About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Note on teaching intellectual backgrounds

Currently I am teaching a first semester course for seventeen first-year college students, and in a couple of weeks the students will be presenting their choices from a series of essays in a somewhat limited anthology Past to Present, essays which will be arranged chronologically. Many were written in the twentieth century and serve to present facets of the modern and postmodern periods in science, the social sciences, and the arts. However, the first half (or third) of the essay presentations will focus on works written in the previous twenty-five hundred years (actually, I start the course with the students discussing Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" - to initiate our discussion of critical thinking and the nature of creativity). For the essay presentations in the middle section of the course, students can choose from a range of works: selections start with Herodotus, the Old Testament, and Hindu and Buddhist texts and move to passages from the New Testament and the Koran and then late medieval texts about Satan and Joan of Arc. Their choices can involve some Renaissance texts (Vasari’s Leonardo, Michelangelo, or some Pascal) and finally include some Enlightenment and nineteenth-century selections (Chesterfield, Paine, Malthus, Keats, Stendhal, Twain, Douglass, Whitman, and Darwin). The twentieth century essays' engagements of critical thinking and creativity range from work by Freud to the physicist Fred Hoyle or to Simone de Beauvoir, from Orwell to Thiong'o and Baldwin.

Establishing a chronological order for our readings and presentations seems to strengthen students’ intellectual background, and it can also clarify issues significant to the present. It’s a bit old-fashioned as an approach, but my hope is that it will not seem so, for the readings fill gaps, stimulate much critical thinking, and are self-selected.

The initial reading experience is to encounter some of the first human texts, some of the first written efforts to sustain thinking and imagining. These initial writings present Hebraic ideas about community and the godhead in the Old Testament and the Hellenic, classically humanistic values of reasoned inquiry and historical analysis in Herodotus. Then contrasting yet connected visions of religion and human culture are evident in "cross-cultural texts" - Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Mohammedan. After the late Medieval period (with its religious orientation), there is the reemergence of classical humanism in the Renaissance, with its influential examples of creativity across the arts and sciences. In the eighteenth century Enlightenment and the Romanticism which followed in the early nineteenth century, there is the contention between reason and emotion in European culture, and out of this oscillation between objectivity and subjectivity emerged a range of achievements – from the assertion of individual rights to the growth of imperial power, from the transformative discoveries in the physical sciences to the revelations about the nature of human subjectivity from Wordsworth to Dostoyevsky.

Certain themes inevitably become clear in the students’ self-conducted survey. There is the power of text itself, of changing written modes of human thought and feeling (of course, it is said that we exist at the moment when a new digital mode is arriving). There are the recurrent patterns of difference among ways of seeing the world – objective and subjective, human-centered and religion-centered, individual and corporate or imperial – and blood continues to be shed over such conflicts. Finally, there is Vico’s insight, which one increasingly appreciates, into both the cycles of devastation which emerge from these conflicts as well as the on-going creative process producing human culture.

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