from Robert Grudin’s new book, American Vulgar

Chapter Seven

Homer and the Birth of Consciousness
I. Vulgarity and Evil: From Bush to Homer

On January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush famously referred to Iraq, North Korea, and Iran as an “axis of evil” threatening world order. In so doing, he invoked a Christian idea of “evil” that is dauntingly complex, including, as it does, everything from sexual indulgence to diabolical genius. Not all Americans, or even all Christians, are at ease with this idea. It has been criticized as being outmoded or subjective or both. How it relates to American vulgarity will concern us in this chapter.

On earlier pages I have connected vulgarity with evil. But to say that everything vulgar is evil is incorrect. To pig out on a triple burger with supersized fries is vulgar, very vulgar, but not evil. On the other hand, to say that everything evil is vulgar is, at least, a useful hypothesis. The murderous zealots who destroy civilian life in the name of God or nation are demonstrably vulgar. The cynical leaders who educate and incite them celebrate and participate in vulgarity. Evil-doers may behave like sophisticates, but the crowd speaks in their actions. The elegant Count Dracula, after all, was at root nothing more than a cannibal on fluids. The heart of evil – disregard for humanity and nature – is also the heart of vulgarity.

To see this connection in action, we need only look back to a period of history when the modern Judeo-Christian idea of evil was not yet in place: the world of the poet Homer. Homer’s Iliad is a tragedy with no real villain, a narrative whose major figures – Agamemnon, Priam, Achilles and Hector – are all heroic and all doomed. With only two exceptions (to be discussed a bit later), Homer’s values are based exclusively on Greek skills and endowments: valor in battle, eloquence in council, beauty, technical mastery. Conversely, his most stinging moral reproach is for Thersites, a Greek who is conspicuously lacking in excellence of any kind:

Now all the rest sat down and kept their place upon the benches, only Thersites still chattered on, the uncontrolled speech, whose mind was full of words many and disorderly, wherewith to strive against the chiefs idly and in no good order, but even as he deemed that he should make the Argives laugh. And he was ill-favored beyond all men that came to Ilios. Bandy-legged was he, and lame of one foot, and his two shoulders rounded, arched down upon his chest; and over them his head was warped, and a scanty stubble sprouted on it. Hateful was he to Achilles above all and to Odysseus, for them he was wont to revile. But now with shrill shout he poured forth his upbraidings upon goodly Agamemnon.  — Iliad (trans. Lang, Leaf and Myers), Book 2

Four times Homer hammers away at Thersites’ clumsy speech (“chattered on,” “uncontrolled speech,” “words many and disorderly,” “idly and in no good order”). Five times he takes aim at Thersites’ physical appearance (legs, foot, shoulders, head, hair). These shortcomings are crowned by Thersites’ disrespect for virtue (Achilles, Odysseus) and his attack on civic order (King Agamemnon). The implications are clear enough: misfortune and civil disorder are linked to people who lack the skills of humanity, people who cannot put ideas together, people who act on intemperate impulse rather than evolved consideration. Homer is linking evil with ignorance and vulgarity.

This idea becomes thematic in Homer’s Odyssey. Unlike the Iliad, the Odyssey is a thoroughly moral work that returns again and again to the do’s and don’t’s of human speech and action. In meetings with divinity, human beings and even animals, Odysseus’ prudence and fortitude come under scrutiny; and he returns the favor by testing the characters he runs into. Unlike the Iliad, the Odyssey has a definite set of villains: the infamous suitors of Penelope, who infest Odysseus’ palace in his absence, flouting the rules of hospitality and literally eating away at his estate. Finally, the Odyssey contains a moral allegory, the first of its kind in Western literature. Odysseus’ fanciful adventures, with Calypso, Aeolus, Scylla, and Charybdis, are full of symbolism and allusion relating to human vices and virtues. There are the Sirens, the Lotus Eaters, and the enchantress Circe, whose charms turn men into swine: all parables of the vulgarizing and paralyzing effects of short-term pleasures:

