Friday, February 18, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

One Book on Going Off to War

Welcome to this week's Literary Blog Hop as usual  hosted by the ladies from The Blue Bookcase!. The question for this hop has been sent in by  Mel u from, The Reading Life -"Not long ago I read and posted on The Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama, 1966. It is one of the very best novels about WWII, written from the point of view of a Japanese Buddhist who was drafted as a combat soldier. He had no idea how long he would be gone or if he would really ever return. He had room in his backpack for one book, so he took The Red and the Black by Stendhal. He carried it through the jungles of South Asia for 4 years. He said it helped keep him sane in the face of all the horrors he saw. This made me wonder what work of literary fiction I would take with me under similar circumstances."

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which literary book would you take and why?

My choice would be the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.  Having just reread this inspirational book I believe that it would be a good companion as I went off to war for several reasons.  First, Marcus wrote the Meditations during the last decade of his life when he spent most of his time at war on the German frontier.  Second, the original title of the book was literally "Thoughts to myself" and in writing these thoughts Marcus provided a unique narrative raising issues of philosophy and more particularly how one should practice philosophy in living his life.  In doing this we find thoughts about the nature of the world, the question of the role of fate in one's life and how one can reasonable face the inevitability of one's own death.  Third, Marcus raises these questions and generally espouses a philosophic viewpoint that is known as stoicism.  A central principle of this view is that one should focus on those things that one has control over and not be affected by those things that one cannot control.
Marcus discusses how to apply this philosophy in your own life as in this passage from Book 3:
“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you might be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature . . . you will be happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.” (3.12)
This book is repetitious but this serves to reinforce the process of reasoning about your place in the universe.  Within this reasoning and many aphoristic comments it contains enough philosophizing to keep your mind occupied even as the bombs may be loudly crashing in the background.  Marcus Aurelius perhaps came the closest to being a "Philosopher-King" in the Platonic sense and as such he had a special perspective that allowed him to think about philosophy even as he avoided creating a traditional philosophic treatise.  There are several good modern translations that make this book accessible for the general reader.  I know I have found it to be inspirational in my normal life and think it would be a good companion for any extreme situation in which I might find myself.


parrish lantern said...

Great choice, although if I was to choose a work by a philosopher, It would probably be Thus Spake Zarathrusta, I love & have come to this book several times .

James said...

Nietzsche's Zarathustra is great choice. It is definitely a beautifully written literary philosophical tome and as such it is very different from the typical treatise. I think I would also find it an excellent companion to have during an "extreme" experience.

gautami tripathy said...

Fantastic, I say! I never thought of him!

Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

I haven't read this, but it sounds amazing ;)

I'm following from the hop.

Anonymous said...

It's so interesting to read other people's private thoughts. I chose a journal too (Anne Frank's Diary). It would definitely help keep loneliness at bay.

James said...

Thanks for your comments. I agree that people's private thoughts can be enlightening.