Goodbye August, Hello September

I thought this month I would try out a few blog events. I’m still finding my way around the world of blogging- I have worked out how to schedule posts so there aren’t huge gaps, I have participated in a writing challenge in July, and now I am looking at if there are any regular challenges or events that suit me and my blog. As a blog about books, and often books that aren’t ‘new and exciting’ to a lot of people, I am not sure that a lot of the challenges and events out there really fit in with what I am doing here, but you never know until you try!

So today I am posting for ‘My Monthly Memories” looking back at important/good things from August, “the Monthly Look Ahead‘ which is exactly what it sounds like, and being Wednesday, the Word Crush Wednesday quote of the week.

My Monthly Memories of August:
My niece’s birthday party: it was really good to be able to start to enjoy kids parties again. It is never as magical as when you were a kid yourself, but I am seeing some joy again in celebrations.
Reading Shakespeare: I decided to do a month long focus on Shakespeare- ‘Shakespeare in September’. There is so much I love about Shakespeare and reading it has been a pleasure.
First Shakespeare movie night: I discovered some friends who also like Shakespeare and we have decided to start up a semi-regular Shakespeare movie night! (*not nerds at all*)
Pokemon Picnic: the craze has hit the beaches. After rumours of good pokemon at a northern beach, people have been flocking there, putting out lots of lures, and thus making it a good place- somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Some of my friends and I went to the beach for a Pokemon Picnic and found ourselves surrounded by literally hundreds of other players. I have never been into sport, but there is some of the same camaraderie as sport goers have, in a huge group of people being in the same spot with the same aim.
GSHWHES: we participated in the Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, were participants get in groups, and try to do as many silly activities from a list as possible (rather than finding items you do activities). I made a bikini out of corn husks, wore artichoke jewellery, covered a wall with pictures of my nose, went to a 1950s diner dressed as a Jedi, made a collage stuck onto myself, and painted a supernatural character in the style of Picasso. Overall it was an amazing, fun week.

The Monthly Look Ahead to September
Shakespeare in September! As mentioned, this is happening.
State theatre: My friend and I have a subscription to the State theatre company. The play on Friday is meant to be a comedy, which is always good at the end of a long week.
• I will probably go for a hike on saturday
Warmer weather– spring is coming, and with is warmer weather and longer daylight hours. There is a lot that needs doing in my garden, so the daylight will really help. Today I spend an hour or so gardening in the dark- which actually didn’t matter for what I was doing. I had a bit of light from the living room window, and the street lamp down the road…

Quote of the week.
There are so many good quotes in Shakespeare, most of which I will put into the upcoming posts on each book. My favourite so far has to be this lovely one from hamlet. I wonder if I love it so much because I am, by nature, someone who doubts and questions everything.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
-Hamlet, Shakespeare

Perturbing Plato

This post continues on from my last two about Plato’s The Republic, which were about the problems I had with reading the book, and the things I liked. Today I will write a little about the ideas/quotes that made me a bit worried about where he was going to go with the argument.

There were some sentiments I found troubling, probably because of historical situations that we know about, but which came after Plato.

“He would reply at once, that he has no time to be ill, and that he sees no good in a life which is spent in nursing his disease to the neglect of his customary employment; and therefore bidding good-bye to this sort of physician, he resumes his ordinary habits, and either gets well and lives and does his behaviour, or, if his constitution fails, he dies and has no more trouble.”

“if a man was not able to live in the ordinary way he had no business to cure him, for such a cure would have been of no use to himself, or to the State”

There is a part of me that quite likes the first quote. Currently we live in a very individualistic society- generally people believe in living in whatever way makes themselves happy and fulfilled, and then service to society comes second to this. Another worldview, one which most of this book is based on and on which was much more common until only recently, is that an individual’s primary goal or responsibility in life is to the society and family in which they find themselves. Both worldviews do have positive things about them, and both can contribute to a person’s happiness. I like how the stoic worker in the first quote maximised his contribution to society and decreases his focus on and worry about his ill-health. What is the point getting upset about an illness, when either you die and you can’t do anything about that, or you don’t and you can just keep on. The troubling thing about all of this though, is the idea that a person’s worth is only in what they contribute to society. When followed through to extremes, this leads to regimes that think it is ok to kill the elderly off, and perhaps even the young if they are less intelligent, disabled etc.