So she [Circe] led them in and set them upon chairs and high seats, and made them a mess of cheese and barley-meal and yellow honey with Pramnian wine, and mixed harmful drugs with the food to make them utterly forget their own country. Now when she had given them the cup and they had drunk it off, presently she smote them with a wand, and in the styes of the swine she penned them. So they had the head and voice, the bristles and the shape of swine, but their mind abode even as of old.  — Odyssey, Book 10

But Odysseus’ most terrifying escapade, his imprisonment in the cave of the giant Cyclops, is Homer’s best shot at describing absolute evil. Here again – and this time with supernatural trappings – evil is related to vulgarity. Before the adventure, Odysseus has a premonition that he will meet “a strange man, clothed in mighty strength, one that knew not judgment and justice” [italics mine]. When he later meets and speaks to the single-eyed Cyclops, the monster boasts that he would not, “to shun the enmity of Zeus, spare either thee or thy company, unless my spirit bade me,” meaning in context that he respects the laws neither of gods nor of men. The Cyclops then proceeds to grab two of Odysseus’ men, brain them, cut them up and eat them:

and out of his pitiless heart he answered me not a word, but sprang up, and laid his hands upon my fellows, and clutching two together dashed them, as they had been whelps, to the earth, and the brain flowed forth upon the ground, and the earth was wet. Then cut he them up piecemeal, and made ready his supper. So he ate even as a mountain-bred lion, and ceased not, devouring entrails and flesh and bones with their marrow.  — Odyssey, Book 9

As the crafty Odysseus plies the Cyclops with strong wine, the giant asks his name. To protect himself from future retribution, the hero adopts history’s first nom de guerre, “Noman.” This satisfies the Cyclops, who is getting thoroughly drunk.

Therewith he sank backwards and fell with face upturned, and there he lay with his great neck bent round, and sleep, that conquers all men, overcame him. And the wine and the fragments of men's flesh issued forth from his mouth, and he vomited, being heavy with wine.

Odysseus and his men blind the monster with a sharpened and heated log that sizzles in the eye socket. Afterwards, the Greeks escape under the Cyclops’ sheep when they are sent out to pasture. Once in his ship again, Odysseus hurls an insult back at his attacker:

"Cyclops, so thou wert not to eat the company of a weakling by main might in thy hollow cave! Thine evil deeds were very sure to find thee out, thou cruel man, who hadst no shame to eat thy guests within thy gates…"

A moral tale if ever there was one! But an especially Greek moral tale. The Cyclops is the absolute vulgarian: deaf to the justice of gods or men, pitiless, ugly, cannibalistic and deficient in table manners. He is too much of an oaf to understand a simple joke, and, worst of all, he is heartless to his guests. He is unconscious of humanity and devoid of culture. He is Homer’s version of the Lowest of the Low. Fittingly he is conquered by Homer’s avatar of culture and consciousness, Odysseus of the Many Counsels. Homer presents us with an idea of culture and consciousness as Virtue.

The moral values of the Odyssey were an early and influential example of what would become the moral values of Greece and Rome. These values, by and large, amounted to an assertion of a just and literate culture. The gods deserved ceremonial respect, but spirituality as we now know it simply was not on the table. The core of morality was civic, and civic virtue was built on moderation, prudence, fortitude, decorum, literacy and eloquence. Earthly pleasures were to be gratified in measure, and the punishment for lack of measure was not religious guilt but rather civic shame.

The education for this life was a curriculum that became known in ancient Rome as the Artes Liberales, the basis for which came down to modern times as the liberal arts. But these arts were only for the ruling minority of the state. After all, why should a shopkeeper or a farmer learn how to defend a legal case or lead men in battle? The idea that a version of the Artes Liberales might enlighten the citizens and strengthen the state simply did not occur to the authorities. Without the challenge and enablement of education, the majority of the voting public subsided into a vulgarity that would ultimate ruin the Republic, spread into imperial palaces and undo Rome.

