Jaeger’s Paideia

Poetry, novels, short stories are remarkable antiquities which no longer fool anyone, or hardly anyone. Poems, narratives—what’s the use of them? There is nothing but writing left.

JMG Le Clézio, Foreword to La Fièvre

This week spent chiefly with the company of Werner Jaeger’s Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, published in Germany in 1931. Jaeger’s modern study of the cultural and educational value of ancient Greece through its literature seems a good direction after immersion in Pascal Quignard’s work.

Though both writers would agree that ancient Greek and Roman culture is part of a continuum, Quignard would rightly sneer at Jaeger’s dismissal of Chinese, Indian, Babylonian and Egyptian culture’s formative influence on the Greek literary conception of mind. Paideia, translated by Gilbert Highet, is a culturally conservative engagement but brilliantly erudite and beautifully translated, so will continue to be my companion for several weeks. I sit with crossed hands during Jaeger’s flights of elitism but little is more interesting than to persist with a brilliant but flawed exploration.

4 thoughts on “Jaeger’s Paideia

  1. I noticed your twitter announcement. I am relatively new to the space and with judicious employment of the mute and block buttons I am still enjoying the information/discussions that I find. It has also facilitated some vital connections to authors, translators, and publishers that I would not have made otherwise. However, most of those connections expand off the grid, or behind the scenes. As well, there are times when casual intelligent chatter in the moment helps fill the void around me in my “so-called” real life and twitter still offers that for me.

    Having said all that, you chose a good time to step off the immortal coil that is twitter – a space that is admittedly at it’s most vacuous in moments of mass public mourning of popular “icons” (enough said) or events that exceed their relative importance in a “world more full of weeping” than we often care to acknowledge.

    PS. Now armed with both The Unspeakable Girl and Sex and Terror, I am looking forward to exploring their riches in the near future. I also noticed this forthcoming title from Wakefield Press, I’m not sure if you know of it or are interested: http://wakefieldpress.com/quignard_terrace.html


    • Thanks Joseph for alerting me to the newly translated Quignard, which is very much of interest.

      Through Twitter I’ve made some dear friends and frequently enjoy passing time with this diverse array of strangers and acquaintances all over the globe. I don’t particularly like the deep-rooted narcissism much in evidence and much of the noise is banal. At times I can ignore this but sometimes, like presently, it seems overwhelming. I’m also not at all sure that Twitter makes me a better person so advisable that I absent myself for a while.

  2. Hello Anthony, Just began Agamben and Ferrando’s The Unspeakable Girl. My post Christmas orders are now coming in: Quignard’s Sex and Terror and The Sexual Night. Also a couple of Jan Zwicky’s poetry books: The Wittgenstein Elegies and Songs for Relinquishing the Earth. Still waiting on The Roving Shadows. I wouldn’t have discovered Quignard without your Twitter alerts but following your blog means I still get wind of your reading list. I took off a couple of weeks from twitter in December but began checking in again in January. Playing with lists is helpful with twitter but of course, it does have its limitations.

    Anyway, Abysses was a wonderful read. Among many others, one particular section struck me (on page 174) the story of Izanagi and Izanami and the link with Baubo (who appears in The Unspeakable Girl) (Ferrando’s painting on pages 26-27 is brilliant, too.) I’ve been exploring Butoh recently and one performance by a trio in the workshop in which I participated was very reminiscent of these primal and visceral myths. I’m interested in trying to connect in a physical way with Quignard’s ideas. I can’t say I go along with his entire vision but I find the idea of the Erstwhile, the experience in the womb and the significance he gives to the moment of conception in the generative act of the parents really fascinating. Outside of this, I’ve just been reading Akimitsu Takagi’s ‘The Tattoo Murder Case’. Ostensibly, Japanese noir from 1948, but with a lot of references to European literature, beautiful (translated) prose and a deep insight into postwar Japanese culture. It reminds me of Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. It seems like the kind of book that Borges would have loved.

    • Hi Des, Reading The Unspeakable Girl before renewing my acquaintance with Quignard’s work was an incidence of pure serendipity. Much of Quignard’s vision made sense to me to the extent I have gone back to ancient Greek to understand the roots of that vision. Like you the idea of the Erstwhile, our Lost Kingdom and the significance of our existence before naming and birth is fascinating and I’m giving it much thought. I won’t be absent from Twitter for long but will once again try lists as a way of managing my information flow. I’m deep into Werner Jaeger’s Paideia, arguing with it and relishing his erudition. I’m also very much enjoying Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun — I’ve followed her life on Twitter for some years and her writing in fuller form is quite beguiling, one of those books that creeps up on you unawares.

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