What is a “great” book?
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” –Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1951)
The books are not regarded as “sacred cows” to be venerated, or museum pieces to be studied as an artifact, but rather provocative works which have the power to change our minds, touch our spirits, here and now, initiating a process of reflection, discovery and insight in the 21st century. They stop us in our paths, move us to think hard. We feel the best reason to go to these books is not to become cultured, so much as to help us search for the truth about the ways things are. Each book has a possible truth about the world to convey to us – even if it should turn out that their conclusions are wrong. At bottom, we are dealing with a certain quality of book capable of helping us see ourselves and the world anew. These books are truly worth our time and effort.
Symposium Great Books
Symposium offers pathways of learning for the serious reader intent on sustained study and deep immersion in books of the caliber described above, supported by the fellowship and community of similar readers of serious intent. We all know that these books are meant to be read over a lifetime. They are not a “one and done” sort of affair. Taking an undergraduate or graduate course is not enough: one must return to books of this order time and again over the span of a whole life, in order to begin to unlock their endless riches.
An example of the sorts of books or authors we take on in this way are those offered in The Education Quartet – Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Rousseau’s Emile, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. There are many wonderful books to take up in our leisure outside academic schedules. Other learning pathways would include the works of Greek poets and philosophers, Jewish and Christian writers, or works of the modern political and philosophical writers. Our main concern is to choose a high-stakes book, and spend a significant amount of time coming into direct confrontation with the fundamental questions and answers proposed by the author. There is no substitute for such a confrontation. A reader at SGBI will learn more about an author by spending time actually struggling with the text itself in a sustained and supported way than by any other means.