There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Last night we talked about Montaigne’s exhortation that we not worry about death, an interesting springboard into ideas and fears about death, existentialism, Buddhism, the self, and more, including of course thoughts about the afterlife. At some point I threw in a butchered version of the quote from Hamlet above (ending it with something like “than we can imagine.”) An avid reader in the group gently corrected me.

Anyone who has spent time on the faculty of a college in the last 50 years has almost certainly been a party to a fractious discussion and decision about the merits of distribution requirements (say, that all students have to take at least one (or two) art, science… etc., course). One paternalistic argument in favor of such requirements usually appeals to the speaker’s own experience of having taken something they would never otherwise have signed up for and discovering a real passion for the subject. Something like that happened in the book group last night.

New guard in the school decided that anyone who signed up and made it on to the call out sheet should be forced to attend. I told him emphatically that this was not the case (at best the call out sheet bears a passing resemblance to our actual groups, with several people who go to one group but not all, and several people who long ago were transferred or discharged). The call out is in short necessary but far from sufficient for attendance. He managed to force all of the men on the list and still in the prison to come, including a regular who was quite sick we’d all have much rather he’d not come, so by the end of the first half hour the number had swelled by 13. Thirteen men who, to a person, looked really pissed off to be coming in. Oh, and that is one of the arguments against distribution requirements — who wants people in your courses who are forced to be there?

I asked all of the men who’d been forced to come to give me their info so I can write to the person who does the call outs to insist that they be taken off the list in case this guard is now a regular, also because several of the regulars repeated that there are still people interested in joining the group who’ve they’ve heard been turned away because we are (supposedly) at the maximum.

We then ended up having a great discussion — death is sexy! — with three of the new people eagerly participating. On their way out of the room those three and a couple more men crossed their names off the removal list. I would never have tried to rope anyone into the group that way, but I’ll happily take these once reluctant additions.




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