But (Edward Gibbon notwithstanding) Rome never really fell. As its pagan institutions declined, they were replaced by the Christian institutions of a Church that would ultimately take on its own trappings of empire. The passing of rule from pagan to Christian values was characterized by three major distinctions:

1) While in ancient Rome the church was subjected to the state, the Christian Church would claim a position at the core of culture and politics.

2) While pagans were taught to live in the here and now, Christians were taught to devalue the things of this world in favor of a life of the spirit.

3) While ancient Roman values were nation-centered and aristocratic, Christian values were universalist and democratic.

This new Rome, this Christian Revolution, relates to vulgarity and the idea of evil in fascinating if sometimes unsettling ways. As a religious movement, Christianity did not reach out to critical thinkers and questioning minds. Its promise of community, spirituality and the immediate fix of conversion appealed directly to the disenfranchised and uneducated masses. Thus its effect on Roman vulgarity was equivocal. Christianity reformed and refined Rome, and ultimately all of Europe, by revealing a second, non-material dimension in life, a spiritual world holding a boundless plenty of togetherness, forgiveness and love. But the Christian Church maintained and in fact exploited European vulgarity by suppressing doctrinal diversity, discouraging education and stifling free thought. Add to this an irrationally severe moral code, a creed based on primitive writings, a set of palpable fictions supported by unctuous sophistry, a papacy often greedy for political power, repeated priestly abuses and a huge miscellany of angels, saints, icons and relics, and you have vulgarization on a substantial scale.

The same paradox applies today. Most American churches are islands of civility in a hurried and venal culture. But by the same token, most American churches are deserts in terms of cultural literacy and free inquiry. American church-goers tend to vote for father figures, flag wavers and fellow church-goers. They chose the marginally literate, Bible-packing George W. Bush, first over his more thoughtful and free-thinking fellow Republican, John McCain, and then (in a disputed vote-count) over the admittedly capable Democrat, Al Gore. They elected and then reelected the man who appealed to their faith and indulged their ignorance.

Religious anti-intellectualism, and efforts by the church to preserve it, have much to do with the development of the Christian idea of evil. Because the church stifled dissent and characterized the pursuit of worldly knowledge as sinful, the traditional Christian idea of evil is tinged with a fear of the alien and the unknown. The Devil, that brilliant Christian hoax, is known as a keeper of secrets, a secret in and of himself, a fearsome exotic icon worshiped by secret societies. Jews were regarded as evil secret-keepers. Non-traditional healers were persecuted as witches. Science was decried as anathema. Even women were portrayed, by an energetic anti-feminist tradition, as casting forth an evil aura of sexually forbidden knowledge. This notion of evil was and, although Christianity has modernized itself, largely remains, a factor in the vulgarization of churchgoers.

We need only look at Christianity’s ‘sister’ faith, Islam, to see this problem etched in stone. Like Christianity, Islam offers safe haven and spiritual expression to hundreds of millions of people. But unlike Christianity, Islam has never felt the shock of reform or experienced a relaxation of its original strictures. It remains historically pristine. As in the past, it asserts itself at the heart of politics. Its ancient system, replete with fierce faith, anti-intellectualism and xenophobia, rudely engages a world of globalization, real-time and information technology. Its madrassas (religious schools) teach reaction, violent hatred, warped history and abject worship of authority. In its fundamentalist forms, it feeds on the vulgarization of the faithful.

Thus when the President calls others “evil,” he is seen as evil by these others. And as we observe the prejudices of others, so we must also look to our own.

II. Homage to Peleus: Literature and the Birth of Social Consciousness

Just as vulgarity does not show its full face without the fear and hatred of strangeness, social consciousness cannot emerge without the acceptance and integration of the strange. The emergence of this form of consciousness is revealed to us in its historical setting by literature. Appropriately, just as it was Homer who spearheaded the attack on vulgarity, it was Homer who first opened the window of social consciousness.

