Profs explain fundamentals of favorite books

By Isa Haviland

More than sixty students gathered in Stuart Hall on Wednesday for a lecture entitled “The Power of Books,” organized by the Fundamentals department and featuring professors Patchen Markell, Stephen Meredith and Nathan Tarcov discussing texts of particular importance to them.

A part of the New Collegiate Division, Fundamentals: Issues and Texts is a program that allows students to explore fundamental questions of their choice through the analysis of seminal texts from a variety of disciplines. Application to the program takes place in students’ first year, and the lecture on Wednesday offered prospective concentrators a chance to experience the thorough method of analysis and criticism of texts characteristic of Fundamentals courses.

Patchen Markell, an associate professor of Political Science, has taught classes focused on the theories of Marx, Hegel and Arendt. “I do my best thinking when I have someone else’s book in my hands,” said Markell, discussing his admiration of the power of books and his excitement about teaching in Fundamentals. Markell’s lecture centered on Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition and on his approach to understanding it—an approach he described as an attempt to capture the “kineticism” of Arendt’s thinking. Markell emphasized independence of mind and a sense of responsibility to the text as essential characteristics of a critical reader, and identified Arendt’s aim for humanity—to “think what we are doing”—as his own aim as a reader in relation to her text. Only at the U of C, said Markell, could he devote a class to carrying out this aim for a single book.

Professor Stephen Meredith presented his own text of choice, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, framed within his fascination with the theological problem of evil. During his lecture, Meredith read several vivid selections from the novel related to the problem of evil and discussed the importance of the character Ivan Karamazov. A professor in Pathology and the Biological Sciences, Meredith also teaches classes in the Fundamentals department on James Joyce’s Ulysses, The Brothers Karamazov, and the works of Thomas Aquinas.

Machiavelli’s Prince was the final text discussed in the lecture, presented by Political Science professor Nathan Tarcov. Nathan Tarcov is the author of several books exploring the works of Locke, Rousseau and Machiavelli, among others. Tarcov explained the importance of The Prince as “a celebration of power, and a celebration of the power of books” and emphasized intertextuality as a fundamental part of liberal education.

At the end of the lecture, students enjoyed refreshments and mingled with the professors. Several current Fundamentals students also attended the lecture, and remained at the end to answer questions from first-years. “It was this same lecture four years ago that made me want to be a Fundamentals major,” said Keith Budner, who was originally planning to study Art History but decided to explore the concepts of art and beauty through the analysis of texts. Applications to major in Fundamentals were available for interested students, and are due April 27th.