Reading classic books is enjoyable in and of itself, but something that I’ve found surprisingly enjoyable is to take part in the conversations around these books. Much like the actual reading of books, “Discussions around the Classics” is a subset of “Discussions about literature generally.” it’s easy to find discussions about literature, and news of blogging’s demise has been, in this realm, greatly exaggerated. Even in 2021, there are prolific writers and robust discussions forums happening. One particular reason you know the blogs are good, apart from the fact that many of them have been publishing for over a decade, in that many of them are on default WordPress and Blogger (remember Blogger?) themes, and still writing today. The words and the ideas are center-stage.
Speaking of 2021, a material percentage of the conversations around the role of the Classics today are about what we might call “the culture war,” the arguments for and against The Western Canon as it relates to what people should learn and what constitutes a well-rounded education. It’s not that I’m uninterested in the debates, I’m just beginning to get tired of them as entry points: it’s very hard to actually talk about The Iliad or Inferno when the books themselves are pawns in an argument.
In the vein of not having all the answers, and in trying to do work in public — where does one find more of these sorts of conversations? As enjoyable as general literature discussions are, I’m also interested in zeroing in on Classics-specific conversations that are happening around the internet.
My hypothesis is that most of these discussions happen on college campuses, for obvious reasons. (It’s partly for this reason I applied to St. John’s.) Is the discussion limited to internal bulletin boards and email lists? Very possibly, but I’m wondering if there isn’t some corner of the blogosphere, some Twitter hashtag, that I’m missing.
What I’ve got so far:
- NetNewsWire allows me to subscribe to a few dozen lit blogs, including everyone who has put their hand up to be part of the Classics Club.
- I’ve also subscribed to a couple of more general sources, including Amazon’s book review site and the Paris Review.
- I have Google Alerts set up for most of the common terms in the discussions and most of the principals.
- More generally, I’m lucky that people have been kind enough to email me their thoughts, syllabi, and recommendations on both my main list and secondary reading materials.
My alternate hypothesis, which I think has slightly more chance of being true, is that these conversations don’t happen in public. Whether because of a dearth of interested interlocutors or for some other reason to keep them to gated communities (behind a university login screen, I’m guessing), these conversations are happening, just not currently accessible to me or the wider public.
I’ll, er, keep this blog posted with what I find out.
I joined online Online Great Books three months ago.
Awesome. It’s St. John’s for 75 bucks a month (and they send you the book!). We are in cohorts so we get to know one another.
Would love to hear more about the cohorts! Do you think they’re the best part of the experience?