I commented above that, with only two exceptions, the values of Homer’s Iliad were based exclusively on well-established Greek skills and endowments. But these two exceptions are of epochal significance. The first of these is a brief tableau that will lay the foundation for the Greek study of comparative politics. In order to prepare Achilles for battle, the god Hephaistos creates a marvelous shield for him, on the face of which he depicts two cities. The first of these is a city at peace, well ordered and prosperous. There are weddings, feasting, torches, dancing, songs and the music of viols and flutes. In the assembly place two parties are disputing “the blood-price of a man slain,” but this most divisive of issues is tried and judged in strict decorum by august and authoritative elders:

And heralds kept order among the folk, while the elders on polished stones were sitting in the sacred circle, and holding in their hands staves from the loud-voiced heralds. Then before the people they rose up and gave judgment each in turn. And in the midst lay two talents of gold, to be given unto him who should plead among them most righteously.  — Iliad (trans. Lang), Book 18

The second city is less fortunate:

But around the other city were two armies in siege with glittering arms. And two counsels found favour among them, either to sack the town or to share all with the townsfolk even whatsoever substance the fair city held within. But the besieged were not yet yielding, but arming for an ambushment. On the wall there stood to guard it their dear wives and infant children, and with these the old men; but the rest went forth, and their leaders were Ares and Pallas Athene, both wrought in gold, and golden was the vesture they had on.

This second city is defended by warriors who ambush and spy, who pillage from and heartlessly slaughter their own people. Speedily they are engaged by the enemy, and the resultant action is the embodiment of chaos:

And among them mingled Strife and Tumult, and fell Death, grasping one man alive fresh-wounded, another without wound, and dragging another dead through the mellay by the feet; and the raiment on her shoulders was red with the blood of men. Like living mortals they hurled together and fought, and haled the corpses each of the other's slain.

Note that in his description of the first city, Homer carefully details the infrastructure of rational politics: law, information flow (“the loud-voiced heralds”), executive government, the arts, eloquence and participatory citizenship. The description begins with a wedding celebration, symbolizing civic security and continuity into the future. The second city, under siege, lacks all of these provisions. It is in dire straits, with its women and children at stake and its enemies already arguing over how to divide the spoils. Its soldiers, instead of facing the enemy, fall upon and slay two civilians. It is paying the penalty for its own bad politics.

Note also that gods are involved on both sides of this war, while in the description of the happy city, no god of any kind is mentioned.

Clearly the second city represents the world of the Iliad, a chaotic struggle typified by deception, competitive heroics, gods in strife and the absence of civic order. The first city, however, opens like a new window into a saner world. It displays a civility based on wisely ordained institutions and a commitment to reason (no gods necessary here). Homer is looking into a mental landscape that is wholly lacking in the Troy-story or in the primitive tribalism which that story depicts. He is looking into the morally-charged world of the Odyssey and towards the dawn of modern politics. His description of Achilles’ shield is an assertion of social consciousness.

The Iliad’s second exception conveys an insight so revolutionary that, 2700 years later, it still has not been absorbed by some cultures. Late in the poem, Priam, King of Troy, appears in the tent of his Greek arch-enemy, Achilles. Priam pleads with Achilles to release the dead body of Priam’s son Hector, whom Achilles has slain. But Achilles refuses stonily. After all, hadn’t it been Hector who killed Achilles’ own dear friend Patroklos? Priam finally resorts to eloquence, beseeching Achilles to think of his own father, Peleus, who is missing him back in Greece:

Yea, fear thou the gods, Achilles, and have compassion on me, even me, bethinking thee of thy father. Lo, I am yet more piteous than he, and have braved what none other man on earth hath braved before, to stretch forth my hand toward the face of the slayer of my sons. — Iliad, Book 24

Achilles cannot but be moved by this line of argument. He knows, via prophecy, that he will die at Troy without seeing his own father again. He realizes that Peleus will soon be lamenting a slain son, just as Priam is now.

