Hey /lit. How does one become better at reading/analyzing literature? Besides reading a shit ton of lit, are there any supplemental books that I can read or any other suggestions that you guys have? thanks.
>>7604410 I read Gaddis's recognition and there's a website with sypnosis's and chapter by chapter guides. So I would read a chapter, think about it, and then read the site and see if my understanding was similar to the sypnosis of the chapter.
Doing things like this helped me. after this, i moved on to JR
I was totally lost until I stumbled on Susan Wise Bauer's "The Well Educated Mind." It gave me a reading list which is actually what led me to /lit/, but more importantly for your sake (since you're already on /lit/ and likely have a decent fix on finding real literature), it was basically a crash course in literary analysis for each of the five genres it discusses: fiction, history/philosophy, autobiography, poetry, and drama.
Each section has an introductory ~30 pages for the history of the genre, a reading list with blurbs about each text (with spoilers, mind you), and then three stages of analysis: one as accompaniment while you read, one as a simple analysis of questions with definite answers (e.g., who is the main character, what do they want, what's in their way), and a more open-ended section of questions (e.g., what makes you empathize with each character and why; what comments does the book make about our fate as humans/the human condition; is there an overall message in the book, and do you agree with it).
It won't make you a pro critic, but it will absolutely set you on the right path by providing you with a series of deceptively simple questions which actually open the door to a whole host of new ideas if you stick with them and take them seriously.
I hope I don't sound like I'm shilling (you can easily find a tidy pdf of this), but cannot stress highly enough how much I recommend this book as a starting point. It genuinely changed my life through changing how I read and, largely as a result of that, how I think. There's a new edition as of a few months ago but I haven't looked into it; the one I have is from ~10 years back.
Apologies for any typos; I'm on my phone. But feel free to ask me any questions you may have about the book.
>>7604439 That sounds useful anon. I'm already a decent reader (not great, but decent) of fictional lit - I've read most of the classics and am a fan of Russian lit, but I'm pretty lost when it comes to philosophy and stuff like the Greeks (I've read Homer but the Socratics, Presocratics and all that is lost on me). A book like that sounds like a useful starter that help guide me onto where to go next. Cheers.
>>7604552 Honestly I think philosophy is one of the book's weaker points, but it's still a great start. Like all of the other sections, the one on history/philosophy jumps around quite a bit and won't give you a chronological foundation of philosophy, but rather acts as kind of an overview of bigger-name writers like Herodotus, Plato, St. Augustine, Paine, and Marx. If you're interested in actually starting with the Greeks, I'd recommend the /lit/ charts in conjunction with some advice from Bauer's book--the book on the pre-Socratics that is always mentioned (Waterfield's "The First Philosophers") has extremely useful commentary throughout the text, and would be a great place to start considering that you've read Homer.
It's also worth noting that you can read Bauer's book in any order you like; each section is only 40ish pages and can be read independently of any other, so you can take a peek without committing to the full text.
Are you pretty knowledgeable with the Greeks? I found a superlist an anon did a while ago and I'm considering following something similar. It has a lot of secondary sources and I wouldn't go through every single book in the list, but I was wondering if it constituted a fairly logical reading order, or if it was leaving out sophists/presocratics/whatnot.
Here's the list the anon made:
No *s means mandatory One * means optional Two **s means very optional
*Mythology - Edith Hamilton **Hesoid and Theognis (more Greek myths) *The Trojan War - A New History (primes you on the history explored by Homer)
The Illiad **The Illiad or the Poem of Force **The world of Odysseus The Odyssey
MOVING ONWARDS The First Philosophers **Greek Epic Fragments (if you particularly loved Homer) *The Homeric Hymns (more of the same) *The Histories - Herodotus (history) **History of the Peloponnesian War (factual history) **The Anabasis - Xenophon
MORE ADVANCED, MOVING INTO PLAYS: The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles *Electra and Other Poems **The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre
PHILOSOPHY *Early Greek Philosophy (Penguin Classic) **The Greek Sophists (Penguin Classics) Plato - Complete Works (Last Day, then Republic, rest optional) The Complete Works of Aristotle (Metaphysis mandatory, rest optional)
That is above my head but was that anon spinning me a ruse or is that a decent order too?
have opinions on book formulate and articulate them better study some critical theory, but don't get too lost in any particular mode of thought lest it cover your brain with that i.e. critics who are specifically one kind avoid derrida
>>7604842 Yeah I've gone a bit nuts with the Greeks; I started last summer and have gotten to the point of reading Greek content that isn't even mentioned on /lit/.
