A strange thought occurred to me: what would the “Great Books” curriculum look like if it was restructured around a “Great Authors” principle? That is, it wouldn’t be a matter of picking out the most exceptional or useful works to build a curriculum, but of picking out a handful of authors, whose works would be read in full (or as close as possible). What would it look like to provide a plausible education in such a format?
One major change is that the “Stockholm Syndrome” approach that one will often favor in introducing students to new texts (i.e., read as charitably as possible, construe the arguments as strongly as possible, etc.) would be unsustainable. Let’s say you chose Freud, for instance — you couldn’t start from a “Freud is always right unless we’re really, really sure he isn’t” position, because Freud changes his mind too much. After a certain point, it’s no longer about figuring out “what Freud thinks,” but about figuring out the persistent problems that he’s responding to. If students could come to that point, they might arguably have a more lively grasp of what’s at stake in psychology than if they had a sampling of several authors’ views.
Or maybe not. In any case: Who would you choose? And keep in mind that I’m from a less strictly orthodox Great Books school, so you’re allowed to pick contemporary authors and, more generally, there’s no requirement of overtowering obviousness. (In my view, the only author who would be totally non-negotiable is Kafka.)