Learning about the ‘Great Books’
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:04 AMAnthony O’Hear’s recent volume, The Great Books: A Journey Through 2,500 Years of the West’s Classic Literature, surprised me to some extent.
Expecting a book with slight plot descriptions and thorough analysis, I instead encountered the opposite. O’Hear chooses some major works of art — from Homer to Goethe — and then spends most of his effort conveying the key plot points in those works.
Though unexpected, there’s nothing wrong with that approach, especially if the reader is unfamiliar with the books involved. In his epilogue, O’Hear explains why he chose his particular approach:
The difficulty we face in reading many of the great books we have discussed is comparatively straightforward. It is not that their authors are putting deliberate difficulties or obscurities in our path, as a sort of metaphor for our own fragmented mind and culture, as were twentieth-century writers such as Pound, Eliot, and Joyce. The difficulty we face, to put it crudely, is simple ignorance in our age of the myths of Greece and Rome, and, for the later works we have considered, of the Bible as well. There is no need to apologize for having spent so much time in this book on the classics of ancient Greece, for their study is not just an education in itself; they simply are the soil from which Western art and literature have sprung. Yet, for reasons we cannot consider here, and to our collective shame, for the vast majority today they remain a closed book — which part of the point of this book is to open a little.
For other interesting discussions of “The Great Books,” click here, here, and here.
» Return to posts for June 09, 2009
» Return to the Locker Room