That's a great list, except I would absolutely recommend reading Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. These guys fucking started "history" as a genre, and already in just them you see some of its different avenues of development and progression. A rarely-mentioned but I think very worthwhile addition would be Xenophon's "Hellenika" (marketed as "A history of my times" by Penguin), which is a direct continuation of Thucydides for the next ~45 years. Thucydides doesn't even finish the story of the Peloponnesian war.
Hesiod and Theognis are easy and quick reads, with some decent humor in them. Hesiod's "Theogony" is rather dry, and would be better left for later (if ever), when you have a better grasp on Greek myths in general. But his "Works and Days" is solid. That whole text will take you maybe 3-5 hours, depending on your reading speed.
Strauss' "The Trojan War" is pretty cool, but more to explore how secondary and primary sources interact given the thousands of years of archaeology and research we've invested into understanding the past.
Haven't read "World of Odysseus" or "Homeric Hymns," but I've been considering doing so.
For drama, honestly I would recommend just reading all of it. There are only something like 44 extant plays between Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, and each one will take you maybe an hour to read. I would leave these for the back end of your Greek reading; they're often really dry (especially the tragedies) and will be tough to manage if you're not inured to primary source content.
Super low priority on the Greek Epic Fragments UNLESS you get used to reading fragmented texts, which aren't found much until later (e.g., Polybius, 2nd century BC; Diodorus, 1st century BC). I read the epic fragments immediately after reading Homer, and retained nothing beyond a vague outline (provided in the introduction rather than the fragments) of the content of the remaining "Epic Cycle."
"Early Greek Philosophy" and "The Greek Sophists" are almost undoubtedly going to recycle a lot of content offered in "The First Philosophers," but I seriously doubt they'll be able to top Waterfield's commentary, if that commentary is even included; "First Philosophers" is a great text with play by play commentaries for each philosopher. Read that first and if you still really want to delve further, consider the Penguin texts (after making sure they offer new material). Honestly the pre-socratics aren't riveting to read, although their ideas are kind of cool, and the sophists typically read like Plato, but less fun and more convinced they're right.
Plato and Aristotle are fucking daunting. If you're not going to read everything, definitely read the last days (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo) and Republic, like you said. A lot of lesser-known Plato is great; some of it is a chore. Really up to you how much you want to read; it's undeniably cool to see how some branches of philosophy started with Plato, although it can be arduous: Cratylus is basically 60 pages of etymology that serve as a stepping stone to opening up the branch of epistemology further explored in dialogues like Theaetetus. Statesman opens up ethics in a political sphere, directly influencing later writers such as Polybius, who in turn (along with Plato himself) directly influenced Machiavelli. Parmenides will knock you on your fucking ass with metaphysics, which is fun to explore just for the sake of knowing what the fuck "metaphysics" even means.
It all depends on what you want to know, and how much you want to know. Play it by ear, and consider picking up a companion to Plato: "The Bloomsbury Companion to Plato" and Copleston's "History of Philosophy" are the only texts I've found which have notes on all of Plato, but you'll find no shortage of comments on The Republic.
I have pretty much no idea about Aristotle, although I've heard that his "Poetics" are great. Honestly I haven't reached him yet; I knocked out about half of Plato in ~6 weeks and got pretty burned out, shifting emphasis to Greek (and now Roman) primary source history (and the Greek drama I skipped earlier because it was dry).
