What Circulates Around

1. Herodotus – Histories (FB-)  2. Lucretius – The Nature of Things (++) 3. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto (+) 4. Mary Wollstonecraft – A Vindication of the Rights of Women (SB-)  5. Studs Terkel – Working (+)  6. Leslie Jamison – The Empathy Exams (FB++)  7.Machiavelli – The Prince (+)

Histories was a struggle to get through. Herodotus writes in a very energetic style and is not afraid to offer his commentary on everything. In a sense it reminded me of Candide by Voltaire. Each book felt like a rollercoaster and I would have appreciated a break to come up for air. It is almost like a lecture where everything the professor says seems to be something incredibly important that should be written down. It’s great that Herodotus can jam so much important information in just a few pages, but I often found it overwhelming. For my library, I represented Histories with a painting that seemed to capture this feeling. In the larger scheme of this library, Histories was the first work written. The only other book that comes close to matching its age is The Nature of Things by Lucretius. However, the themes and styles of Histories are relevant to the books surrounding it in this library. Histories is an account of a journey. In this sense, it is similar to Working by Studs Terkel. Working covers a large span of jobs across America in the same way that Herodotus recalls a large span of events from the ancient world.
Unlike Histories, The Nature of Things was incredibly fascinating to read. Even though it wasn’t exactly scientifically accurate by today’s stands (and who would expect it to be?) I still found it enriching to hear Lucretius ramble about atoms. The fact that he rhymed throughout the poem helped as well. On aspect of The Nature of Things that stuck with me is Lucretius’ explanation of matter and void. Lucretius states that within matter is void, an empty space. An example that can describe this is a fish swimming through the sea. As the fish moves forward, it is pushing the matter of the space that it is occupying into the void of the space ahead of it. This accounts for the painting that I used to represent this book. The theme song that I used for this book is a little unusual. It is an art song (in the old school sense) by Schubert entitled “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” It uses text from Faust by Goethe and depicts Gretchen working at her spinning wheel while daydreaming about Faust. The right hand of the piano is supposed to represent the continual turning of the spinning wheel. However, in this context, I view the right hand of the piano as being representative of atoms. It continually provides the smallest rhythmic degree of structure to the song while the larger, more “human” aspect of the song soars above in the voice.
The Communist Manifesto exudes passion. I feel like Marx and Engels’s writing is a call to action. Historically, this manifesto is not too far away from A Vindication of the Rights of Women. However, I find it more interesting to compare it to Working. In Working, it is often easy to tell which people are bourgeois and which workers are in the proletariat. I find that the Communist Manifesto can be a little abstract in its theories. Working provides a clear face to some of the ideas that Marx and Engels propose. For a theme song to The Communist Manifesto, I chose the second movement of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Every movement of A Love Supreme exudes passion (because it is Coltrane’s offering to God). However, the second movement is the only movement whose intensity shows a sense of determination and action. I view this as being similar to the tone that Marx and Engels take in The Communist Manifesto.
I didn’t give A Vindication of the Rights of Women as much of a chance as I should have. Wollstonecraft’s writing is incredibly dry. Sometimes I feel like she is circling around the same point over and over again. However, there is no denying that she feels strongly about what she is writing. In this sense, I equate A Vindication of the Rights of Women with the Communist Manifesto. Although I sort of wish that A Vindication of the Rights of Women was condensed into the size of the Communist Manifesto. For a theme song for A Vindication of the Rights of Women I chose Unyielding Conditioning by Fishbone. I think that the lyrics of this song connect with what Wollstonecraft was getting at. It suggests that even though we have been conditioned to think a specific way, it is still possible to change our point of view. I think that Wollstronecraft would appreciate this as she advocated for better education as a means of changing our view of women. To show this visually, I used a picture of a classroom that displays a traditional layout of desks juxtapose with modern art on the wall.
One day I was sitting in the café outside of Presser Hall reading Working. When my friend saw this he said that he would hate to read such a giant book for class. When I explained that it was actually a series of small interviews, he said that it was sort of cool. This is a snapshot of my experience with Working. I was terrified to pick it up from the bookstore. However, it was easily my favorite book of the semester once I dug into it. Working gives a face to the people that keep this country running. In this sense, it relates to every book in the library because it is the story of people. I related this book to Montezuma by Fleet Foxes. I think that Motezuma captures a feeling a pondering your own self worth – wondering if you’re on the right path, if what you’re doing is meaningful, if you’re past your glory days. I think that a lot of workers in Working ponder this. There are a lot of workers who are unhappy with their job or aren’t sure if their job is providing them with any sense of self worth.
Of all the ideas discussed in Mosaics, The Empathy Exams might be what sticks with me the most. I largely forget most of it expect for one excruciatingly important passage. I remember that Jamison was an actress who acted as a mock patient to assess future doctors. One of the categories that doctors would be assessed in was empathy. The large majority of doctors would say some variant of “wow that must so be hard” in order to fulfill their empathy requirement. This really struck me. It made me consider what I do to show empathy in my day-to-day interactions. How to the people in Working or any other book in this library show empathy? Maybe I am just as bad at showing empathy as these future doctors. This especially worries me as a future teacher. How do I properly show my students empathy? Is it weird that I’m even considering this question? Should it just be an innate trait to being alive?
I think that The Prince is sort of like the opposite of many of the books in this library. Books like A Vindication of the Rights of Women, The Communist Manifesto, and Working celebrate people who aren’t on the top of the social hierarchy. A Vindication of the Rights of Women celebrates women, The Communist Manifesto celebrates the proletariat/workers, and Working celebrates the average worker in America. The Prince celebrates the people on top and gives them the tools to stay on top. Of course, this conflicts with many of the ideals of the people who aren’t on top. Machiavelli is not afraid to say that he would rather a leader be feared than loved. I wonder what Kay Stepkin would think of that? I chose Touch the Sky by Kanye West as the theme song for this book. Touch the Sky tells the story of how Kanye worked to get to his current level of fame. I think that Kanye’s journey of struggling to get by to rising to the top of the music industry is indicative of Machiavelli’s message. Kanye makes it clear that he didn’t always play fairly to reach the top. He did what it took and as a result was successful. I think that this is a Machiavellian way of approaching power and fame.
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