“The proper officers will take the offspring of the good parents to the pen or fold, and there they will deposit them with certain nurses who dwell in a separate quarter; but the offspring of the inferior, or of the better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious, unknown place, as they should be”

I don’t think I need to explain why this quote is troubling. Deformed babies and babies of the lower classes you be put away in some mysterious, unknown place( i.e left to die)… not something I can get on board with. I wonder whether this was part of the seed of idea for epigenetics (and the nazi’s policies), or whether people have always thought like this.

“And they (the guardians) will have to be watched at every age, in order that we may see whether they preserve their resolution, and never, under the influence of either force or enchantment, forget or cast off their sense of duty to the State”

While we do want the leader to be good upstanding people, this is starting to feel a bit like a big brother scenario.

“None of them (the guardians) should have any property  of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary”

And this seems to be leading up to communism, which does have some good ideas in principle, but my knowledge of history makes this an uneasy path to go down.

 

 

There were then some arguments I just disagreed with:

“for madness, like vice, is to be known but not to be practised or imitated”

“we [have] no need of lamentations and strains of sorrow”

Plato argues that in his perfect society, to create the perfect guardians, there should be no poetry or theatre that is not historical or about famous people. Anything that is made up, tragic, romantic  etc is not attempting to reflect the higher truth and thus will lead people astray. I think that learning of the breadth of life can decrease prejudice, and be an education in itself. The idea is similar to an idea in Christianity to “think on these things” (pure, good things), but that verse was in context of text about not being anxious, and of acting on good teachings. I think you can learn about a whole range of things without acting them out in your real life.

 

The sections on women were a bit of a roller-coaster. Firstly I felt that the phrase he used to introduce the topic was a bad sign:

“the possession and use of women and children”

But then he seemed to advocate equal access to education and work:

“But can you use different animals for the same purpose unless they are bred and fed in the same way? Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture and education”

But the argument wasn’t over yet, and at the following quote made me await in trepidation what their answer would be:

“Let us come to an understanding of the nature of woman is she capable of sharing either wholly or partially in the actions of men, or not at all”

And the final two quotes summarise Plato’s position, which is better than it could have been, but would have been better if the final thought had been left off!

“There is nothing peculiar in the constitution of women which would affect them in the administration of the State”

“All the pursuits of men are the pursuits of woman also, but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man”

 

All in all it has been interesting read in the sense that it makes you think, even if it was not interesting at times in the sense that it was rather tedious!

The Pros of Plato

Throughout Time: the Republic by Plato, part 2
How obtained: free kindle version (Amazon, Project Gutenberg)


As well as the little quips between characters in between the arguments, there were a few quotes and concepts that I really liked.

“excessive care of the body, when carried beyond the rules of gymnastic, is most inimical to the practice of virtue”

Have you ever had that conversation with a friend about how much muscle is good, and how much is too much? Some people like the look, others think gym bros are vain… I always thought that someone was attractive when muscly when the extent of their muscles were in keeping with what was required of them from their job or regular sports. This quote is like an ancient call out of gym junkies!

“Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion, which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight of a naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans and then the Lacedaemonians introduced the custom, the wits of that day might equally have ridiculed the innovation. But when experience showed that to let all things be uncovered was far better than to cover them up, and the ludicrous effect to the outward eye vanished before the better principle which reason asserted, then the man was perceived to be a fool who directs the shafts of his ridicule at any other sight, but that of folly and vice.”

There is always going to be a shifting in public opinion on what is right and proper, and what is immoral, wrong or just not appropriate. I like this little glimpse into the social change in platos day. I also find it amusing that the tide of opinion has since shifted the whole way back again, and then vacillated at the edge of ‘some skin allowed’- which has varied decade by decade. I have friends who support Canada’s ruling from a year or so ago that women should be allowed to be topless just as much as men, and friend who are shocked and can’t imagine ever going topless in public! Which way will things go in the future?

I love the insight of the following quote, in which the evils against which to watch are named as:

“Wealth… and poverty; the one is the parent of luxury and indolence, and the other of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.”

 

The other think I liked was that I learnt a lot of new words!

