Monday, July 23, 2012

Update

A couple things:

  • I'm not really happy with the way the third entry in my C. S. Lewis's Impact series turned. I've deleted it and am going to give it some more thought and try to think of a better way to word it. I'm not sure when I'll get it done.
  • I'm experiencing computer problems, so I'm not sure how that's going to affect my blog. I'm going to try and update my blog whenever I finish one of the reading entries in the Great Books. I don't want to start a new book until I've finished writing about it on here, so I might be hitting a temporary roadblock in my reading plan.

"Hamlet": 16th Century Teenager

Reading Hamlet felt like a homecoming in a couple of ways. Firstly, Hamlet was the first classic I ever read (of my free will) and it brought me back to when I first got interested in the classics. There was (and is) so much to read and explore. I'm pleased to say that I understood Hamlet a lot better this time around, although there's still innumerable layers of it that I've yet to unravel. Part of this was simply because I read a version of Hamlet that had the original version side by side with a modern translation, so if I got stuck I could cross reference. Hopefully the other part is that I've become more experienced with literature, history, and old English since I last read Hamlet (I must have been around thirteen at the time).

Secondly, Hamlet is the first non-comedic work of literature on the reading list. I've enjoyed most of the books on the list so far, but literature is where my heart truly lies (I'm dying to get to epic poetry). Nothing against comedy, but it generally isn't my cup of tea. I prefer a more serious take in literature. This isn't to say I don't like humour and indeed Hamlet had a few comedic moments, but in general I prefer humour as a seasoning rather than as a main course.

Last semester my history teacher was talking about how Hamlet is a relatable character for modern teenagers (or teenagers in  any era, I imagine), so I looked out for that as I reread Hamlet. There is a lot of "teen issues" in this book. Hamlet, of course, is a teenager and he has to deal with youthful infatuation, his mother remarrying (it's true that most modern teens don't have to deal with their murderous uncle becoming their stepfather, but still), fashion, betraying friends, and suicide.

I can't think of much else to say, but I quite enjoyed this re-reading.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Essays of Montaigne Part 2


That It Is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity

In this essay Montaigne warns his readers to be be careful when judging the "impossible" and in turning our noses at the supernatural, because we are dealing with things so far beyond us. When I read this, the first thing I thought of was the major atheist thinkers of the day (Hawking, Dawkins etc.) and I wanted to wave this essay in front of their faces and say, "See! Montaigne gets it!"
And then I saw myself in it. Yes, I'm a Christian, but I'm also a born skeptic. I believe firmly that Jesus was the Son of God, was killed, and rose from the dead, but I dismiss things like modern-day speaking in tongues and faith healing as absurd. Of course, this essay hasn't single-handedly made me convince that these things are authentic, but it gave me a good shake by the neck that I probably needed.

On Cannibals

This was an interesting read. This wasn't so much a critique on cannibalism as it was on Native American culture. I have never heard that Native Americans were cannibals, so I question whether that "fact" is accurate. In any case, I have been taught by the Native Studies class I took in high school (among other places) that the Europeans considered the natives savage, backwards and in need of modern Western "correction", but here in the mouth of an actual 16th century European, I get something different. For sure Montaigne makes note of their simple culture with a lack of machinery, complex government, careers, complex mathematics, writing systems etc., but he does so in a very sympathetic light. He likens them to man in his golden age or men "straight from God". At any rate, he doesn't seem to think his culture is superior to the natives, because he compares their cannibalism and simple virtues with his own culture's lack of cannibalism but also its treachery, disloyalty, tyranny, and cruelty. Montaigne may well have been the exception to the rule (indeed, he seems to be writing to an audience that views the natives as barbarous), but it's interesting to see that not all 16th century Europeans were the ignorant globalists they're so often made out to be.

That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them

Judging by the title, I thought this would be about moral relativism, but it was more "One guy's curse is another guy's blessing". Honestly, this one didn't do much for me.

Upon Some Verses of Virgil

This was a reflection on sexuality and its power over us. I've never had sex (not till marriage, dear readers), but being a teenage male, I won't pretend that I'm ignorant of Venus's blessing/curse. It's better to read things like this now than when I'm old and gray and wishing I had read it sooner.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Montaigne and really appreciated his honesty, humility, and humour.