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Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival of Higher Education [Hardcover]

By Mr. Jeffrey Hart (Author)
Our Price $ 22.91  
Retail Value $ 26.95  
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Item Number 159446  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   288
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.68" Width: 5.9" Height: 0.93"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Aug 31, 2001
Publisher   Yale University Press
ISBN  0300087047  
EAN  9780300087048  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Although the essential books of Western civilization are no longer central in our courses or in our thoughts, they retain their ability to energize us intellectually, says Jeffrey Hart in this powerful book. He now presents a guide to some of these literary works, tracing the main currents of Western culture for all who wish to understand the roots of their civilization and the basis for its achievements. Hart focuses on the productive tension between the classical and biblical strains in our civilization-- between a life based on cognition and one based on faith and piety. He begins with the Iliad and Exodus, linking Achilles and Moses as Bronze Age heroic figures. Closely analyzing texts and illuminating them in unexpected ways, he moves on to Socrates and Jesus, who "internalized the heroic," continues with Paul and Augustine and their Christian synthesis, addresses Dante, Shakespeare (Hamlet), Molire, and Voltaire, and concludes with the novel as represented by Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby. Hart maintains that the dialectical tensions suggested by this survey account for the restlessness and singular achievements of the West and that the essential books can provide the substance and energy currently missed by both students and educated readers.

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > United States > History & Criticism > Literary Th   [4875  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > College & University > General   [2888  similar products]
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > College & University   [146  similar products]
4Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > Education Theory > Aims & Objectives   [674  similar products]
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > General   [28115  similar products]
6Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Education > By Level > College   [2643  similar products]

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
The Tension Between Faith and Reason  Oct 1, 2004
Jeffrey Hart, the author of "Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe" is an eccentric Professor Emeritus from Dartmouth. Following in the footsteps of his own professors, who included Jacques Barzun and Mark Van Doren, Hart is a great proponent of Western Civilization and a truly liberal education. In the wake of the multiculturist wave that swept academic in the 1980's, he became an outspoken advocate of the traditional "Great Books" education that was once the foundation of a liberal arts education. In his preface, he cites the premise advanced by one of his own professors at Dartmouth, a German refugee named Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy who felt that the goal of the educational system must be to help create citizens who he defined as a "person who if need be, can re-create his civilization." Hart wants an educated American to "understand his civilization in the large, its shape and texture, its narrative and its major themes, its important areas of thought, its philosophies and religious controversies, its scientific development, its major works of the imagination." These are demanding but laudable goals and in this short book of essays Hart illuminates the tensions in western culture between the classical secular philosophical foundation on one hand and the moral and religious tradition on the other. He feels that it is this tension, the attempt to reconcile reason and faith that makes western civilization unique. In my own reading, it is this balance between faith and reason that is perhaps the central element in the American founding. In many of these essays, which the author has clearly thought through over decades of teaching, he contrasts intellectual figures from the world of secular reason with those who have been religiously inspired. Hart contrasts Athens with Jerusalem, Socrates with Jesus, Moliere with Voltaire, Dosteyevsky with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other essays include "Moses as an Epic Hero" and one on St. Paul. Although this book was written in reaction to what the author felt was a cultural crisis, the title is not particularly apt as the book is not a manifesto of any kind, but an elegantly written meditation on the great literary and philosophical classics that Jeffrey Hart introduced generations of students to.
defending the permanent things  Apr 18, 2003
Well known for his eccentric behavior at Dartmouth (such as sporting raccoon coats, using walking canes, sipping alcohol from a flask at football games, driving gas-guzzling cars, as well as for a wooden grabbing contraption used to great effect at faculty meetings), Jeffrey Hart here offers an eloquent defense of what others have called the permanent things. And the greatest defender of those things is education, which provides citizens the tools to recreate civilization if necessary.

Hart argues, quite convincingly, that the motive force of Western civilization is the tension between Athens and Jerusalem, between secularism and faith. He devotes the first part of his book to the background of this idea and exploring it in early literary works. He compares Homer's epics, particularly The Iliad, to the early books of the Bible, which could properly be called The Mosead; Homer depicts the pursuit of warrior heroism and arete (excellence), while Moses represents the triumph of monotheism. In Socrates and Jesus (the latter of whom is given a literary reading), Hart locates shifts within the respective spheres. Socrates takes the Homeric pursuit of excellence and turns it into the pursuit of philosophy and truth. On the Jerusalem side, Jesus marks a movement from the outwardly oriented Mosaic Law toward a more internal sense of holiness. This first section--the explication of the Great Narrative--concludes with Paul, who represents a sort of synthesis between Athens and Jerusalem, bringing together Greek philosphy and Judeo-Christian religion.

