Christian Bowe

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A few months ago I spotted Will Durant’s eleven-volume masterwork “The Story of Civilization” on my uncle’s well-stocked and well-worn bookshelf. Though the series represents arguably the most comprehensive attempt to embrace the vast panorama of man’s history and culture, one can’t help but quiver in self-aware terror at the prospect of actually pursuing such an incredible historical journey. Looking at Durant’s life-long work is much like looking into the scaffolding of a time capsule, and to engage it is to examine how very much we’ve learned and how very little we still know. My uncle passed away a few days after I first stood in silence at the helm of his labyrinthine shelves, and yesterday my aunt passed down his book series to me. To open these books is to start a project that begins in inter-generational wonder — what Kant called “admiration and awe at the starry sky above and the moral law within.” Here’s to reading and learning with respect for prior generations who gave us gifts of intellectual context, and being able to pass it all on with grace.

A few months ago I spotted Will Durant’s eleven-volume masterwork “The Story of Civilization” on my uncle’s well-stocked and well-worn bookshelf. Though the series represents arguably the most comprehensive attempt to embrace the vast panorama of man’s history and culture, one can’t help but quiver in self-aware terror at the prospect of actually pursuing such an incredible historical journey. Looking at Durant’s life-long work is much like looking into the scaffolding of a time capsule, and to engage it is to examine how very much we’ve learned and how very little we still know. My uncle passed away a few days after I first stood in silence at the helm of his labyrinthine shelves, and yesterday my aunt passed down his book series to me. To open these books is to start a project that begins in inter-generational wonder — what Kant called “admiration and awe at the starry sky above and the moral law within.” Here’s to reading and learning with respect for prior generations who gave us gifts of intellectual context, and being able to pass it all on with grace.

“When we lose certain people, or when we are dispossessed from a place, or a community, we may simply feel that we are undergoing something temporary, that mourning will be over and some restoration of prior order will be achieved. But maybe when we undergo what we do, something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us. It is not as if an “I” exists independently over here and then simply loses a “you” over there, especially if the attachment to “you” is part of what composes who “I” am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who “am” I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what to do. On one level, I think I have lost “you” only to discover that “I” have gone missing as well.” — Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence