How Great Books Season the Stages of Life

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This sumptuous, insightful, epiphany-riddled overview of life’s narratives as seen in the works of such writers as Blake and Balzac, Dickens and Dostoevsky, Faulkner and Roth, Shakespeare and Joyce, is the incisive and lavish result of a course, “Rites of Passage,” that Arnold Weinstein has taught at Brown for years.

Weinstein, Edna and Richard Salomon distinguished professor and professor of comparative literature, who craftily mingles his own experiences with erudition, has written a kind of grand summary of how literature speaks to us as we stagger from childhood to old age, innocence to experience, life to death.

There is an undertow of darkness here, the result of the conflicts that great literature presents to us. “Art makes life visible,” Weinstein insists, and is as necessary as a blood transfusion: “Language itself is the price we pay for leaving childhood, the conversion of wonder into grammar.” It offers us several scripts and possibilities, all of which broaden and deepen our own search for a soul and possible, though never apparent, deliverance.

I don’t want this tome to sound weighty and grim, for its style is bright, evocative, and bristling with apt one-liners and aphorisms, as if Weinstein in his wisdom has distilled the best of literature to its essence in all of its contradictions, paradoxes and polarities. No one gets out of life alive, but literature enriches the journey, accompanying us along the often painfully absurd encounters and episodes that engulf us. Literature fills us in.

Open to any page and find such nuggets as: “One does not grow up in Kafka; one goes under.” Or: “We are fated to be undone . . . you lose your power no matter what.” And: “Young love comes across as the core riddle of our lives.”

This review cannot do justice to such a wise, perceptive book, which will cause you to stop and pause, consider yourself and Weinstein’s own life, immerse yourself in splendid critiques, asides and ideas. It positively bounces along, pausing to ponder yet driving forward through the whole spectrum of youth and age, generational antagonisms, sexual urgencies, and the shadow of certain death.

“You cannot change the givens,” Weinstein knows all too well, “but you can season them, you can ironize them, you can replay in your head; and all this gives you a kind of agency you don’t have in any other way.”

This is splendid stuff all the way through.

As a professor of literature at Wheaton, Sam Coale (samcoale@cox.net) is a card-carrying member of the choir to which Prof. Weinstein preaches.

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Angelicum.net is Updating This Week

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We are updating the site this week by moving angelicum.net to a new server.  This new server should greatly speed up our site.  We will also be adding new fall schedules, new email addresses, new enrollment forms, etc. this month. Thanks for your patience as we upgrade this month! 

Vatican Plans Document on the Internet

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Internet can be a valuable tool for Catholic education and evangelization, and its proper use should be encouraged in seminaries as well as other church institutions, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“Internet, with its capacity to reach across distances and put people in contact, offers great possibilities for the church and her mission,” the pope said in an address to members of the Congregation for Catholic Education holding their plenary meeting at the Vatican Feb. 7-9.

The pope said the congregation was working on a document titled “Internet and Formation in Seminaries,” but did not say when it would be published.

When used with caution and discernment, the pope said, the Internet can be useful for future priests not only for studying, but for pastoral work in areas of evangelization, missionary action, catechism, educational projects and administration of various institutions.

The church will therefore need well-prepared teachers to keep the seminarians up to date on the “correct and positive” use of information technology, he said.

Addressing congregation members, the pope said the education and formation of future priests in seminaries is “one of the most urgent challenges” of the church today because of the culture of relativism dominant in contemporary society.

“For this reason, the service performed by so many formation institutions in the world that are inspired by the Christian vision of man and reality is so important today,” the pope said.

The seminary is one of the most important institutions of the church and requires a thorough program that takes into account the context in which they exist today, he said.

“Many times I have said that the seminary is a precious phase of life, in which the candidate for priesthood has the experience of being ‘a disciple of God,'” he said.

The pope has made recent references to the potential — and the dangers — offered by new media technology. Last month in a message for the upcoming World Communications Day he said, “this means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship.”

He encouraged the use of social media such as Facebook as a means of spreading the Christian message, but warned of the dangers of substituting human relationships with virtual contacts.

Former Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Education, Charlotte Iserbyt on the Deliberate Dumbing Down of the World

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Deliberate Dumbing Down of America – E Book download is free.