Nancy Gish wrote:
> Of course if you can summarize 800 pages by a brilliant philosopher
> without reading it, one can only note that in speechless awe.
Troy of course is hopeless, and I guess "speechless awe" sort of catches
it. But there is a real difficulty here, which Milton (I believe) first
dramatized in the Temptation of Athens in PR -- there's just too damned
much good and essential stuff out there for anyone to read; in fact
there are even too damned many first-rate _summaries_ of the first-rate
and essential material to read. And that's not even counting the vastly
influential junk of each period: how many on this list, I wonder, have
read Count Alfred Korzybski's _Science and Sanity_ ? Probably a good
deal of the intellectual life of the U.S. 1930-1950 is not fully
intelligible without _some_ knowledge of Korzybski. In (say) 1600 it was
still reasonably possible for the "educated man" to have read
practically everything that was or was considered worthwhile or
essential to read. By 1660 that was becoming no longer the case:
scientific works (natural philosophy), travel, political theory, new
philosophy, abstruse theological texts aimed not only at fellow
theologians but the general public -- all piled on top of a classic
learning still not "devalued."
Most of us can avoid the tinkling arrogance of Troy's dismissal of De
Beauvoir. But to think at all we do have to pretend to ourselves that we
know a good deal about books (or whole genres of books) that we have
never more than peeked at. I do know the _Republic_ fairly well. I have
read a few extracts from Mencius. I've read a couple books that in
passing link the core political perspectives of both Plato & Mencius, &
link that shared perspective to an understanding of certain trends in or
features of political and social thought of the 20th century (and the
21st). And that precipitant of mostly second and third hand knowledge
enters into my thinking in a number of different and important ways.
This, I think, is true of almost everyone. Troy, it seems, has the same
sort of divinely inspired assurance that her selection is adequate that
the Son in Milton's PR has, but all of us if we are honest with
ourselves must, willy nilly, proceed somewhat bumptuously on a very
little knowledge relative to what we should know.
I was launched on this theme several decades ago when I discovered I had
been inaccurately remembering a phrase from Martinus Scriblerus on the
Poem (from the prefatory matter of the _Dunciad_. I had remembered a
phrase as "a deluge of bad writers," but the actual phrase was a "Paper
also became so cheap, and printers so numerous, that a deluge of authors
cover'd the land." Not just bad writers -- also too many good writers.
And now we have these lines from Brooke:
I strayed about the deck, an hour, to-night
Under a cloudy moonless sky; and peeped
In at the windows, watched my friends at table,
Or playing cards, or standing in the doorway,
Or coming out into the darkness. Still
No one could see me.
I could but see them—against the lamplight—pass
Like coloured shadows, thinner than filmy glass,
Slight bubbles fainter than the wave's faint light,
That broke to phosphorus out in the night,
Perishing things and strange ghosts—soon to die
To other ghosts—this one, or that, or I.
"[T]he wave's faint light. . ." When such lines from Brooke are thrown
at us, is anything certain anymore?