Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "Emile"

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally, America in the Twentieth Century.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile begins:
In l987, Allan Bloom, who had translated Plato’s Republic in a way that made it possible for the reader to know what, previously, was only available to someone who could read it in the original Greek, wrote The Closing of the American Mind. This critique of American higher education demonstrated the utter failure of American universities to take seriously the liberal arts, or even to know what they were. It sold more than a million copies, made Bloom something of a national celebrity, and subjected him to considerable criticism, not to say abuse, much it coming from - where else? - American universities.

What his critics never understood, and would have dismissed as unimportant if they had, was that for much of his life Bloom studied what he translated, and that he understood, as his critics did not, that Plato’s Republic is the greatest book about education ever written. And if The Republic has not had much influence on modern education, it is because another book Bloom translated has dominated educational, and not just educational, thought since it was published in l779, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, a book Immanuel Kant thought an event comparable in importance to the French Revolution.

Emile or On Education, as is the full title, is Rousseau’s attempt to restore, on a more solid foundation, what the ancients tried to do: raise men and women who think everything about their country and little about themselves. He provides two remarkable examples to show, and to heighten, the contrast between the past and the present, one from ancient Sparta, one from the Roman republic. A Spartan woman is told that all five of her sons have been killed in battle. She shakes her head in annoyance. She does not want to hear about that, she wants to know if the battle had been won, and when she is told that it has, she goes to the temple to give thanks to the gods. A Roman general, Regulus, captured by the Carthaginians, is sent back to Rome to give the Roman senate the terms under which Carthage will end the war. He promises that once he has done this he will return. He goes to Rome, tells the senate what the Carthaginians propose, and urges the senate to reject the offer. The senate follows his advice, and Regulus, having given his word, goes back to Carthage and...[read on]
About Buffa's new novel Neumann’s Last Concert, from the publisher:
Neumann’s Last Concert is a story about music and war and the search for what led to the greatest evil in modern history. It is the story of an American boy, Wilfred Malone, who lost his father in the early days of the Second World War and a German refugee, Isaac Neumann, the greatest concert pianist of his age when he lived in Berlin, but who now lives, anonymous and alone, in a single rented room in a small town a few miles from San Francisco.

Wilfred has a genius for the piano, “a keen curiosity not yet corrupted by vanity” and “a memory that forgot nothing essential.” Neumann, alone in his room, is constantly writing, an endless labyrinth of questions and answers, driving him farther and farther back into the past, searching for the causes, searching for the meaning, of what happened in Germany, trying to understand what had led him, a German Jew, to stay in Germany when he could have left but instead continued to perform right up to the night that during his last concert they took his wife away.

Neumann’s Last Concert is a novel about the great catastrophe of the 20th century and the way in which music, great music, preserves both the hope of human decency amidst the carnage of human insanity and the possibility of what human beings might still accomplish.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

--Marshal Zeringue