Some of you will remember that we launched a social reading opportunity in a test way some months ago. We return to that enterprise now, on the anniversary (the sesquicentennial!) of the Gettysburg Address. Here is a primary text that shaped, for example, the more recent (though itself not young!) "I Have a Dream" speech of Martin Luther King, given during the Centennial of the Civil War. Both texts are, thus, core texts of today's thinking -- and arguably of modern civil rights thinking and activism. So: please read on -- and join us in reading together:
Dear Shimerians and other friends:
On November 19, 1863, one of the most famous texts of American history -- or, more accurately, one of the most famous speeches -- was given at the consecration of the Soldier's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As we approach the 150th anniversary of this, Shimerians and our friends can join us in a conversation about the Gettysburg Address via our social reading platform, Shimertopia.
Below are the directions for joining the conversation:
Please first sign up for SocialBook here. SocialBook is entirely free, and in addition to the Gettysburg Address, you will find a huge number of other texts that you may read "socially". Please note that SocialBook works only with Safari or Chrome browsers; unfortunately, it will not function properly with Internet Explorer, Firefox, or other browsers. If you do not already have a compatible browser, you can download Safari for Windows here or Google Chrome here. If you use a Mac, Safari should already be installed on your device, and Chrome can be downloaded here.
After you do all this, email email@example.com with a note expressing your interest in joining the conversation, and you will be promptly added to the group.
As you know, I recently asked a few people if they'd like to contribute a guest blog for Evocations. Here is a guest blog from Landis Masnor, recent graduate and former student representative to the Shimer College Board of Trustees! Hurrah. And, please note: this is NOT a picture of Landis. NOr am I claiming, via hte post's title, that Diogenes is a Shimer alum.
I recently came across a small blog
post on Diogenes the Cynic and loved it. I immediately fell in love with the
character and have since digested an entire book of anecdotes and sayings. Having only encountered one story of
Diogenes during my time at Shimer (which I’ll mention later), I wish I had read
more. The man is enchanting, for
starters, because he combines being a complete societal rogue with such realistic
commonsense. For instance, in the
book I read by Robin Hard, there is a short section on astronomy including
encounters and sayings of Diogenes on the topic. Now, even the new Shimer student has to quickly come to
terms with the way Plato, Aristotle, and others organize their ideas. One has to accept certain things, ‘this
is just the way a great mind/argument/philosophy works’. These givens include the idea that the
physical world bears largely upon the True
philosophical reality. And hence,
no one asks why Aristotle wrote an entire book, On the Heavens. So
it’s hilarious when Diogenes is asked again and again what he thinks of the
stars, he claims he’s never visited them.
When someone speaks about their theory of the planets, Diogenes asks
when exactly they returned from visiting them.
The snark is appreciated, but the
literally down-to-earth-ness was something I hadn’t seen in Socratic
philosophers and it was a joy to find someone who seemed to belong in a
different zeitgeist. Because most of Diogenes’
surviving sayings and doings are preserved in fragments from various authors, when
I read Hard’s compilation, Diogenes seems like he belongs among the pre-Socratics
in Natural Sciences 1. But
Diogenes was a contemporary and personal opponent of Plato and Aristotle. What is striking about Diogenes the
dog, is not tenets of the philosophy, per se. That is, I would not have taken such an interest in him if
he had said “all is water” and called it a day, or even if he had spoke about a
divided line. Diogenes is really a
pleasure to read because he is a radical polemicist who lived his radical
values. These qualities would make
reading Diogenes an easy-to-swallow remedy for the reader who treats their
Kerouac scroll like the Gandharan scroll.
Below are some fragments from the Bounded Spirit article on Diogenes.
In winter Diogenes walked barefoot
in the snow. In summer he rolled in the hot sand. He did this to harden himself
“But aren’t you overdoing it a little?” a disciple asked.
“Of course,” replied Diogenes, “I am like a teacher of choruses who has to sing
louder than the rest in order they may get the right note.”
A student of philosophy, eager to
display his powers of argument, approached Diogenes, introduced himself and
said, “If it pleases you, sir, let me prove to you that there is no such thing
as motion.” Whereupon Diogenes immediately got up and left….
“Why is it, Diogenes, that pupils
leave you to go to other teachers, but rarely do they leave them to come to
“Because,” replied Diogenes, “one can make eunuchs out of men, but no one can
make a man out of eunuchs.”
The beggar lived a purely practical life, focused on being
truly free. This included freedom
from bodily demands; Diogenes is often said to have masturbated in the market
place (where else?). “If only one
could relieve their hunger by rubbing their stomach!” he said. Nicknamed the dog, known for his
outlandish and antagonistic nature, the Cynic’s few interactions with Alexander
the Great are quite endearing. The
following fragments are from Hard.
“Alexander once appeared before him
and said, “I’m Alexander the Great King”
“And I,” he replied, “am Diogenes the Dog.”
Alexander the Great once approached
the vagabond and asked, “Aren’t you afraid of me?” “Well, tell me this,” asked
Diogenes, “are you a good thing or a bad one?” and when Alexander replied, “A
good one”, he said, “Then who’s afraid of what is good?”
In my final semester at Shimer I had the privilege of
studying Greek with a few students and Harold Stone where we translated the
following anecdote of Diogenes.
Once Alexander, impressed by Diogenes, approached him while he was
sunning himself and asked, “What can I give you? What do you desire?” and
Diogenes replied, “Stand out of my light.” Many sources include after this story, that Alexander so
admired Diogenes he remarked to others, “If I were not Alexander, I would be
Diogenes begged to teach people generosity, lived in squalor
to teach them humility, and prided himself on having mastered himself, while
others were slaves to the chains of life.
Like a stray dog ruining a public picnic, Diogenes is reported to have
run forward after the Olympic winners were announced and proclaimed that he was
actually the Olympic victor over all humans in the category of excellence.
But he is impressive for more than his quick wit and
committed asceticism. There is a
practicality and charm to his life that shames more sophisticated philosophers,
‘like their unnecessary ideas on the stars’. While there are many funny comments he makes about Plato’s
long windedness (a fact any reader of the Republic
knows too well) there are two I can’t ignore that I found at the Bounded
Plato was discoursing on his theory
of ideas and, pointing to the cups on the table before him, said while there
are many cups in the world, there is only one ‘idea’ of a cup, and this
‘cupness’ precedes the existence of all particular cups.
“I can see the cup on the table,”
interrupted Diogenes, “but I can’t see the ‘cupness’.” “That’s because you have
the eyes to see the cup,” said Plato, “but,” tapping his head with his
forefinger, “you don’t have the intellect with which to comprehend ‘cupness’.”
Diogenes walked up to the table, examined a cup and, looking inside, asked, “Is
Plato nodded. “Where is the ‘emptiness’ which proceeds this empty cup?” asked
Diogenes. Plato allowed himself a few moments to collect his thoughts, but
Diogenes reached over and, tapping Plato’s head with his finger, said “I think
you will find here is the ‘emptiness’.”
On hearing Plato praised, Diogenes
said, “And what’s so wonderful about him, a man who has practiced philosophy
all this time and never caused pain to anyone?”
In sum, I am happy that my first full book after Shimer was Hard’s
translation on Diogenes. It
provides comic and ideological relief from the sanctimony and deepity of
Socrates. There are many excellent
snippets I would like to include in this post, and too many profound ones I
have omitted for the humorous.
Because of that I will end with my favorite two (found in Hard) and
encourage you to discover Diogenes for yourself.
asked what weighs most heavily on the earth, he replied an uncultivated man.
asked which weighs more heavily, lead or gold, he replied: A lack of culture.