1. The Wonders of Modern Medicine: Last Wednesday, before the first meeting of the Marx course, I finally had a cortisone shot in my painful left elbow. The entire procedure was almost painless and took about fifteen minutes. As of yesterday, I am totally pain free. The doctor told me to wait a week and then start a little routine of exercises to strengthen the tendon. He said I should do it "until you forget why you are doing it." Now that the pain is gone and I can do a variety of simple things, like putting on and taking off sweaters, without discomfort, it is difficult even to remember how painful it has been for four and a half months. Remarkable.
2. Several comments on the list business, by LFC, Ludwig Richter and others, raised in various ways the notion of a canon, or received list of recognized texts, that has so dominated academic disciplines from the Renaissance onward. The origin of the notion, of course, lies in the debates over which books of the New and Old Testament shall be authorized or certified or canonical. My half-serious list of 25 Great Works of Philosophy was, among other things, a satirizing of the notion of a Canon.
One of the ways of understanding the evolution of the field of Literary Criticism is to see that there is a constant tension between the list of Great Works that one must master to enter the field and the insistent demands from outside the walls of the redoubt for admission to the Canon: Demands that novels be admitted, demands that works by women be admitted, demands that works by African-Americans be admitted, demands that works by or about Gays and Lesbians be admitted, demands that the writings of subaltern populations from the territories conquered and colonized by Europeans be admitted. With these demands come also the demands that genres not acknowledged as literature be admitted -- movies [or films, as serious students call them], television shows, comic books, and so on.
What does it matter? you might ask. Ah well, a great deal turns on what counts as part of the Canon: publication, respectability, employment, tenure, a guaranteed inclusion in Distribution Requirements for the Bachelor's Degree. Most of you are too young to remember when studying novels [as opposed to reading them for idle amusement] was not a fully respectable occupation for an aspirant to inclusion in the Academy.
3. Ludwig Richter mentioned Machiavelli's Discourses on The First Ten Books of Titus Livius. In the Spring of 1958, having just completed my six months of active duty in the Army as part of my National Guard obligation, I took up a Social Science Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship that I had been awarded to study the history of Political Theory. I proceeded to read my way through the canon of texts in that field, taking notes as I went. I read Machiavelli's Discourses -- I still have the notes to prove it [as I do for every course I took as an undergraduate or graduate student], but I do not recall a word of it. I was rather more impressed with the Defensor Pacis of Marcilius of Padua and the Six Books of the Republic of Jean Bodin, I must confess. I even read Locke's First Treatise of Civil Government. [Since no one ever reads that work any more, I will just tell you that it is a crushing refutation of Sir Robert Filmer's claim that the authority of all of the ruling monarchs of Europe can be traced by primogeniture back to God's assignment to Adam of lordship over the earth. Locke, of course, was holding out for a Social Contract -- see the Second Treatise.]
The six months I spent on the SSRC's dime was, by the way, the only time off in my fifty year career paid for by a grant. I also had three one semester sabbaticals, which I put to good used. Now that I am retired and collecting two pensions [one from TIAA-CREF, the other from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts], I am, as it were, on permanent sabbatical.