Thursday, August 29, 2019

Book Review: An Autodidact's Book

This book, How to Keep from Losing Your Mind: Educating Yourself Classically to Survive Cultural Indoctrination by Deal W. Hudson, which I read in a pre-publication PDF version, is being released soon by TAN Books:

Liberal education is nothing other than the acquisition of a free mind.

Unfortunately, too many of us have a mind shackled by ideologies and moved by outside forces. We’re pulled and pushed by trends and the prevailing culture. Higher education has become ridiculously expensive and is producing graduates whose minds are anything but free, filled as they are with the prejudices of their teachers.

Only when we break these shackles and habitually exercise a free mind can we call ourselves liberally educated.

How to Keep from Losing Your Mind, Deal Hudson will show you how to avoid the false open-mindedness and groupthink of the modern “-isms” promoted by the PC arbiters of our cultural milieu. Instead you’ll learn to:
  • Form the habit of reconsideration, the key to a truly open mind
  • Entertain doubts about your own immediate opinions
  • Argue coherently from first principles, instead of repeating ideological talking points
  • Recognize prejudice and propaganda
  • Avoid sloganeering and engage in real thought
This book will enable every person to rise above the shouting, the name-calling, and the brutal incivility of public discourse and rediscover the pleasure and benefit of contemplating the meaning and noble aims of human life.

Deal asked for early reviewers and offered to send the .pdf file the day after our local G.K. Chesterton group met to discuss the section on the English education system in What's Wrong with the World, and as I started to read How to Read From Losing Your Mind, I thought the timing couldn't be more providential. For in the early twentieth century, Chesterton was already seeing the innovations and distractions that were destroying the education system in England, particularly the rejection of what he saw as the most important purpose of education: handing on the traditions and the truths of Western Christian (Catholic) culture. Chesterton noted that all education is dogmatic: even those who teach there are no truths to convey have a dogma to teach. If the educators don't recognize that fact they won't even know what they're teaching their students. (And the students would know it.)

What Deal Hudson does in this book is help us teach ourselves--be autodidacts--about the classic works of literature, film, and music (adding the last two to the usual consideration of the Western Classical Tradition) and then help us maneuver in the world of social media, the mainstream mass media, and the progressive, anti-traditional cultural milieu we face--where we can lose our minds (and souls). He doesn't reject the internet, citing many sources, especially for musical compositions, that are on-line. Finally, he examines the Four Loves delineated by C.S. Lewis (Storge/Parental Love, Philia/Friendship, Eros, and Agape) and the classic works of literature, film, and music that depict them.

These three parts of the book reflect the three transcendentals that have always kept men and women from losing their minds: Beauty ("The Irresistible Canon"), Truth ("Bad Ideas in Motion"), and Goodness ("Love is the Crux"). Like the line from the Rilke poem in Chapter One, "You Must Change Your Life", the image on the cover depicts what great works of art mean to us and the roles they play in our lives: to challenge, inspire, and educate us: to see more than we have seen before. Hudson goes on to urge us to read or view or listen to works that don't immediately conform to our own comfort, that may be dark or tragic.

In Part One, on Beauty, Hudson argues that there is a canon: "There Are Great Books" and many experts, whom we should generally trust, have identified essential works of literature (novels, plays, short stories, epics, poems, etc). He recommends Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, surveys other experts' lists, and makes his own suggestions (Wilfred Owen for first-time poetry readers). In Chapters Three and Four, Hudson expands the Canon of great works of art to music (classical and film soundtracks) and movies. In both chapters, he offers brief historical sketches, experts to trust, and examples of great works from Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium and Bach's Mass in B minor to D.W. Griffith's Way Down East and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky (The Mirror and Andrei Rublev). In the next two chapters, Hudson exemplifies how to read, listen to, engage with works of art, offering insights into the poetry of Elizabeth Jennings, Gerald Finzi's setting of Thomas Traherne's poetry in Dies Natalis, and John Ford's 3 Godfathers, a Western genre film perfect for Christmastime viewing.

In Part Two, on Truth, Hudson offers advice--using great works of literature, music, and movies--to help us navigate our current culture. Insights from Pieper at Leisure, Thoreau by Walden Pond, and Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" help the reader take time and pay attention. He urges us to study history and gain cultural literacy with E.D. Hirsch, and learn more about military and religious history with Camille Paglia so we can remember where "we've" been and know where we're going. Among the clouds of witnesses Hudson presents to help us think about human nature and human rights are Pope St. John Paul II, Carl Linnaeus, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas--you'll keep good company in this book! Along with insights from Philip Rieff and Mary Beard, Hudson offers his own experiences as a student and professor in dealing with attacks of multiculturalism and feminism on the very canon of great works of Western civilization this book espouses. To help his readers avoid the influence of despots and dictators of every kind, from heads of nations to virtue-signalers on Twitter, Hudson offers insights from Joseph Roth, Arthur Miller, and Henryk Gorecki, among others, with an unspoken admonition--"Never forget!" In the final chapter of Part Two, Hudson faces the limitations of an education based on the classics of the Western Canon, reminding us through George Steiner--and others--that some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century were perpetrated by men and women with excellent educations. Nevertheless, as he concludes, an education in the classics at least plausibly offers us "freedom of mind" in an intelligible world.

So far, Hudson has not really offered his lists of recommended works beyond citing discrete examples as shown in the summaries above. When he gets to Goodness, however, and to Love, through exploring love in our families, among our friends, between lovers, and the love St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Hudson does give us lists of books, music, and movies. This is appropriate, because each of these four loves is demonstrated through action, not just feeling. The lover sings, tells stories, writes verse to describe her father, her friend, her spouse, her Savior. These are chapters to be read and re-read with beautiful, true, and good explorations of Homer's The Odyssey, Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, John Dowland's Songs, Hitchcock's Vertigo, Bruckner's Os Justi, Dreyer's Ordet, and Dante's Paradiso.

How does Hudson top that? With a discussion of Shakespeare and Cervantes, great contemporaries of early modern Europe, who both died in 1616 and have influenced drama and literature ever since. As Hudson notes early in the book, these great works are so accessible to us today, in print, on-line, in audio format. All any reader has to do, after consulting this book for orientation and guidance, is decide that he must change his life, then sit quietly and attend to avoid cultural indoctrination and be free.

The bibliography is comprehensive.

(I found a few errors in the book but they will be corrected in the second edition.)

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