Oh, also I haven't read the Cambridge companion to Greek theatre, but I have it and will definitely check it out, but obviously can't comment on it at this point. If you want to get it, try to snag a copy cheap, ahead of time; I think I got mine used for a penny on amazon, but sometimes they sell for $30+, which blows.
tl;dr You have a good list. Roll with it, but maybe do Plato before drama. There will be a decent number of references to Homer and the playwrights (mostly Aristophanes) in Plato, but it's always quoted, something like "As Aristophanes said, [quote from Aristophanes]." The more important foundation is pre-socratic stuff, which is sometimes used as a foundation for big chunks of Platonic dialogue, without ever being described as such; if you're not familiar with the pre-socratics, you'll miss references to them/building from them, and you won't even know there were references to miss.
I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions, but otherwise good luck! If something pops up in the future, just make a thread with an OP pic obviously referencing ancient Greece; I'm on /lit/ every day and spend so much fucking time reading this ancient bullshit that I cherish every opportunity to actually help someone by talking about it here, so I'll see and respond to the thread. Pic related, somebody fucking save me from myself.
Anon I just want to say posts like this are why I come to /lit/, thanks for sincerely engaging with my question.
I'll definitely add Hellenika/A History of My Times and in general put more focus on Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenephon after your comment.
If Work and Days is so short then yeah I'll just read it there.
I have heard Greek drama is particularly great so unless I somehow get really turned off by it, I will indeed try it all like you say. I might move them down the order a bit though, yeah.
I'll drop the Epic Fragments for now and just read them later if I get the urge.
I'll lay off Early Greek Philosophy and The Greek Sophists unless I'm still very hungry for more after The First Philosophers.
I'll have a look for The Bloomsbury Companion to Plato and Copleston's 'History of Philosophy'.
Yeah this is a long-term effort so things will shift a bit as I go but yeah, we'll see when I come to Aristotle. I can always make a new thread if I need particular guidance there.
Wow, ha, I appreciate all the time you spend on /lit/ and I'm sure we'll be talking more in future.
Just a last question for this post then, so you do think doing Plato before drama would be viable? Can you also just clear up from me exactly what is meant by the Presocratics; do I have much of them in my list? I mean I get that Homer is Pre-Socrates but I see he isn't really grouped as a Presocratic. The term Sophist also holds no meaning to me currently. I know I'll discover this in my reading though. Quite excited to start my Greek adventure!
Regarding your picture, wow, I'm extremely jealous. Very lovely collection there. I have some of the books in that list physically (mostly from used bookstores, and a nice Homer set I managed to get online new), but the majority is pirated ebooks - I'm on a pretty lean student budget and can't quite justify spending hundreds on physical books when, ethics aside, it's very easy for me to pirate an ebook and read it on a Kindle. I do keep my eyes out for deals on used books and such though because I much prefer physical books.
You'll only learn how to analyse literature from a modern humanist/liberal perspective if you read those books.
Plato's Dialogues are written with a specific purpose. Plato believed that the human soul pre-existed this life, had perhaps been reincarnated into many bodies over periods of thousands of years, and once, in the beginning and before it fell, lived in the world of eternal Forms/Ideas. Plato believed that every soul still had innate knowledge of these Forms/Ideas from the time before it fell into the world of the body/senses. The Dialogues are written to awaken the soul to its own innate knowledge of the Forms (this is called its "maieutic" form). The Dialogues are a kind of ritual initiation meant to awaken the soul, to put get it out of the cave of the sensual world and into the true world of eternal Forms. The Dialogues start by trying to define some idea that is supposed to be well understood (like justice, or knowledge, or virtue). Socrates meticulously questions his interlocutors until they are forced to realise that their knowledge of these ideas is flawed. If the reader is listening to this dialogue closely enough something will happen - because his mind is so involved in following the terms of the dialogue, he begins to forget about the sensible world around him; his mind is fully caught up in the ideas being discussed; then, when the Dialogue reaches its climactic moment of "aporia" (confusion, puzzlement, a kind of intellectual paralysis where the mind can no longer think) something happens. The reader is no longer able to think, his mind is completely paralysed. Due to this bizarre paralysis of his mind he notices for the first time that he has a mind. His mind becomes an immanent reality, it appears to exist prior to the sensual world. Then he achieves a gnosis; he understands that his mind is separate from the material world and from the body; he suspects that it is immortal or at least that it could survive the death of the body; he receives the impression that the material world is an illusion and that what actually exists are the objects of the mind, the Forms, and that the material world is an imperfect reflection of this mental/intellectual/spiritual world of Forms. This is the Platonic gnosis.
