don Quixote
GALILEO: Two New Sciences
HOBBES: Leviathan
DESCARTES: Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
MILTON: Paradise Lost
PASCAL: Pensees
HUYGENS: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
ELIOT: Middlemarch
SPINOZA: Theological-Political Treatise
LOCKE: Second Treatise of Government
RACINE: Phaedre
NEWTON: Principia Mathematica
KEPLER: Epitome IV
LEIBNIZ: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay On Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
SWIFT: Gulliver's Travels
HUME: Treatise of Human Nature
ROUSSEAU: Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality
MOLIERE: Le Misanthrope
ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations
KANT: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
MOZART: Don Giovanni
JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice
DEDEKIND: "Essay on the Theory of Numbers"
"Articles of Confederation," "Declaration of Independence," "Constitution of the United States of America"
TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
WORDSWORTH: The Two Part Prelude of 1799
Essays by: Young, Taylor, Euler, D. Bernoulli, Orsted, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell
Supreme Court opinions
DARWIN: Origin of Species
HEGEL: Phenomenology of Mind, "Logic" (from the Encyclopedia)
LOBACHEVSKY: Theory of Parallels
TOCQUEVILLE: Democracy in America
LINCOLN: Selected Speeches
KIERKEGAARD: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
MARX: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov
TOLSTOY: War and Peace
MELVILLE: Benito Cereno
O'CONNOR: Selected Stories
WILLIAM JAMES; Psychology, Briefer Course
NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil
FREUD: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: Selected Writings
DUBOIS: The Souls of Black Folk
HUSSERL: Crisis of the European Sciences
HEIDEGGER: Basic Writings
EINSTEIN: Selected papers
CONRAD: Heart of Darkness
FAULKNER: Go Down Moses
FLAUBERT: Un Coeur Simple
WOOLF: Mrs. Dalloway
Poems by: Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Valery, Rimbaud
Essays by: Faraday, J.J. Thomson, Millikan, Minkowski, Rutherford, Davisson, Schrodinger, Bohr, Maxwell, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Mendel, Boveri, Sutton, Morgan, Beadle & Tatum, Sussman, Watson & Crick, Jacob & Monod, Hardy