  • Dithyramb– a passionate or inflated speech. More commonly a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece, especially one dedicated to Dionysus.
  • Valetudinarian-a person who is unduly anxious about their health- a hypochondriac
  • Appurtenances-an accessory or other item associated with a particular activity or style of living.
  • Agora– gathering place or assembly
  • Nostrum-a medicine prepared by an unqualified person, especially one that is not considered effective.
  • Exordium– the beginning or introductory part, especially of a discourse or treatise.
  • Hymneal– of or concerning marriage.
  • Repudiating– refuse to accept; reject.
  • Votaries– a devoted follower or a person who has made vows of dedication to religious service
  • Durance– incarceration or imprisonment
  • Peradventure-perhaps
  • Fain– pleased or willing. Compelled or obliged.
  • Dialectic– the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions.
  • Eristic–  characterized by debate or argument.
  • Timocracy– a form of government in which possession of property is required in order to hold office OR a form of government in which rulers are motivated by ambition or love of honour.
  • Oligarchy– a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
  • Adamantine– utterly unyielding or firm in attitude or opinion, too hard to cut, break or pierce, like a diamond in lustre.

I think it is amazing how many words there are for hypochondriacs, and was expecting a rather different definition of ‘hymneal’ (although there is a connection there!) Peradventure and fain are words that I did know, but haven’t seen since some obscure old children’s book I read when a kid- they remind me of ‘the olden days’ and I would love to bring them back into common usage. I find it interesting how timocracy can refer to two different types of government, and in plato he used two different terms for them.

And finally, I have decided that rather than aspiring to be titanium, like in the song by David Guetta/Sia, that I will be Adamantine!

The Problem with Plato

Throughout Time: the Republic by Plato
How obtained: free kindle version (Amazon, Project Gutenberg)


 

I have finally done it! With the exception of textbooks and religious texts, this is the longest it has ever taken me to read a book. I started trying to read the Republic before I started this blog!

The republic is Plato’s longest work, and is centred around the idea of Justice- what it is in a society and in a person, and whether Justice is beneficial to an individual. It is written as a dialogue between Socrates and various people at a gathering who have varying skills in debate and philosophy.

My first roadblock was the introduction. My version has an introduction, explanation of ‘the argument’ and of ‘the characters’, before the ten ‘books’ of Plato’s writing. Three whole chapters of introduction,  which I found was too long, and not very interesting when I didn’t know what it was referring to. It took me about 4-5 attempts to simply get through the introduction chapters. I wonder if the introduction may have been better read after the book.

When I made it to the main work, I felt a sense of relief- the writing style was much easier to read and was a bit more interesting. There are at times little jokes between the characters, and the simplest line can say volumes about the quirks and character of the person.

But unfortunately my joy was not to last, because the thesis is also very long, and there were many passages I just didn’t care about. Sometimes there would be a diversion off into a small side point, that really shouldn’t have taken 20 minutes, that we could have done without. Often there were whole arguments that were based on a premise I couldn’t agree with, and thus the next 20 minutes were invalid in my mind. Other times, the over easy acquiescence to every point made by Socrates was just annoying. Throughout the book, Socrates would put forward a point or argument, ask the others if they agreed or would argue against it, and invariably they would agree that Socrates point was clearly true, when frequently the point was tenuous or only one possible option among other equally possible options. The first point would then be used to base further, prolonged, arguments upon.

One key example, is the main point that he build the whole ‘perfect society’ on: he argues that in order for each person to do the best job they can do, and create the best society, they should do the one thing they are good at doing, and nothing else. It assumes that the greatest number of people will be happy, if society is as efficient as it can be by this method.

“Human nature is not twofold or manifold”

Firstly I would argue that human nature is indeed manifold- no person is just one thing. We are both children and parents/sisters/brothers/teachers/mentors. We all have an analytical side and a creative side. Most people have several interests. Most people are a mixed bag of contradictions, and I think that is a key part of being human. I would also argue, that invention and innovation happens best at the junction between different skills/areas- that working on more than one area of skill or your personality improves your ability to contribute to society. (For a good discussion of this idea see the Ted talk by Emilie Wapnick).

There are many other examples, but I will leave it there today. Stay tuned for upcoming  posts about other problematic ideas, and things I liked about it.

Something in September

Do you ever find that there is a topic that you keep wanting to write about, but need to delay because you have already written about it recently, and planned to rotate through topics? Variety is good, but sometimes spending some time really getting into one topic can allow increased depth.

