Yesterday I decided to discontinue my work on the blog for a few days. I wrote about the decision to the Master of Balliol, Professor Drummond Bone in an email in which I invited him to my blog. What follows is the passage from the email in which I give the reasons for the break:
‘When I began writing the blog, I was recording the third book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics for my website. I thought I could do a little bit of both each day. But it did not work, for each of these, Aristotle and my blog, make a total claim on me.
In order to record Aristotle, I must understand what I am recording as fully as possible. I begin by reading the chapter I am about to record as a whole, so that I can divide it into manageable parts, each of which makes a meaningful whole. Then I study the whole chapter with Ross’ commentary, in which centuries of scholarly efforts to understand Aristotle are accumulated. Only then I do record the text. When I read the text aloud and record it, I often find that I had not fully understood this or that sentence. So I must stop and erase the recording, read the sentence again in context, which often means reading the whole passage again and again, reverting to Ross’ commentary if need be. I am satisfied only if I succeed in properly expressing in my reading aloud what Aristotle is saying. When I then listen to the recording I reap the fruit of all that work, for only at that stage can I fully experience the benefit of entering the domain of Aristotle’s thoughts. Aristotle calls his metaphysical writings akroaseis, which Ross translates as lectures (994b32). Rosses’ ‘lectures’ misses the point, for it derives its meaning from the activity of the lecturer, the writer, the author. Aristotle’s term akroasis means ‘hearing’, listening; it is focussed on the mind of the listener.
Working on my blog, I usually make the first draft in the morning. Then I do some walking or cycling in the surrounding Cotswolds, do some chores around the house, listen to the radio, read Melville’s Moby Dick. I thought I could squeeze in a recording of Aristotle; I tried, but it did not work. In the time that separates the first draft from the second one, the second from the third, my mind is all the time subconsciously-consciously reverting to it, concentrating on it, working at it. Each entry in my blog is concerned with past events that have bearing on the situation in which I stand at present, it claims the totality of my being as it is focussed on this or that event. And so it happened that I had to interrupt my recording of Aristotle.
I interrupted my work on Aristotle in the middle of the 4th chapter of the 3rd book. I have now decided to return to Aristotle and finish recording the 3rd book, and only then revert to the blog. This work will take four or five days. It would be great if in the meantime you reconsidered my offer of ‘Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens’ and of ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ and allowed me to present these two lectures at Balliol. It would mean that I could end my Blog on a happy note and fully return to my work on Aristotle, which is closely connected to my work on Plato.
My next paper will be on Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as their thoughts are reflected and interlinked in Plato’s Parmenides. The Parmenides is a late dialogue; in my view Plato wrote it in preparation for his third and last journey to Sicily. Aristotle was at that time 23 years old and had been for 6 years in Plato’s school. Plato’s Parmenides is preoccupied with criticism of the theory of Forms, which we find in the opening book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. A great 19th century German scholar Siebeck believed that the Parmenides was directed against criticisms urged by Aristotle in discussion with Plato. Ross notes that Siebeck’s ‘theory has but little evidence in favour of it’ (Ross’ note on Met A, Ch 9, 991a12,13). I believe that Siebeck is right, but it will take a lot of work to properly support his view. My recording of Aristotle’s Metaphysics is part of that work. If you allow me to present the lecture on ‘Plato, Socrates, and the Laws of Athens’ as well as the lecture on ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ at Balliol, and if both lectures will be attended by students and academics working in the fields of study to which these two lectures respectively refer, so that both will be properly discussed, I will stop working on my blog in its present form, and return to my work on Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. For my work will then cease to be pursued in exclusion from the academic community; I will be engaged in joint scholarly endeavours.’
My blog is now in the hands of the Master of Balliol.