Thus spake he [Priam], and stirred within Achilles desire to make lament for his father. And he touched the old man's hand and gently moved him back. And as they both bethought them of their dead, so Priam for man-slaying Hector wept sore as he was fallen before Achilles' feet, and Achilles wept for his own father, and now again for Patroklos, and their moan went up throughout the house.

Homer here becomes the earliest ‘citizen of the world.’ The idea of two sworn enemies, driven against each other by blood revenge, weeping and lamenting together, would have been unthinkable in the vigorous tribalism depicted by the Iliad. By actually voicing this thought, Homer looks beyond that narrow purview, out into a domain at once more compassionate and more philosophical, where mankind is all of a piece, consciousness reigns over ignorance, and forms of moral justice are universal.

These new values are made more specific in the Odyssey, which opens with a modernistic manifesto of human autonomy and responsibility from the lips of Zeus himself:

'Lo you now, how vainly mortal men do blame the gods! For of us they say comes evil, whereas they even of themselves through the blindness of their own hearts, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained. [italics mine] — Odyssey, Book 1

The entire epic can be read as a postscript to this remark. “Blindness of heart”– passion, greed and above all lack of awareness – will be abundantly characterized by the Cyclops, Odysseus’ men who are turned into swine by Circe, and the suitors with their non-stop feasting in Odysseus’ hall. Odysseus himself, on the other hand, will personify moral vision; he will be the hero of consciousness, the man on whom nothing is lost. He will become the active response to Zeus’s assertion of human responsibility.

What is the shape of Odysseus’ consciousness? In the first place, he is abundantly literate: the best orator among the Greeks, informed historian, wise counselor, masterful leader, capable sailor, feared warrior, champion athlete. He knows the language of the court, the language of town, the language of the fields. In the second place, he is emotionally intelligent: he is boundlessly curious, and his feelings run deep, but he has the temperance to control these inner passions and keep them in perspective. In the third place, he has a sense of purpose, allowing him to distinguish between important goals and temporary distractions, and to develop plans patiently in time. Finally, he has savvy: the grace to carry his own talents lightly, the street wisdom to probe the capacity and motivations of the people he must depend on, and the imagination to create, for self-protection, a bodyguard of lies.

Odysseus is thus the heroic embodiment of the Odyssey’s new vision. Just as Achilles the Doomed is the model figure for the god-haunted tribal chaos of old Greece, Odysseus the Devious is Homer’s candidate for an exclusively human playing-field: newly-developing town life and business.

Odysseus reaches his native Ithaca and enters the town disguised as a beggar (Books 13-17). As he narrates the hero’s meetings with Eumaeus, Telemachus and the old dog Argos, Homer uses symbol and theme to round out his image of consciousness with two key elements: hospitality in its broadest sense and appreciation for the individual.

Eumaeus’ rustic house is the first place Odysseus visits after reaching the shore of Ithaca. The two men knew each other well in the past, but Odysseus’ appearance has been altered by Athena, and he does not reveal his identity until he has thoroughly tested Eumeaus’ mettle. Odysseus’ politely clever cross-examination focuses on two questions: has Eumaeus been loyal to him in his absence, and how does Eumaeus receive poor strangers? Eumaeus’ responses prove that his loyalty and hospitality are unimpeachable. Odysseus’ joyous response underlines Homer’s concern with the idea of hospitality

Therewith the goodly swineherd led him to the steading, and took him in and set him down, and strewed beneath him thick brushwood, and spread thereon the hide of a shaggy wild goat, wide and soft, which served himself for a mattress. And Odysseus rejoiced that he had given him such welcome, and spake and hailed him:

'May Zeus, O stranger, and all the other deathless gods grant thee thy dearest wish, since thou hast received me heartily!'  — Odyssey, Book 14

Homer’s dramatic emphasis on hospitality through this scene suggests a broad-based awareness of shared humanity: generosity, compassion and acceptance of strangeness. These virtues suggest a modernized society, energized by commerce with foreign cities. Additionally, these virtues suggest a modernized politics, a liberal culture and the idea of human equality.

