The modern revolution has been both a blessing and a curse. Its break with the past has liberated us from traditional thinking and brought a new excitement to politics, economics and science. But a marked discontent remains: anxiety, frustration, busyness, theoretical fog and spiritual exhaustion strain the modern psyche. A seemingly unreachable ideal hovers over every modern ambition.
Reading the Humanities offers a fresh new perspective on the modern malaise by reinventing the lost habit of dialogue, examining the contrasting postures of modernity and tradition. Offering a virtual tour through the ‘Great Books,’ the argument reconsiders the relevance of traditional sources while focussing a critical lens on our contemporary predicament.
Authors from Homer to Joyce, Machiavelli to Marx, Shakespeare to Shelley, Plato, Virgil, Kant, Hume, Austen, Eliot and Arendt, among others, are examined both for their sharply contrasting views and for their continuing modern relevance. A new vision emerges of what Socrates called the ‘examined life,’ the ‘good’ life, the only life worth living.
New ideas about individual agency, purposeful action, moral striving and sacred intention arise out of debates forged over classical, Christian, Enlightenment and contemporary voices in literature and philosophy. The exciting result is a modern project revitalized by the energy that flows from the habit of engaging difference.
John Greenwood teaches in liberal arts programs at St Jerome’s in the University of Waterloo and in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.