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Odyssey Of The West VI: A Classic Education Through The Great Books: The Twentieth Century

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The Odyssey of the West series addresses in chronological sequence the works that have shaped the ongoing development of Western thought both in its own right and in cultural dialogue with other traditions. Part six imparts a learned understanding of the forces that shaped-- and continue to shape-- Western culture.


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The Odyssey of the West series addresses in chronological sequence the works that have shaped the ongoing development of Western thought both in its own right and in cultural dialogue with other traditions. Part six imparts a learned understanding of the forces that shaped-- and continue to shape-- Western culture.

44 review for Odyssey Of The West VI: A Classic Education Through The Great Books: The Twentieth Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    The completion of this lecture series represents for me the culmination of a long journey begun circa 2007 or 2008 with the "101" (introductory) course, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans: Foundations of Western Civilization and continuing through Parts I-V of Odyssey of the West to this last course. How time flies and technology changes! When I began, Recorded Books was administering an audiobook program through my public library. I could download any book the library had whenever I wanted and without The completion of this lecture series represents for me the culmination of a long journey begun circa 2007 or 2008 with the "101" (introductory) course, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans: Foundations of Western Civilization and continuing through Parts I-V of Odyssey of the West to this last course. How time flies and technology changes! When I began, Recorded Books was administering an audiobook program through my public library. I could download any book the library had whenever I wanted and without further ado, and I could purchase the course guide, a monograph-sized paperback, for a pittance. Then publishers figured out they were putting themselves out of business and stopped allowing that level of access. Libraries and their patrons had to settle for a more limited and restrictive selection of downloadable audiobooks that, in my case, did not include these. But then by chance I came upon this lecture series being offered by a discount audiobook provider and bought several, at which time I could still get the course guides. By around 2011, when I bought the remaining two programs, further creative destruction had occurred. I had a helpful but poignant conversation with a Recorded Books employee on the occasion of his last day at work. Downloads were fast replacing CDs, and Recorded Books was defunct except for Modern Scholar, which sold CDs to libraries only. The hard-copy course guides were gone with the wind but I could get the PDF versions. (By then, "books on tape" was well on its way to becoming an archaic expression like "hanging up" the phone.) The introductory course had been copyrighted 2003 and its course guide in 2006; Odyssey of the West I-VI are copyrighted 2007-2009. I imagine by the time this last program was produced the handwriting was on the wall. And yet they completed it, albeit with three lecturers all from the same college, Kenyon, home base of editor and lecturer Timothy B. Shutt. I'm guessing completing the last of these courses was a labor of love. Why do I care? I've been a critic of my education. Although I had quite a lot of it, I didn't necessarily learn to think. Well, why should any system teach its participants how to see through it and potentially change it? I know some people did and do figure out how to use their education better. I was a late bloomer in that regard. But better late than never! Key to such a project is seeing things in context. Memorizing facts and lists won't do the trick nor studying separate fields in isolation, although having a good memory permits a facsimile of learning. These courses utilize the requisite cross-disciplinary approach for the miracle of ideas to occur and provide a great framework. Luckily, they're still available at libraries and from Audible, I'm happy to say. I recommend them to anyone. Much of the credit is due to Timothy Shutt, something of a Renaissance man judging from the other audio-courses he teaches, beyond the wide swath of Western civilization to the medieval classics, ancient Sparta, nineteenth-century literature, baseball and great naval battles. In the present courses I've gotten some great insights from him; most of the other lecturers are good as well. This has been quite an introduction because it's a farewell, too. Getting to the present course at last, we see the following lectures: American literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Kierkegaard, impressionism and post-impressionism, Nietzsche, Freud and the rise of psychology, the age of empire and WWI, modernism, the modern novel, the Lost Generation, logical positivism and Wittgenstein, WWII and postwar, Sartre, postmodernism, and the concluding lecture on the contemporary world. I didn't know Kierkegaard was such a shock to Denmark that no one would name their sons "Søren" for nearly 100 years and would warn children not to be a "Søren." He found cultural conventions of order lacking in meaning and delivered a body blow to order and habit. I didn't know, either, that he was in opposition to Hegel. I understand that orderliness and propriety are not piety, yet if Hegel says we must make our virtues habitual, it is he who's supported by modern cognitive science, since we are systems running mostly out of awareness. I'd read some Kierkegaard back when existentialism was the order of the day, but that's not saying much. What I read here on Nietzsche is from a different angle but fits with what I've been reading elsewhere. And, no, I don't think I've ever read Nietzsche himself. The catastrophic casualties from the trench warfare in WWI occurred because the warring parties didn't allow for the impact of the new weapons, according to Shutt. There had been a long period of relative peace while technology proceeded apace, and then armies still confronted each other as though with canons and musketry. If they had looked at the U.S. Civil War they may have been more aware of what was coming, but at that time the U.S. was not thought worthy of much consideration. What Shutt says about the consequences of the Great War startled me. WWI was the beginning of the end of the Enlightenment Project. That, I hadn't gathered elsewhere. Ushering in the Enlightenment had been all the killing from the European wars of religion that reason was supposed to have ended. Well, given WWI, reason hadn't been all that effective. The Enlightenment became the basis of a European ego trip. European man (and I say "man" advisedly) was God's gift to the world. It was his duty, the "white man's burden," to spread his civilization. In essence, colonization and subjugation of other peoples was a sacred obligation. The death and destruction of the Great War was not consistent with