A&L links to The Common Review, which appears to be the “Great Books Club” official journal- but I may be wrong. It is clearly associated with Penguin. Do the Chicago lads (and lasses, I guess) know anything about the path of the Great Books Clubs from then to now?
A&L was looking at the review of a new E. D. Hirsch book, The Knowledge Deficit. Albert Fernandez begins with some grudging agreement with the argument Hirsch develops. Indeed, we see in this review, apparently in Hirsch’s book, and in the book I described earlier (Zoch’s Doomed to Fail) a common critique of the Dewey influenced teaching in America and a common appreciation of how important a breadth of knowledge is, quite simply, to our reading, let alone our analysis of what we’ve read.
Given Jonathan’s current project, this site’s passion for listing books & selling them is interesting, since it seems to arrive at lists that include some of the same great works but through quite different routes. The editor’s take is different than we see here (for instance, he takes the deaths of Iraqis as the Lancet total – the sympathy people such as this assume for such deaths followed by their desire for an immediate pull-out is a sentimentality I’m having trouble stomaching). But the emphasis upon a context for events made up of books is not.
A&L also links to a Toronto interview of Pinker, who is examining the nature of language – another bookish concern, of course, but most of all a cognitive one. Pinker argues that “It could be that 95 per cent of our speech is metaphorical, if you go back far enough in language.” Anyone who is interested in word derivations or spends a little time with a dictionary recognizes the soundness of this observation. But, of course, it also tells us much about how our minds work – how symbolism comes easily to us. Beneath the economy of such metaphors is a supposition, he argues, “that the mind itself works metaphorically, that we see the abstract commonality between argument and war, between progress and motion. And it presupposes that the mind, at some level, must reason very concretely in order that these metaphors be understand and become contagious.”
(The Great Books Clubs in the fifties spread across the country. I remember my father and the Lutheran minister joined in forming one in our village. How different, how similar are they now? Of course, assumptions have changed: one of my husband’s colleagues a few years ago put up an ad saying he was selling his inherited collection since we now realize the irrelevancy of such a canon.)