Encounters and Reflections: Conversations with Seth Benardete / Edition 2by Seth Benardete
Pub. Date: 02/28/2003
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
By turns wickedly funny and profoundly illuminating, Encounters and Reflections presents a captivating and unconventional portrait of the life and works of Seth Benardete. One of the leading scholars of ancient thought, Benardete here reflects on both the people he knew and the topics that fascinated him throughout his career in a series of candid,/i>
By turns wickedly funny and profoundly illuminating, Encounters and Reflections presents a captivating and unconventional portrait of the life and works of Seth Benardete. One of the leading scholars of ancient thought, Benardete here reflects on both the people he knew and the topics that fascinated him throughout his career in a series of candid, freewheeling conversations with Robert Berman, Ronna Burger, and Michael Davis.
The first part of the book discloses vignettes about fellow students, colleagues, and acquaintances of Benardete's who later became major figures in the academic and intellectual life of twentieth-century America. We glimpse the student days of Alan Bloom, Stanley Rosen, George Steiner, and we discover the life of the mind as lived by well-known scholars such as David Grene, Jacob Klein, and Benardete's mentor Leo Strauss. We also encounter a number of other learned, devoted, and sometimes eccentric luminaries, including T.S. Eliot, James Baldwin, Werner Jaeger, John Davidson Beazley, and Willard Quine. In the book's second part, Benardete reflects on his own intellectual growth and on his ever-evolving understanding of the texts and ideas he spent a lifetime studying. Revisiting some of his recurrent themes—among them eros and the beautiful, the city and the law, and the gods and the human soul—Benardete shares his views on thinkers such as Plato, Homer, and Heidegger, as well as the relations between philosophy and science and between Christianity and ancient Roman thought.
Engaging and informative, Encounters and Reflections brings Benardete's thought to life to enlighten and inspire a new generation of thinkers.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Encounters
1. The University of Chicago, 1948-52, 1954-55
2. Athens, Rome, and Florence, 1952-54
3. St. John's, 1955-57
4. Harvard, 1957-60
5. Brandeis, New York University, and the New School, 1960-2001
Part II: Reflections
6. From Pattern to Dynamic
7. The "Indeterminate Dyad"
8. Eros and the City
9. Philosophy and Science
10. Christianity and Roman Writers
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Is that the shrillness of a grinding axe I hear coming from Mr. Aristocles direction? This book is both a memoir of perhaps the greatest classicist of his time and a very subtle and wide-ranging discussion of ancient philosophy in general and Plato in particular with various excursions along the way. Having said that this book is not going to be for everyone. I think it's single greatest benefit might be to awaken more conventional students of Platonism from their dogmatic slumbers. I can't imagine a "developmentalist" or Irwin style "analytical" student of Plato responding to this work with anything less than angry denunciation or a most painful discovery of ignorance. More likely the former.
The real usefulness of this book (apart from the opening tale of Nasreddin Hoja at the Turkish bath) is the light it shines on Benardete's teacher Leo Strauss; neither Benardete's comments on others nor the flattering questions posed by his interlocutors are particularly valuable. But even where Strauss is concerned, the book's value is limited for most readers since revealing issues are ignored (e.g. 81-4). Only those scholars intent on getting to the bottom of the Straussian movement will know how to get their money's worth from this immoralist hagiography. As far as Benardete's version of Straussianism goes, it might be summarized as follows: the nihilist philosopher who has achieved "liberation from shame" (98-100) combined with "knowledge of ignorance" (160-1) propagates through pederasty (158) a private or politic response to any external standard of morality (174-5) and restores an Aristophanic "proud thought" (173-4) of absolute autonomy.