Spain’s Most Celebrated Writer Believes the Fascist Past Is Still Present
Javier Marías has spent his career chronicling his country’s moral trade-off with its violent history.
Aug 3, 2019
Javier Marías has spent his career chronicling his country’s moral trade-off with its violent history.
Type Of Study:
One Off Event
Great Ideas, Great Books is our ongoing, monthly Salon where you will encounter the core texts and core ideas in the western
Great Ideas, Great Books is our ongoing, monthly Salon where you will encounter the core texts and core ideas in the western intellectual tradition. Each month, we read a key work by authors such as Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Milton, Marx, Austen and Eliot. Through these works, you will wrestle with the basic and enduring questions of what it means to be human: What is right and wrong? How do we come to know things? What do we owe to our families, our society, ourselves? What is happiness? What is a good life? What is a good society? We will talk about justice, morality, beauty, love, honor, death, government, society, goodness, community.
To encourage careful reading, and to fit our discussions into busy lives, we keep each month’s selection to a manageable length. For longer works, we read the book over two or more months, or we read substantial selections that present an author’s most important ideas.
During our discussions, we examine a reading from many different angles, puzzling over difficult passages, exploring the intricacies of a plot line, the layers of meaning in a poetic phrase, the subtleties of an argument or the implications of a thesis. We examine the ideas an author has set out, and consider them seriously. We also step back from the details to see whether what an author has to say makes sense and is relevant to us or not.
You don’t need any specialized knowledge or background in classic literature to join Great Ideas, Great Books. It is our expectation that most participants will be reading many of the authors for the first time. All you really need is a willingness to read carefully, listen thoughtfully and entertain new and sometimes-challenging ideas.
In our first year since starting in September 2018, Great Ideas, Great Books has dwelt in the ancient Greek world, with Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle. As the program progresses, we will move to later works including those from the Roman world, from the Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition, the middle ages and enlightenment, up to modern thought. Great Ideas is structured as a long-term project, with the flexibility to direct our focus to differing topics and time periods according to the interests of the group.
Our readings so far:
September 2018—Homer, The Iliad, Books 1 – 12
October 2018—Homer, The Iliad, Books 13 – 24
November 2018—Herodotus, The Persian Wars, selection
December 2018—Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, selection
January 2019—Plato, Meno
February 2019—Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
March 2019— Sophocles, Antigone
April 2019—Aristotle, Poetics
May 2019—Plato, Apology, Crito, Phaedo
June 2019—Euripides, Medea
17 September 2019—The Epic of Gilgamesh
15 October 2019—Plato, Republic, Books 1 – 5
19 November 2019—Plato, Republic, Books 6 – 10
The Great Ideas group currently has two seats available. Registration for Great Ideas, Great Books is in six-month subscriptions. The £25 per month registration includes introductory notes that set the context for each reading, and questions to help focus your reading and prompt your thinking about key aspects of the text.
TO REGISTER for the study, please use the secure Paypal payment button below to pay £150. Opening notes will be sent shortly after registration.
“Here came the sun—an illimitable rapture of joy, embracing every flower, every leaf. Then in compassion it withdrew, covering its face, as
“Here came the sun—an illimitable rapture of joy, embracing every flower, every leaf. Then in compassion it withdrew, covering its face, as if it forbore to look on human suffering. There was a fecklessness, a lack of symmetry and order in the clouds, as they thinned and thickened. Was it their own law, or no law they obeyed?” —Between the Acts
** THREE SPACES REMAINING as of August 1st***
To register for the Salon study, please use the Paypal button below to pay £165: (Please pay for the room directly to No4St Ives once your registration has been confirmed):
This is something I have dreamed of doing since I first read Woolf’s magical book To the Lighthouse— it has haunted me always. The opportunity to study Woolf’s writing with a keen group of minds in the place that is so inspired her writing is simply delicious…HUGE thanks to Sharon for being the organisational force here.
Virginia Woolf: “If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying in bed, half-asleep, haf awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one two, behind a yellow blind […}. If I were a painter I should paint these impressions in pale yellow, silver, and green. There was the pale yellow blind; the green sea; and the silver of the passion flowers.”
