In a very dreary morning when I needed to wake up at 3:30am, I rethought the recent lists I have made.
- The concept of spending more time to read through 4 texts in details was an intriguing idea at first, but then I realized that the Qur'an was perhaps relatively too short for a detailed read-through vs. the likes of Plato, Mahabharata and Shiji.
- I was also intrigued by using such a detailed early course to read "conjugates" such as Aristotle and Ramayana, but it is not clear if Hanshu or hadith collections are really the right conjugates to be read vs. Shiji or the Qur'an.
- While those thoughts are on hold, I have reviewed the last list of 28, and found that on a canonical basis, it is harder to include Amir Khusraw (especially if we have Ferdowsi to represent Persian-language literature) and Zhiyi (if we really decide that Buddhism should not be over-represented, especially in the case that Nagarjuna is out).
- On Ferdowsi, I have been reading a book on Sadi, and the author said that the top 3 in Persian literature has always been Sadi, Rumi and Hafiz, with Sadi being overshadowed by Hafiz in the 20th century. Ferdowsi is sometimes a 4th, but his stars have been rising in conjunction with Iranian nationalism in the 20th century, and Nezami Ganjavi sometimes a 5th. To me, choice of Hafiz is tough as he was "last of the greats," so hard to justify from influence level. Sadi is hard to pick at this juncture of history, and so I have always been fluctuating between Rumi and Ferdowsi. Ferdowsi has the additional advantage of bringing a non-Islamic (but still Islamicate) aspect into the reading list; the problem is that it is another Epic.
- With Zhiyi and Amir Khusraw out, then I worry about what 19th century work to include, and after looking through my recent post again, I found the inclusion of Marx and Tolstoy most compelling (especially as Freud's long-term canonicity I still have some doubts).
- The results are the following revised list which is more skewed towards the West:
Greco-Roman (4): Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Virgil
Christian (3): Bible, Augustine, Dante
Modern Western (6): Shakespeare, Cervantes, Voltaire, Kant, Marx, Tolstoy
Islamicate (4): Quran, al-Tabari, al-Ghazali, Ferdowsi
South Asian (5): Rg Veda, Samyutta Nikaya, Mahabharata, Kalidasa, Shankara
East Asian (6): Odes, Historical Records, Wang Bi, Zhu Xi, Su Shi, Tale of Genji
I found that this list mitigates most of the problems in my list of 25, namely:
- That now I include back in Homer, Virgil, (Classical literature) and Rg Veda (Hindu Religious Classics).
- While continuing to leave Aristotle out (as in List of 50), this no longer includes Zhiyi but excludes Nagarjuna. And this list includes both Marx and Kant.
- Lastly, with Tale of Genji, I was able to include one female author in the list.
So Aristotle continues to be a problem.
This list of 28, also seemingly naturally, starts to repeat the problems identified in the analysis of the list of 36:
1. Secondary civilizational traditions not represented. Examples include: Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Southeast Asian, Turkish.
2. Secondary traditions within primary traditions not represented. Examples include: Jainism, Bhakti Hinduism, Shiite / Ismaili Islam, Orthodox / Protestant Christianity, Judaism.
3. Secondary modern traditions not represented. Examples include: French, Spanish, Russian, American.
4. Heavy weights given to epics within literature. 5 epics included (Iliad, Mahabharata, Aeneid, Shanameh, Commedia) in list of 36.
Except, that now Japanese is included, and French, Spanish, and Russian literature are all now represented. In this shorter list, the overweight of Epics is even worse.
So, with this revised list of 28, the problems as I continue to see, are:
1. Possibly too skewed towards the West
2. No Aristotle
3. With a list so short, secondary traditions like Jainism, Bhakti, Shiite Islam, etc. are not really represented
4. Overweight of Epics
Now, at this point, I am not too worried about 1), because West (13/28) < 50% of list, West + Islamicate (17/28) > 50%, South (Islamicate + South Asian) > East (9>6). Overall, the key aspects are still not too out of balanced vs. West:East:S Asian;CWANA of 9:6:6:4.
On 2, the old argument still prevails: Herodotus vs. Thucydides, Mahabharata vs. Ramayana, Shankara vs. Ramanuja, Virgil vs. Ovid, Homer vs. Hesiod, Dante vs. Petrarch, Augustine vs. Origen, there is just no good way to include all the later "runner-ups" in a short list.
On 3, this is just a fact of necessity if a short-list is to be maintained.
On 4, I do not feel so bad about it now either, as there are enough novels (Cervantes, Tolstoy, Tale of Genji), drama (Shakespeare, Kalidasa), and short poetry (Odes, Rg Veda, Su Shi), and even prose writers (Voltaire).
All in all, I do feel good about this list of 28.
Additional thoughts as to how an undergrad class can teach this in 2 semesters
First Semester (14)
Foundational poetry (SE, E, W - 3): Rg Veda, Odes, Homer
Foundational world religious texts (SE, W, SW - 3) - Samyutta Nikaya, Bible, Quran
Foundational histories (W, E, SW - 3) - Herodotus, Shiji, al-Tabari
Plato and theology (W, W, SW - 3): Plato, Augustine, al-Ghazali
Southern Epics (SE, SW - 2): Mahabharata, Ferdowsi
Second Semester (14)
Western Epics after Homer (W, W - 2): Virgil, Dante
Religio-philosophical commentaries (E, SE, E - 3): Wang Bi, Shankara, Zhu Xi
Masters of genres (SE, E, W - 3) - Kalidasa, Su Shi, Voltaire
Literature as entertainment (E, W, W - 3) - Murasaki Shikibu, Shakespeare, Cervantes
Modern Prophets (W, W, W - 3) - Kant, Marx, Tolstoy