As though in counterpoint to this universalizing theme, Homer then proceeds to develop the idea of the individual. He does this through a series of poignant scenes in which the long-lost hero is recognized by those who love him. As Odysseus approaches his house in town for the first time since his return, he and Eumaeus pass an old dog:

And lo, a hound raised up his head and pricked his ears, even where he lay, Argos, the hound of Odysseus, of the hardy heart, which of old himself had bred,... There lay the dog Argos, full of vermin. Yet even now when he was ware of Odysseus standing by, he wagged his tail and dropped both his ears, but nearer to his master he had not now the strength to draw.  — Odyssey, Book 17

Odysseus in turn recognizes Argos but cannot compromise his own anonymity. Brushing back a tear, he walks on. Exhausted with emotion, Argos dies. Later Odysseus, still in disguise but now inside his own house, is washed by the elderly maid Eurycleia, who recognizes him by a scar on his thigh:

Now the old woman took the scarred limb and passed her hands down it, and knew it by the touch and let the foot drop suddenly, so that the knee fell into the bath, and the brazen vessel rang, being turned over on the other side, and behold, the water was spilled on the ground. Then joy and anguish came on her in one moment, and both her eyes filled up with tears, and the voice of her utterance was stayed, and touching the chin of Odysseus she spake to him, saying: 'Yea verily, thou art Odysseus, my dear child, and I knew thee not before, till I had handled all the body of my lord.' — Odyssey, Book 19

And later on his wife Penelope, testing Odysseus’ real identity, commands Eurycleia to move the royal bed into another room. Odysseus exclaims that the bed cannot be moved, because he himself built it around an olive tree:

There was growing a bush of olive, long of leaf, and most goodly of growth, within the inner court, and the stem as large as a pillar. Round about this I built the chamber, till I had finished it, with stones close set,… Beginning from this bedpost, I wrought at the bedstead till I had finished it, and made it fair with inlaid work of gold and of silver and of ivory. Then I made fast therein a bright purple band of oxhide.

Convinced at last, Penelope, half-fainting, embraces her husband.

These three recognition scenes, each with its own haunting details, complete Homer’s depiction of Odysseus, throughout the Odyssey, as a unique individual, a nonpareil in terms of his specific talents and passions and quirks. The sense of his uniqueness is intensified rather than weakened when, again and again in the course of his travels, he must assume fake identities, submerging his heroic history, hiding his skills, honors and even his good looks. These disguises play out in conjunction with another major signifier of identity: Odysseus’ repeated expression of his indomitable passion to return to his land and his people. This tension becomes exquisitely painful when, even after returning to his home, he must temporarily hide his identity from those dearest to him. This painful self-suppression is prefigured in his self-introduction to the Cyclops as ‘Noman.’ But with the final recognitions by Argos, Eurycleia and Penelope (and the battle-scenes that follow), the built-up pressure is released, and Odysseus’ identity is realized in its socially-completed form. He has revealed and fulfilled himself. He is once again Odysseus of Ithaca.

Why is Homer so interested in the individual? Perhaps because the individual, fully developed, self-expressed and self-realized, can develop only in the Peaceful City, the society that might be built on the new consciousness expressed in the Odyssey. Only the Peaceful City can produce citizens who, instead of incessantly responding to war and disorder, can develop individuality by exercising a full set of options. Summarizing the major components of Homeric social consciousness – its sense of transnationality, its awareness of comparative politics, its realization of human autonomy and responsibility, its emphases on self-awareness, literacy, judgment, curiosity, inventiveness, emotional intelligence, savvy, compassion, generosity and individual identity – we find that Homer has offered us a fairly complete template for individual and social consciousness, and that his work is shockingly modern. And when we reverse the vectors and revisit Homer’s images of evil – the Cyclops, Circe and the insatiable Suitors – we find that Homer’s definition of the Bad is not some romanticized dark force, but rather, simply put, vulgarity: the proud ignorance, the vulnerability to addiction, the blockish inability and headstrong unwillingness to awaken, to listen, to appreciate, to evolve.