that illusion, which shattered under the pressure. Poetry not possible afterwards? We have forgotten--or never knew--that. It sounds remarkably like post-Holocaust discourse. The Lost Generation. A lot of people--Freud, Nazis, Marxists, Christian Scientists, to name a few--were styling their systems scientific. The aim of logical positivism, according to Joel Richeimer, was to separate the BS from the science, to wall out the rising tide of nonscience by means of linguistic logic: if something could be neither true nor false it's not science. It's just BS. Logical positivism eventually suffered the fate of other empiricist ventures, in that it too required unprovable first principles, but not before ridding many fields of metaphysical elements and not before garnering the hate of such as Lenin and Hitler. World War II finished what the Great War had started as far as being the death knell of the Enlightenment Project. There stood what Germany, the most cultured, advanced, and civilized country, had done, and, to a lesser extent, what the other Western powers had done, delivering "a final coup de grace to the notion of Western moral exceptionalism". European moral progress was not what it had seemed, was indeed, in some terrible sense, an illusion. Privileged groups--European, white, male, upper-class, whoever--had on the basis of the death camps forfeited their moral right to domination. And the moral right mattered not least to those who dominated. They did not know best after all, despite the sophistication of Western science and technology. Auschwitz seemed to prove it. And by no means only to Germans. The French, the British, the Americans, the whole Western world seemed tacitly to acknowledge its complicity. Not that many would quite say as much. But their actions revealed it. A whole way of life, a whole mode of thinking, and a whole array of social structures seemed suddenly revealed as unsustainable, as morally bankrupt. Thence the withering of colonialism, the rise of feminism, and, in the U.S., the progress of civil rights. Philosophically, Sartre declared we are radically free, if we could only recognize it--to be done via consciousness raising. The Structuralists said, no, there were deep anthropological and linguistic structures that underlie the seeming chaos of modernity and that limit our freedom. Poststructuralists--the philosophical version of postmodernism--denied there was such an underlying stable and coherent value system. Desires and values are socially constructed. They are not stable. Power relations are involved. Communism and Fascism have taught us not to trust broad social movements, and certainly not Utopian movements. Power relations have to be uncovered and challenged. If there is no sense of an objective, universal moral system and knowledge free of power, there is the ability to play (as well as reason) and to make ourselves up. And although without an absolute morality it may be harder to know what to do, we can imagine multiple worlds within which to envisage the consequences of our actions. When we look at the contemporary world, we hear noise but can't yet see history. There is too much. We don't yet know what the salient events are going to be and who are going to turn out to be the prescient speakers. Shutt says something else startling. He reminds the reader about the Islamic world having been in decline since the seventeenth century since the commercial economies of the West took off and left them in the dust. He suggests what we are seeing now is the resurgence of the Islamic world. It's coming back. This reminds me of that French novel I haven't read yet, Submission Shutt speaks in a completely non-polemical manner. That's part of his strength. Shutt also looks at popular art forms, those we don't necessarily consider serious art and literature, reminding us that Shakespeare was not required reading in his day. He was popular. Shutt says if Shakespeare were here today, he would be involved in one of the self-supporting--popular--forms: musicals--or film. Shutt says absolutely the most important contemporary movement is the rise of computing and the Information Age. He reminds us the emergence of literacy and print had costs as well as benefits. Reading is not innate. It requires, in his phrasing, six hours a day times ten years of imprisonment to be installed, and even then many don't do it well. Computers, although they do involve reading, also use a lot of icons and visual imagery. Children can teach themselves to use computer technology. He thinks this new age will enhance democracy, leading to leveling and furthering the meritocracy. Meanwhile we have multiple libraries at our fingertips. He is hopeful. And now I come to the end. Goodbye, Dr. Shutt and colleagues. Thanks for all the instruction you've given me over the last eight or nine years. And the stimulation and entertainment and companionship. Thanks for the course guides, too. I am one of those who likes the print as well as the audio. I'm recommending you to my fellow literate elites.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Took a couple of years to make the time to get through this 6 part lecture series but it was well worth the time and effort. Big thank you to Professor Shutt and the others who put the program together and made it happen.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Belatech

    Check it out!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul Blessing

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    Markus

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joe

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    Alan

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    Dave

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    Sarah

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrej

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    Albert Strong

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    Amy

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    Rob Squires

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    Peter Thijs

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    David Milligan

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    Stuart Hutton

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    Walter Spence

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    Jack

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    Brad Carle

  20. 4 out of 5

    ihatebooks

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steven Hart

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    Steven Miller

  23. 4 out of 5

    Readerboy299

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

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    Karla

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    Dennis

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    Jack N

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    Kevin Beary

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    Terry

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    Jennifer Campbell

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  44. 4 out of 5

    Dean Landers

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