Recently I suggested returning to reading through an excellent book on marriage. Hopefully, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. This is a repost of some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks.

Leon Kass, by virtue of his tenure on the President’s Committee on Bioethics has become a somewhat polarizing figure. I had the distinct pleasure of having him teaching a class at the U of Chicago some few years ago in a class on .. of all things, ethics and science. He was (and still is) an amazing discussion leader. His ability to “sum up” and hone in and restate the jumbled thoughts of undergraduates. His wife Amy was even more sought for her courses by those Humanities and Social Thought undergraduates.

This book is not what one might expect. It doesn’t put forth any particular viewpoint in any obvious way. The majority of this book comprises a collection of essays or short excerpts bequeathed to us as part of the heritage of Western civilization. For example, contributing essays or excerpts are drawn from: Darwin, Erasmus, Keirkegaard, Homer, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Tolstoy, and Frost. The structure of this book is as follows, after a short introductory remarks, the readings and discussions are drawn up in seven larger/basic sections:

  1. Where are we Now? This section is comprised of essays by modern critics, anthropologists, and scholars who examine and critique the state of modern courtship and marriage. Contributors are Stone, Bailey, Bloom, and Blankenhorn. Arguably this might be the most controversial or biased section of the book.
  2. Why Marry?The book then pushes forth with a firm defense of the institution of marriage. Contributors range through history: Darwin, Aquinas, Erasmus, Bacon, Austen, Keirkegaard, Tucker, Meilaender, Borowitz, and Muir.
  3. What about Sex?Next, sexuality itself is examined via writings of Homer, Genesis, Rousseau, Herodotus, Kant, Riezler, and May.
  4. Is this Love?What is this (little) thing we call love? Answers are sought from Divakaruni, Plato (2 contributions from the Symposium, The Song of Songs, De Rougemont, Shakespeare (2 entries), Rousseau, Rilke, and Lewis.
  5. How Can I find the Right One?If Marriage is good, and love is a thing we are beginning to have a glimmer of understanding, Courtship must be considered. Advice from Miss Manners (Martin), Genesis (2 entries), Abraham, Pitt-Rivers, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Rousseau, Tolstoy, and Austen is on offer.
  6. Why a Wedding?When one considers wedding, May, De Rougemont, a variety of wedding ceremonies and vows are included (including Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, and “Contemporary” vows), and an essay by Kass and Kass on the patronym.
  7. What Can Married Life Be Like?Finally, what are the blessings one might obtain in marraige? These include contributions from: Homer, Aristotle, Jewish Midrash, Kipling, Ballou, de Toqueville, Rousseau, Capon, Tolstoy, and Frost.

In each of chapters, each of the readings is introduced by a very short (page or less) introduction explaining the context of the reading selected, why it was selected and perhaps some assistance in understanding how the writer operates if the dialectial methodology is unfamiliar to most, e.g,. the formalized dialectical methods of the scholastics as is used in the example drawn from Aquinas.

To further the introduction to this book, here are the first to paragraphs of the introduction, reproduced here.

The seed for this anthology was planted, unbeknownst to its authors, roughly fifteen years ago. It was the first day of an undergraduate seminar at the University of Chicago — where both of us have been teachers since 1976 — on the subject of men and women in literary perspectives. The students were asked what they thought was the most important decision taht they would ever have to make in their lives. Nearly all the students answered in terms related to personal self-fulfillment: “Deciding which career to pursue,” “Figuring out which graduate or professional school to attend,” “Choosing where I should live.” Only one fellow answered otherwise: “Deciding who should be the mother of my children.” For his eccentric opinion, and especially for this quaint way of putting it, he was promptly attacked by nearly every other member of the class, men and women alike. The men and nearly all the women berated him for wanting to sacrifice his freedom or for foolishly putting such matters ahead of his career; the women and some of the men were offended that we would look upon and judge women for their capacities as prospective mothers, worse yet, as mothers for his children. From his classmates’ view, this man was clearly a dinosaur who had not yet heard that his kind were supposed to be extinct.

Our reaction was quite different. As a long and happily married couple, and as parents of children (now gown and married) whose existence and rearing have been central to our happiness, we could — albeit with hindsight — endorse the young man’s view. Indeed, we wondered only how he could have acquired such a mature outlook at his tender age. Far from condemning him as a freak, this opinion revealed an admirable seriousness about life and the life cycle — he had it, and still does — which one would be only too pleased to see in one’s sons and daughters, or sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. Why, we wondered, were not more of our young people aware of this importance — to their own future flourishing — of private life, marriage, and family? Why did they not foresee the supreme importance of finding the right person with whom they might make a life?

Filed under: BooksMark O.Marriage

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