“Here is the past and all its inhabitants miraculously sealed as in a magic tank.”
“The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surace of a deep river. Then one sees through the surface to the depths. The past sometimes presses so close that you can feel nothing else.”
—“Sketch of the Past,” begun in June 1939.
Virginia Woolf spent much of her childhood in St. Ives. The London Literary Salon invites you to join us in St Ives to explore this lovely coastal town and have it serve as a prism through which we will explore Woolf’s perspectives on landscape, domesticity, historical inheritance and identity in her novel Between the Acts. We have already completed four magical weekends with Woolf’s writings in the environment that inspired it– this is an incredible experience!
You will have the opportunity to visit the iconic Tate St Ives gallery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, built between 1988 and 1993 on the site of an old gasworks, and there will be an optional boat trip to Godrevy Lighthouse.
We may also look at Talland House, now privately owned, her childhood summer home. For several months of the year the elegant house overlooking St Ives Bay would be the Stephens’ family home until 1895 when Virginia’s mother Julia Stephen died. Although the complete family never returned to St Ives following their mother’s death, her children travellled back in 1905 following the death of their father in 1904.
Accommodation: We are working with No4 St Ives which is just steps from Talland House and has an elevated position overloooking St Ives Bay. It is a 5 minute walk from the beach and St Ives Town Centre.
Rooms at No4 St Ives range from £110-£140 per night– if the room is shared, the cost is halved; breakfast included. Some of us plan to stay Sunday night as well to be able to enjoy an extra day in this beautiful site. The entire cost is to be paid upfront. If for some reason you are unable to attend, we will work to find someone to replace you & reimburse you for the room but can not guarantee that is possible. The Salon cost may be applied to a later study.
Train cost is approx. £70 each way(cheaper if bought earlier)
Salon cost is £165– this includes a two-hour meeting Tuesday October 15th to start the study before the trip — as well as copious notes & critical resources. We will meet around eight hours over the weekend. The first meeting starts at 5:45 Friday evening; the last meeting is scheduled for 9:30-11:30 Sunday morning. On previous trips, many have stayed in St Ives through Sunday evening to have time for further exploration and reflection. Please discuss this option with Sue and Mike from No4 St Ives if you are interested.
We will enjoy dinner out on Friday and Saturday…other costs will include the optional boat trip & visit to the St Ives gallery.
Getting there: The train from London takes just over five hours, with one change at St Erth for the branch line to St Ives.
This event and other in-depth explorations of Virginia Woolf and her works can be found on the website of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain
More on the study Of Between the Acts:
Virginia Woolf’s lyric prose and gorgeous vision combine to consider the sense of exhaustion that punctuated the Modernist period leading up to WW II. Edward Mendelson describes the book: “Everything comes to an end in Between the Acts, and then, as the book itself comes to an end, something unknowable begins.” The book includes a pageant composed of imaginary episodes from 1000 years of English history, and a close examination of the intricacies of village life in England in the days leading up to WW II. As always, it is Woolf’s penetrating consideration of intimate relationships and the places where language fails—but something else transcends—that lift this work from “the doom of sudden death hanging over us” as one of her characters describes.
Part of the challenge when reading Woolf is to understand it is not the action that matters but the impression of thoughts; it is by attending to the pattern and signification of thoughts and impressions that we will uncover meaning, innovation. While Woolf was writing this novel, she had written in a letter to Stephen Spender: “I think action generally unreal. It’s the thing we do in the dark that is more real; the thing we do because peoples eyes are on us seems to me histrionic, small boyish” (Letters Volume 6, April 1937). Although Woolf was to invoke the illumination of light, it is the darkness in the human mind that she was becoming more fascinated with as she witnessed Europe spinning towards war as she wrote this, her last book. As Julia Briggs comments,
Oh beautiful and bounteous light on the table; oil lamp; ancient and out-of-date lamp…are the first words that Woolf typed out in April 1938 (as she began BTA)…
The lamp traditionally stands for illumination…yet this novel seeks for the darkness that lies beyond and beneath light and reason: lust, jealousy, contempt, the eruptions of anger and desire that are part of the night world…( J. Briggs, Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, p. 373)
As one of the primary modernist writers, Woolf plays with language; testing its ability to truly reflect human experience by recording the life of the mind not just action. Her narrative form reflects one of the characteristics of Modernist writing in its shifting centre of narrative perspective reflecting a questioning of ultimate and moral authority that characterized the time with the dissolution of Imperialism and absolute values.
Writing from the edge of the violent shift from Victorian to Modernist era, the loss of an old world in the violent destruction of war and massive social change, Woolf’s ambivalence is demonstrated in her work. She struggles against the boundaries and structures of the Victorian era while holding a great longing and nostalgia for the noble traditions of the time. Between The Acts reflects this ambivalence in its nostalgia for a lost English idyll, celebrated in the world of Pointz Hall as well as the pageant itself. Studying this work in 2019, we may find much to consider about our current struggle to understand ourselves in reflection of the past: how we might create an idea of a simpler time that edits out the struggle of many whose story does not figure prominently in the revised history. I suggest Woolf in Between the Acts engages this historic myopia and reflects the discomfort and internal hypocrisies that result.
To understand this book, you will want to read with a wide awake mind and then re-read once you have played on the surface of plot and character. Notice how the descriptions along the edges—the fragments, the other stories invoked, the pastiche of the pageant—all comment on and expand the central narrative.
If you have any questions about this study, please contact us.
“If his Russian was music, his English was murder.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin “Pnin. It’s under two hundred pages! You
“If his Russian was music, his English was murder.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin
“Pnin. It’s under two hundred pages! You can probably read it in a couple of years.” ― Gary Shteyngart
Pnin is the hidden gem of the Nabokov canon, a comedy of academic manners, a funny, engaging and beguiling portrait of an emigré Russian professor at an American college.
Timofey Pnin starts off as a M. Hulot figure, setting off to deliver a lecture to the Cremona Women’s Club – “some two hundred versts west” of Pnin’s home campus of Waindell College (inspired by the author’s tenure at Cornell in upstate New York). But Pnin is on the wrong train. From this farcical beginning, the character of Pnin deepens into a memorable portrait of an emigré in a strange land, seeking quiet in his rented room, job security amid the bewildering campus politics, connection with his colleagues and students while trying to come to terms with the family, lovers and culture which he has lost.
The book comes between the two masterpieces Lolita (completed in1955) and Pale Fire (1962). Between the monstrous Humbert Humbert of Lolita and the deranged Charles Kinbote of Pale Fire, Nabokov created the sane and decent Professor Timofey Pnin. Indeed, Nabokov wrote the first chapter while struggling to complete Lolita, calling it in a letter to a friend a “brief sunny escape from Lolita’s intolerable spell”.
Vladimir Nabokov asserted in his Lectures on Literature that : “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only re-read it.” Pnin is short enough to be read closely in the approved obsessive Nabokovian manner, and re-read, over three Salon sessions. This salon is recommended for readers seeking an accessible introduction to Nabokov and for those salonistas in the midst of huge complex books who might relish an immersion in something short, funny but no less rewarding.
Finally – Pnin is pronounced “P-neen”. Nabokov advised an interviewer “to try the combination “Up North” or still better “Up, Nina!” – leaving out the initial “u”. Pnorth, Pnina, Pnin.”
TO REGISTER for the study, please use the secure Paypal payment button below to pay £75 . Opening notes will be sent shortly after registration.
If you have any questions about this study, please contact us.
At the London Literary Salon we offer a special blend of great literature, great ideas and great conversation. We also know that
At the London Literary Salon we offer a special blend of great literature, great ideas and great conversation. We also know that our weekly studies are sometimes hard to fit in among the demands of everyday life. If you’re looking to add more meaningful conversation into your life, without another 100 pages a week to read—our Spontaneous Philosophy Study has the answer!
