Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Teach Yourself to Live

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This post was somewhat instigated by my friend Jim Cornelius, that runs the Frontier Partisans blog. On his Facebook page Jim shared the news about an American gentleman, a Ryan Holiday, that’s bringing about a renewed interest for Stoicism, of all things.
The guy is making big bucks in the self-help department, and is also running conventions, Stoicon, believe it or not, but it looks like he’s selling for big bucks a bastardized version of the original Stoicism.
And in case you missed it, Stoicism is described as…

an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

epictetus_quote_600x186

Nice and smooth.
Now, on to my post…

trials… Because the story of mister Holiday reminded me of a wonderful little book I have here on my shelf, that deserves a long-overdue post.
It is one of the four books reprinted in 2008 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Teach Yourself line of self-help and self-teaching books.
The book in question is called Teach Yourself to Live, and was written in 1955 by C.G. L. Du Cann, a barrister that would go on and publish such wonders as Antiques For Amateurs, English Treason Trials, The Young Person’s Complete Guide to Crime, The Love Lives Of Charles Dickens and (incredibly enough) Will You Rise From The Dead? An Enquiry Into the Evidence of Resurrection.
Clearly, mister Du Cann was a man after my own heart.

to-liveTeach Yourself to Live is a sturdy pocket-sized hardback, and it is filled with a strange mix of levity and depth.
Du Cann taps many of the same sources that are fueling the currentr Stoicon crowds, but does so with the sort of self-deprecating good humor one would expect of an old British gentleman (Du Cann being class of 1889).

Marcus Aurelius, the stoic emperor, is often referenced, and despite its ancient sources, Du Cann’s primer on philosophy is refreshingly down to earth.
And found it described as pessimistic and sad in an article on the Guardian, but I honestly never found as such.

1. Yourself
Face the facts of life. Few do. Few dare. This is the first and most important thing in order to make the best of yourself and your life and in order to live to the best advantage in this terrestrial world.
[…]
What are life-facts? The first is Yourself. The second is Existence. The third is the limited nature of Yourself and your Existence. That is to say YOU EXIST ON TERMS. These three things are inexorable, desperate facts unwilled by you and which you are completely powerless to alter.
Realise the limitations which these three facts impose on you. Otherwise you do not get a clear perspective of the problem of living in this world.

This, at the opening of the first chapter. In the following 180 pages, Du Cann offers some clear-headed, basic principles, illustrating how to navigate a universe in which we have very little control, and in which our own cruise will be way too short.

And now, maybe I am just nostalgic and seduced by the vintage look of this booklet, but I find Du Cann’s book quite charming, interesting and useful, and somewhat more reliable than anything presented at a Stoicon in front of an adoring crowd.
Du can was clearly not out to create a mass movement and make big money, but just to provide a primer in a simple, lay, matter-of-fact personal philosophy.
Granted, the title is wonderfully cheeky, and the tome has that old British Empire aura that I find pleasant and many abhor, but Teach Yourself to Live might really hold the promise its cheeky title makes.

Teach Yourself to Live can be had for about ten bucks. It’s highly recommended.
Comes with no strings attached, no cons (both senses), and fits nicely in your pocket to carry it around when you go on a walk by yourselves.

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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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