And on the other hand...

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back in the Classroom

Yesterday I was stuck in terrible traffic caused by a terrible fatal three-car accident caused by someone who was driving the wrong way on the freeway at 4 in the morning--sounds hard to do, but happens with more frequency than you might expect. The freeway was closed for investigation over several exits, or entrances; apparently the difference is not clear to some. The traffic delay gave me a chance to contemplate the meaning of life even before the teddy bears and plastic flowers are placed on the roadside at the scene: once I discovered why the traffic wasn't moving, I was in a spot where I couldn't change my course and go home to wait it out even if I'd wanted to.

It was the first time I've driven myself to work in over a month, commuting as I have been with the Wizard. Traveling together in his car has given me opportunity to gawk around and use mobile devices with impunity. A passive partner in the passenger seat, I've been listening to HIS Teaching Company lectures, so far learning rather dreary biographical information about Mozart, Mahler, Shostakovich, and Churchill. We have an informal agreement that the driver gets to choose the audio. (I'd rather listen to Mahler than hear about his personal misery, to say nothing of Shostakovich.)

But yesterday, because the Wizard is on the mainland, I had the opportunity to resume my own Teaching Company lessons in my own hot little car (his big car has air-con)--literally, The Meaning of Life, Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions.* I had left off the lectures before leaving for China in May, and then there was another sound system glitch that needed attention. It took some recollection, but I'd stopped just after Zen, and just before Hume--Lecture 22, Taking Stock of the Classical World. Since yesterday morning, I have quickly progressed from Hume to Kant to Mill to Nietzsche, with a little side trip into Tolstoy.

Who knew that The Death of Ivan Ilych could be interpreted as a Taoist fable? All through this journey into modernity and beyond, I was struck by ancient Taoist themes, usually just before the lecturer said, "Now this may remind you of the Taoists... ." Eastern thought is discussed far more --14 out of 36 TC lectures** --in this course than in any of the survey courses like this I took in college. In fact, I don't think Eastern thought was EVER included in my classic liberal arts humanities curriculum. Well, maybe once in a comparative religion class. In any case, I never would have expected to be listening to a lecture on "Nietzsche--Achieving Authenticity" some 40 years later in a traffic jam in Hawaii. Some eight o'clock class!

And now I'm looking forward to the drive home: moving on to Gandhi, Lame Deer, and the Dalai Lama, before the concluding lecture, "So, What Is the Meaning of Life?"

I just can't wait to find out. But it's a question I'll likely be asking until I die.

*The Wizard and I are both fans of The Teaching Company. I should point out that the prices cited on the the site are never what we pay; I can't imagine that anyone would...the ongoing "sales" are far more reasonable, and we expect to donate our collected curriculum to the university we both work at or pass them on to persons in need of education.
**And counting two lectures on Lame Deer, the Lakota Sioux medicine man, I think it adds up to a pretty nice balance of East and West, indigenous and European thinkers.


The Rambling Taoist said...

I've earned 3 college degrees over my lifetime (2 BAs & 1 MS). In the hundreds of hours spent in class or preparing for such, I can't remember one instance of a reference to eastern thought! I also thought it was interesting that in history class we seemed to cover every continent EXCEPT Asia.

It's almost like the westernized world is scared of the East.

baroness radon said...

Perhaps things have changed since we were in school. Maybe not...we've added American Studies, Women's Studies, Self-esteem Studies, all kinds of weird things. This TC course is remarkably comprehensive, and it is quite interesting how the lecturer weaves the Asian stuff in and out of the classic western stuff. I highly recommend it. (And The Death of Ivan Ilych.)

And regarding history, no wonder everyone is so taken with something like "The Rape of Nanjing" or the Dalai Lama's exile. Those were just peripheral news stories to whatever was "really " happening.

Or the power of Gandhi, as a product of both worlds, really was scary...

baroness radon said...

And thanks for reading. I was a little bored today, and tossed this off just for activity's sake. Sometimes posts I think are the most thoughtless, are the ones that generate comments.

The Rambling Taoist said...

I've noticed that too. Often the posts I write that I think are less interesting or not up to snuff are the ones in which I receive the most comments on. Weird!

I think there is a Taoist tie-in, though. It has to do with our own pre-defined expectations.

baroness radon said...

Excellent point.

sybil law said...

Man. All I do when I drive is bitch about other drivers and crank music!

baroness radon said...

Whatever gives your life's all in the context and it's all up to you. I'm not above an occasional obscene gesture and my iPod is my friend.c