In the second section ("Explorations"), Hart traces these tensions throughout various works of literature, beginning with Augustine's Confessions, a work of interior exploration. Hart also treats Dante and Shakespeare, as well as the Enlightenment authors Moliere and Voltaire, who attempted to bring about a Jerusalem-to-Athens shift. Voltaire fairs exceedingly well in the analysis of this conservative writer. Hart admires in the Frenchman his wit and his energy and, indeed, acknowledges that the Englightment, whatever its flaws and ill consequences, is "indispensable." He concludes with a juxtaposed analysis of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. He offers a not entirely original argument of Raskolnikov as Hamlet ("Hamlet in St. Petersburg"), but his reading of Gatsby ("Faust in Great Neck") is both interesting and fascinating--Gatsby is a sort of magician and the work as a whole embodies magical transformation as the essence of modernity.

In the Afterword, Hart presents a delightful and delicious skewering of multiculturalism and finishes on a note of optimism: that we are slowly returning to cognition rather than ideology in our institutions of learning. For that reason, and for Hart's book, we can smile through the cultural catastrophe.

Back to Basics  Jun 10, 2002
Like Harold Bloom's HOW TO READ AND WHY, this book is mistitled. It does not take on the "cultural catastrophe" or deal with the "revival of higher education." Hart has his favorite works of Western thought and literature and discusses them intelligently and entertainingly but does not relate them to what is now going on in college classrooms, as his title suggests. What he does is relate religious thought and texts to secular thought and texts throughout the centuries. He compares and contrasts the religious ideas of the Judeo-Christian tradition to the secular ideas of the Enlightenment and modern works as embodied in Homer, Moses, Socrates, Jesus, St. Paul, Augustine, Dante, Hamlet, Moliere, Voltaire, Dostoevsky, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you're interested in the ideas of these people and their works, you should enjoy the book.

Of course, the title Hart chose (or maybe his publisher chose it) is more likely to sell books than a more accurate title would.

Hart's only reference to cultural catastrophe is this line in his afterword: "multiculturalism is an ideological academic fantasy maintained in obvious bad faith."

A treasure!  May 11, 2002
As an autodidact who is often beguiled, misled, and exasperated by where my search for knowledge takes me, as well as by the poorly thought out and more poorly written books I often begin to read, I was pleased upon starting Hart's fine treatise to realize that I was holding a treasure. Hart can write, and his detailed overview of the salient works of the Western Literary Tradition sparkles with insight and knowledge, manifesting a fine mind and much careful research and deliberation of his subject. Buy it and read it; you'll be thrilled by what you learn!
Enduring Questions with Elusive Answers  Apr 10, 2002
Hart is obviously concerned, deeply concerned about certain trends in higher education which he perceives to be neither "higher" nor more "educational" than others. On the contrary, he views them as having resulted in a cultural "catastrophe." In the Preface, he recalls a professor of his at Dartmouth, Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy, who once asserted that "the goal of education is the citizen. He defined the citizen in a radical and original way arising out of his own twentieth-century experience. He said that a citizen is a person who, if need be, can re-create his civilization." This is one of Hart's core concepts throughout the book. For him, the most central of narratives to explain history, "one which goes furthest, I think, in covering the facts, has been called 'Athens and Jerusalem.'" The former represents a philosophic-scientific approach to actuality, with the goal being cognition; the latter represents a scriptural tradition of disciplined insight and the aspiration to holiness.

Hart was motivated to write this book because, as he explains, "....I sense that out across our nation, the dark fields of the republic as Nick Carraway called it, a growing number of students and professors long for something more serious and more lasting. Therefore my title [was selected] because of the intellectual force and civilizing energy of the indispensable works to be considered." He organizes his material within two Parts: "The Great Narrative" (focusing on the juxtaposition of "Athens and Jerusalem," Moses, Socrates, Jesus, and Paul) and "Explorations" (focusing on Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Moliere, Voltaire, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hart's primary objective in this book, as I see it, is to suggest how a rigorous consideration of what he calls the "Athens and Jerusalem" narrative can help to revive higher education from "the dark fields" in which it now finds itself.

At this point, I'd like to share a few concerns of my own within the context of discussing Hart's book. First, according to substantial research, approximately 35% of public high school graduates are functional illiterates; the percentage is even higher among those who attempt to enlist in one of the military services. Second, other research studies indicate that approximately 90% of those now teaching in public schools will continue to do so through the year 2015. Finally, at least one research study of public schools in California suggests that only 35% of each hour in a classroom is devoted to completing an academic task of some kind. If these statistics are to be believed, even allowing for some variances of percentage, the "catastrophe" to which Hart refers has implications far beyond higher education.

As indicated earlier, I share many of his concerns. Having taught for thirteen years in two New England boarding schools (Kent and St. George's) after earning a graduate degree in comparative literature at Yale and, more recently, being involved with the Aspen Institute's Executive Seminars, I also share Hart's passion for "The Great Narrative" and lament its widespread neglect in undergraduate liberal arts education. Many other readers will also share Hart's concerns but disagree with his proposed responses to the causes of those concerns. It remains for each reader to determine whether or not Hart's analysis is valid Also, to determine if it would be desirable to re-establish the "Athens and Jerusalem" narrative, "The Great Narrative," as a core curriculum, at least in four-year colleges and universities. True to the spirit of Western Civilization, Hart raises only the most important questions. Man's efforts to answer them continues. Meanwhile, Pilgrims are well-advised to remember Voltaire's admonition: "Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it."


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