A few forces converge on me that lead me to write on this topic. First, just having read a few things about Tolstoy's famous critique of Shakespeare, and lining up to read Orwell's critique of that critique. (BTW, here it is.) Second, reading Plato's dialogue Charmides: not that this dialogue is about literature (it is about temperance), but Plato has a way of making one analytical. Third, my new job. Fourth, my friend, Sarah - who blogs at The Feminine Gift - is entering full force, it seems, into the world of literature, and it's got me thinking too. Sixth, I am reading Maxim Gorky's Childhood - the first of his three autobiographical works. Seventh, handing over the reigns of OLSWA's library to another involves sharing reflections on books. Eighth, and perhaps lastly, I haven't blogged about books I've read in a while.
So, last things first, the books I have read over the passed few months. If memory serves me.
1. A nice collection of essays, some better than others. some of them are really good. But in every case, one who is not well immersed in Patristics would be lost in it. My ratings: 8/10.
2. Rance and the Trappist Legacy. Cistercian Pub. I mentioned this a few posts ago. It was an excellent read. 8.5/10
3. Memoirs by Dom Jean Leclerq. Cistercian Pub. It was okay. A series of autobiographical reflections by a great scholar of medieval monasticism. 6/10.
4. Gregory of Nyssa's Homilies on Ecclesiastes. Just excellent. I got them from the Nyssa webpage. 9.5/10
5. Augustine's Tractates on the Gospel of John, Fathers of the Church Series, v.2 (Tractates 55-111). Unbelievably amazing. I plan on blogging about Tractate 84 soon, since it pertains to the post I did on Jesus and Mary a few days ago. 10/10. (You have no idea how good these are!)
6. Almost finished: Elizabeth Hardwick's Herman Melville. It's a very good, short study. Perfect for someone like me who wants to like and get to know the author of Moby Dick. So far: 7/10.
7. Gorky, mentioned above, which I'll be finished in a day or two. Wonderful! I will be blogging on certain aspects of this books, no doubt in time. Priceless literature. Objectively speaking, 10s are reserved for Augustine, but according to the relatively unimportant non-Augustine part of the world, one might want to afford it something along those lines, sure. But why don't I just give it a 9/10 and call it a day?
I can't remember what else I've read recently, so that's all for now...
Perhaps just a quick thought about literature.
It is perhaps one of the finest manifestations of human genius possible. It is a manifestation of the mind of another. When that mind is gifted with genius and sensitivity, reading his works can be a truly gracious experience. Let me quote something I just read from Charmides. Socrates writes:
If temperance abides in you, you must have an opinion about her; she must give some intimation of her nature and qualities, which may enable you to form a notion of her...
There is something subtle, but powerful, here, and I want to connect it to the subject at hand: literature. Now, it is always dangerous to draw conclusions from what Plato puts forth at the beginning of his dialogues, but I think we can run with this one. It is characteristically Platonic. Why would he assume that if one is temperate one would thereby know what temperance is? Does not Thomas a Kempis famously say: I would rather feel compunction than be able to define it? Well, without getting into it too much, I would just say that I agree with Plato here. What he will no doubt eventually do is reveal how all aspects of the good are intrinsically interlinked, and so reveal how knowledge and virtue are one in the same.
But what does that have to do with the present subject of literature? Reading is contemplation of the good. That is all it is. Good literature is good at facilitating that, poor literature does it poorly. That is all. Please give that a think, would you?