What does all this say about the Judeo-Christian idea of evil, that bugbear of President Bush, that image of a diabolical, mysterious brooding force? It implies that this idea is unnecessarily complicated and may even have been part of a strategy to keep worshipers confused and dependent on the Church. Not even all Christian authorities believed in it anyway. It was Augustine himself who wrote that evil was, purely and simply, the absence of good.(1)

Conclusion: A Consciousness Pill?

Homer’s account of vulgarity is as true in America now as it was in Homer’s Greece. But now the care and feeding of vulgarity is a trillion-dollar business. Penelope’s suitors are into fast foods, the Cyclops ranges the Mall, and Circe, in a thousand magical forms, is busily turning us into swine. Homer is not around to sing of a changed society and a new awareness. What is to be done? Should the National Endowment for the Humanities fund ten thousand Homer impersonators to visit classrooms, extolling Odyssean virtue? An interactive Odyssey adventure for the Internet? A Hollywood remake of the Odyssey with Russell Crowe as the sea-swept hero and Harry Potter-style special effects? These are the usual Band-Aids, flimflams that compound the problem by vulgarizing the solution.

Instead we must reassess our culture at its infrastructure. And to do so we will have to consider a topic that is, in its own way, even more terrible than the Cyclops: American education.

(1)...“For other than this, that which really is I knew not; and was, as it were through sharpness of wit, persuaded to assent to foolish deceivers, when they asked me, "whence is evil?" "is God bounded by a bodily shape, and has hairs and nails?" "are they to be esteemed righteous who had many wives at once, and did kill men, and sacrifice living creatures?" At which I, in my ignorance, was much troubled, and departing from the truth, seemed to myself to be making towards it; because as yet I knew not that evil was nothing but a privation of good, until at last a thing ceases altogether to be; which how should I see, the sight of whose eyes reached only to bodies, and of my mind to a phantasm?” -Confessions, Book 3

“That evil then which I sought, whence it is, is not any substance: for were it a substance, it should be good. For either it should be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good: or a corruptible substance; which unless it were good, could not be corrupted. I perceived therefore, and it was manifested to me that Thou madest all things good, nor is there any substance at all, which Thou madest not; and for that Thou madest not all things equal, therefore are all things; because each is good, and altogether very good, because our God made all things very good.” — Confessions, Book 7

Robert Grudin is an interdisciplinary thinker concerned with the implications of human liberty.

His philosophical trilogy, Time and the Art of Living, The Grace of Great Things, and On Dialogue, examines questions of liberty and determinism in a variety of fields, with particular emphasis on psychology, politics, communications, and creative endeavor.

His fiction (The Most Amazing Thing and Book, a novel) and scholarship (Mighty Opposites) explore related themes. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the New York Times, the American Scholar, the Wall Steet Journal, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Grudin's work has been widely reviewed, and his many public appearances include lectures to professional societies in science, technology, business, design, government, medicine, education, political science, and creative writing. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1992-93.

Robert Grudin graduated from Harvard College and received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. Until 1998 he was a professor of English at the University of Oregon.

Publications include:

The Most Amazing Thing (Website for the electronic edition. Finalist for the 2002 Benjamin Franklin Award™ for Popular Fiction; Palo Alto: knOwhere Press, 2002).
On Dialogue: An Essay in Free Thought (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996; paperback Boston: Mariner [Houghton Mifflin], 1997).
The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation (New York: Ticknor and Fields [Houghton Mifflin], 1990; paperback, 1991; Boston: Mariner [Houghton Mifflin], 1997).
Time and the Art of Living (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982; paperback, New York: Ticknor and Fields [Houghton Mifflin], 1988; Boston: Mariner [Houghton Mifflin], 1997).
Book, A Novel (New York: Random House, 1992; paperback, New York: Penguin, 1993).
Mighty Opposites: Shakespeare and Renaissance Contrariety (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

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