Dream of: 28 December 1997 "Great Books"

Three young fellows and I were traveling around Germany — by foot. As we tramped along a mountainous road, I became aware that the other three were quite intoxicated on alcohol. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and I reflected how important it was to associate with people of like mind — if you were with people who were drinking, you needed to drink yourself. However this particular philosophy didn't seem to apply to me, for I hadn't had a drop to drink, and I had no desire to do so. I was satisfied to watch the others stagger merrily around (one fellow was so sotted he was being drug by his shoulders by one of his companions). However I wondered how long the others would be content with a non-drinking companion such as myself.

When we finally came to a halt, I noticed all three of my companions had large trunks which they were hauling with them. The trunks were quite fancy and each one had the name of a German state emblazoned on its side. One trunk had the name "Swaben" written in bold letters. I didn't recognize the names on the other two trunks, and I began to question my knowledge of German geography. I seemed to recall that there were 13 German states, but I couldn't remember for sure.

All three fellows were bent over their trunks and appeared to be writing something. But the longer I looked at them, the more I realized they weren't writing on their trunks at all. Instead all three were sitting at small desks, busy at work. Finally I even realized one of the three was Carolina.

It soon became clear that the three were sedulously working on an encyclopedia article on music. They were all employed as editors, with the task of reviewing articles which would be incorporated into an encyclopedia. All three had been entrusted with the same article on music and were now checking it for mistakes. They were supervised by an energetic middle-aged woman who would traipse back and forth through the room. Apparently she had been employed in this editorial capacity for many years and had read untold numbers of encyclopedia articles. I found it fascinating that a person could have such an interesting job and concluded that she must surely be immensely satisfied with her position. But when I mentioned to her that she must have an amazing store of knowledge, she simply shrugged her shoulders disdainfully as if she were somewhat jaded with her occupation and strode into the next room with no further comment.

As one of the fellows leaned over his work, he raised his head and spontaneously asked me if I had ever heard of the "great books" college. I thought he was referring to St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland, and I told him I knew about the college. I recalled that I had once visited St. Johns many years ago when Weinstein had been enrolled there. I explained that the curriculum consisted entirely of reading the one hundred greatest books of western literature. I said, "You start with Homer, and read your way forward."

I stopped and realized the poet Homer's books weren't the earliest, and I corrected myself by saying, "No, you start with the Old Testament."

The fellow said he hadn't been referring to St. Johns, but to another college which had a "great books" curriculum. I was surprised to hear this. I hadn't been aware that a second such college existed.

I wondered what books I would choose if I were to pick the hundred greatest books of western literature to read. Some of the abstruse philosophical works which I had never read would surely have to be on the list, such as works by the writers Hegel and Kant. I should probably take a look at those authors.

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