As a book blogger, I find I keep coming back to Shakespeare, so I have decided to give in, and dedicate the month of September to it. Shakespeare in September, has a bit of a ring to it.

If you would like to join me in having a focussed month, please do- whatever your blog is about! Maybe Soufles in September if you are a food blogger. Or Sonic Screwdrivers in September for the Sci-fi fan. How about Sewing in September?

Of course it doesn’t have to start with S, but alliteration is fun.

To join in:

  1. Decide your topic and how many posts you plan to try and write about it.
  2. If you want, let us know in the comments what your plan is,
  3. otherwise just link back your posts to this post,
  4. and tag ‘SISep’ so your posts can be found.
  5. And of course, don’t forget to have a visit of other sites that post to meet some fellow blogger friends!

The Happy Summer Days- Fulco

Read Around the World: Italy
How obtained: second hand book sale ($1)


Prior to reading this book I had no idea who Fulco was, but I figured that anyone who is identified by a single name must be famous for something. The blurb identified him as the Duke of Verdura, born in the 1890’s in Palermo. It told me that this book, Happy Summer Days, “describes his idyllic childhood… and paints an enchanting portrait of a bygone era…” I thought this sounded fun- to catch a glimpse into both another culture and another time.

By the end of the book I still didn’t know what Fulco became famous for, because it ends, rather abruptly, in late childhood. This book really is just about the early years. I looked him up on google later- turns out he is a famous jewellery designer who worked with Coco Chanel and the likes.

It is a fairly short read, at 160 pages, and the chapters are divided  to loosely focus on different areas- what the gardens where like, the animals, the main palace, the other houses, schooling, holidays and so on. The past is remembered fondly, with anecdotes of interesting people and happenings, and the physical world he lived in described in detail.

The writing style is pleasant- descriptive, intelligent and humorous. I leant quite a few new words, which we don’t seem to use very often but are excellent in getting a point across. You can tell by his writing that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and is able to reflect upon his own personality. He was a rather mischievous young boy, prone to hiding up trees when the teacher came around for his lessons. He would tease and play pranks, some of which he now reflects were probably too mean-and he wonders at the goodnature of his poor cousins and friends.

There is one turn of phrase I love, which I think captures his sense of self depreciating humor- when he is taking us on an imaginary tour through the house, amidst the usual descriptions:

My young cousins, who own the villa now, show this landmark of dubious merit to totally disinterested visitors as ‘the room where Fulco was born’.

The book ends with the death of his grandmother- signalling the end of his childhood. This was both the first major death that was significant to him, and the start of financial issues meaning they had to leave his beloved childhood home, and decide how to make his way in life.

 

Hanna’s Daughters- Marianne Fredriksson

Read Around the World: Sweden

How obtained: second hand store ($3.25)


This book was a welcome break from the somewhat alternative writing styles many of my recent choices have had. With simple, easy to follow prose this book delves into the story behind 3 generations of women in Sweden.

The grandmother, Hanna, was a poor rural woman who expected toil and injustice, and thus took everything as it came and didn’t get down about the bad things that came her way. She lived in a time of strict social rules, intense poverty, and had minimal education. The course of her life took her from country to city, and from the late 19th century though the world wars. The mother, Johanna, grew up in during the wars and benefited from modernisation and increased women’s rights. Where this book starts, Johanna is in hospital with sever dementia. Her daughter Anna is struggling to deal with visiting her and how to keep up a one sided conversation and the realisation that she left all her questions about her mothers life too late. At the same time, her father has been slowly deteriorating also, and is now the typical grumpy old man, who will complain you never visit, even when you came yesterday and he was irritable the whole time. The daughter’s story is in some ways our story- she is the one reflecting on the past of the others, and on her own relationship.

In seeing into these women’s lives, we get a sense of the vast differences in what it was like to grow up in these different times. But at the same time, there are commonalities. All the women struggled with the male-female dynamic in marriage and other relationships. In each marriage there are things the women put up with, and times they have to decide what their line in the sand is.

I loved this book for it’s interesting description of life in rural Sweden at the end of the 19th Century, and changes thereafter, for the warm, accepting depiction of the characters, and for the insightfulness about aging and family dynamics.