The secularists/humanists/liberals think of Plato in secular/humanist/liberal terms. They view him merely as a stepping stone in the history of "Western philosophy", an "important thinker" that "influenced how we think today". Plato does not want to be thought of in those terms. He would regard that as sophistry. Platonism is a complete mystical system. If you read Plato rightly you don't need to read anything else. You can spend your entire life dedicated to this Platonic gnosis of detaching your mind from the material world and contemplating the eternal Forms, believing, as Plato did, that if you go far enough you won't have to be reincarnated again but will instead return to the world of Forms from whence you came.
>>7605152 >you do think doing Plato before drama would be viable?
Absolutely. Plato's references to drama aren't too common, and when they're present they're explicitly mentioned as references; you won't lose anything reading Plato if you're not familiar with the drama as well. Aristophanes is slightly different in that he and Plato would challenge each other's chosen medium (drama vs. dialectic prose) in its efficacy to teach mankind about itself, so there's some tension there that would be worth exploring, but it's not critical.
>Can you also just clear up from me exactly what is meant by the Presocratics; do I have much of them in my list? "Presocratic" isn't just a chronological term, but refers to chronology WITHIN philosophy, i.e., "pre-socratics" were the philosophers who came before Socrates (and therefore the writings of Plato). So in that sense Homer, although he came before Socrates, isn't a pre-Socratic because he wasn't a philosopher. Basically, just extend the term to "Pre-Socratic Philosophers" and you'll have the right idea.
>The term Sophist also holds no meaning to me currently.
These were largely contemporaries (and successors) of Socrates who sought to teach the same things as Socrates, but usually for money (whereas Socrates spoke for free, as a friend), and certain sophists spoke tendentiously, arrogantly, and with spurious proofs intended more to serve as marvels rather than tools of education. So whereas Socrates was preaching his "I am wise because I know I know nothing," these guys were saying "fuck that, I know EXACTLY what I'm talking about, so pay me money and I'll share my wisdom" and writing books like "On Truth." As you read Plato you'll find a lot of kind-hearted jabs at them, based on questions like "well what IS wisdom, that you're so able to share it?" and "what IS truth, that you've written about it so extensively?" With that said, the sophists weren't "bad," and they get a pretty bad rap because our modern view of them is almost entirely derived from the shit that Socrates/Plato talked about them. Ultimately they were just teachers for hire, and most Platonic criticism for them is based on their poor standing compared to Socrates' extremely humble perspective and way of teaching. "Sophist" is a great dialogue to check out for this topic, but you'll find references to sophists all over the place. My favorite is a crack Socrates takes at a sophist who claims to understand some concept like justice--when Socrates is asked about that same concept, he laments tongue-in-cheek "Ah, if only I had attended that sophist's 50 drachma course, I could answer your question, but as I only took his discounted 5 drachma course, we'll have to do the work ourselves!"
Ebooks are solid, but try to get some hardcopies of the big stuff so you can take margin notes--you'll need them for Plato (if not Herodotus)!
>>7605161 And good luck to you too mate, keep up the good work!
>>7605190 Personally, while I'm sure neo-Platonists would probably agree with everything you said, I'm not convinced that is a correct interpretation of the dialogues.
For one, not all of them have moments of aporia. Several of them are clearly more concerned about the relationship between philosophers and the city in THIS life. Comparing the Sophist to, say, Thaeatetus, it's not clear what Plato himself really thinks about the forms when he puts such a sophistical (but positive) argument about them into the mouth of a Eleatic stranger (leaving Socrates silent), but gives him none of the morally edifying myth-making and speechifying that characterize Socrates' more negative analysis of knowledge in a linked dialogue.
Overall, I'm not convinced Plato really thought humans beings were primarily rational or that true knowledge or noesis, involving the forms, is actually possible.
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