Each month we meet—with no prep necessary—for an on-the-spot close reading of a short passage from the great authors that we read elsewhere in the Salon. This study might also be called Short Works, Big Ideas. We read concise and provocative passages from the likes of Plato, Kant, Marx, Mill, Dewey, James, Confucius, Kafka and lots more.
To add to the fun, the author and reading each month are a surprise: everyone will be seeing the text for the first time, with all the excitement of encountering the ideas fresh together. Together we work our way through one to four pages each time, mostly from the giants of philosophy, but with the occasional short story, poem, or even a fairy tale tossed in—you won’t know until you show up. The emphasis is on close reading and a shared inquiry to build understand of new ideas.
Meetings are on the third or fourth Tuesday of the month, 6:00pm to 8:30pm, at the lovely Rudolf Steiner House just below Regent’s Park.
Registration is £15, which covers our room charge and a bit for the facilitator. After you RSVP, all you’ll need to do is show up and be ready to think! Seats are limited, so be sure to RSVP by registering via Paypal below. If you prefer, you can send an email to facilitator Mark Cwik, as well.
Spontaneous Philosophy is a low-advance-commitment way to practice some intellectual self-care, with a bit of hard thinking and a lot of good discussion.
TO REGISTER for the Spontaneous Philosophy study, please use the secure Paypal payment button below to pay £15.
T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
–From ‘Burnt Norton’
T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ is often described as the best long poem of the 20th century. Eliot’s vast final work attempted to order and understand the movement of time, the dissatisfaction of worldly experience, the nature of purgation and the struggle towards artistic wholeness and spiritual health (modified from C.K. Stead). In the poem, Eliot weaves belief systems and diverse influences including Dante, The Bhagavad Gita, The Eightfold Path of Buddhism, the New Testament, medieval mystics, Greek myths and the Grail Legend: so our study will also involve comparing wisdom traditions.
I will provide each participant with pages of annotations and reference reading (gratefully donated by Mike McGarry, fellow educator and philosopher)—but as always with the Salon work, the focus is on the text itself. In previous Salons, we have found our way to thoughtful considerations of various belief systems in a respectful atmosphere; this study will open up space for such considerations using the poem as a spring board. What we believe—as individuals, as cultures—addresses how we live and how we try to invest our lives with meaning. Eliot is taking on these elemental questions through his Anglo-Catholic faith but drawing into this perspective wisdom across time and beliefs.
TO REGISTER for the study, please use the secure Paypal payment button below to pay £95. Opening notes will be sent shortly after registration. The study is limited to 11 participants. Please contact us if you have any questions.
Christopher Guerin, writing in the on-line magazine ‘When Falls the Coliseum’, describes his pleasure in the poem:
“Though I first studied the poem in college — emphasis on “studied”, which doesn’t always mean “experience” or “appreciate” — my firstencounter with Four Quartets took place while being chased by fierce thunderstorms across Interstate 70 in Kansas in the early evening. (I learned the next day that I had been surrounded by tornados!) I had put in a cassette recording I’d made off an LP of Four Quartets being read by Sir Alec Guinness.
No, the incredible impression the poem made on me at the time had nothing to do with Obi Wan Kenobi. Guinness’ delivery, though, seems the perfect voice for this poem, much more earnest and spiritually aware than Eliot’s own weary, almost defeated delivery. (The recording is hard to find, but well worth the search. Highly recommended.)
From the beginning, I was captivated by the cadence, the imagery, and the playful, seeking nature of the words. It’s impossible to quote anything less than the whole of the first section…”
Which he does—and you can read the rest of his commentary and selections of the poem here.
We will consider each Quartet in one meeting– reflecting on the other sections as they expand and invigorate the one in front of us. The facilitated discussion will use the text of the poem as a springboard for our conversation; participant questions, responses and ideas are welcomed to help navigate the challenges of the work. There is no expectation of previous study or work with the poem nor in the academic tradition: this study will challenge and invigorate the first time reader as well as the life-long lover of T.S. Eliot’s extraordinary vision.
The poem can be found in T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems 1909-62 (Faber & Faber; ISBN-13: 978-0571105489).