Today I’m going to start re-reading one of the books in my personal intensive treasure trove, Pensées by Blaise Pascal. I remember the time I first read it, fourteen years ago now, after picking it up almost by accident in a second hand bookshop. That first reading was on holiday (misty forests and long walks with no-one around), which always helps to give a book the chance really to sink in. What struck me most in that first reading was how perceptive and contemporary Pascal is in his analysis of distraction and entertainment (though for him the main distraction seems to be hunting and not TV). Since then I’ve grown to love the way he parses the three orders of materiality, intellect and faith, and his searing analysis of human foibles (including my own). And then there’s the brilliant passage on The Self, which I’ll blog in a separate post once I finish this. I’ve never been a huge fan of the famous wager, but I do think most people misunderstand what Pascal is trying to do with it. What I’ve learned most from Pascal, I think, is the shape of his thinking, the way he undermines commonplaces and gets inside the heads of those he is engaging, walking in their shoes in order to show them the shortcomings of their position.
Anyway, this time through I’ll be listening along to the LibriVox version. It’s completely free and public domain, and I can listen to it on my way to work and while I’m doing the cooking. I tend to listen with a little Dictaphone close by so that I can make quick audio notes of ideas (either Pascal’s or my own in reaction to him) that strike me while I listen.
Why not grab yourself a copy and read (or re-read) along with me. If you’re reading or listening along, let me know in the comments section below. If you’re on android, you can use the nifty LibriVox Downloader. I’ll be blogging some of the best bits over the coming weeks.