The middle of a pandemic is a tricky time in which to proselytise for intellectual life. At its best, Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought is an inspirational attestation of the ability of intellectual activity to dignify oppressed lives. Hitz presents intellectual life as both a refuge and a retreat, offering an escape into self-examination and a recognition of humanity’s shared heart. We are called to seriousness and to loving service. We should be reading Herodotus and listening to Bach. Perhaps this is a necessary clarion call. But its reverberations jar at a time when even Hitz’s comfiest academic peers (tenured, cultured, well up on Plato) are struggling with the electronic substitutes for the lectures and tutorials that normally occupy their time. More discordant still are Hitz’s vaunting vignettes of playing at poverty on a religious retreat, particularly at a moment when multitudes are jobless, foodless and finding neither dignity nor inspiration in the experience.
In Hitz’s view, the proper subjects for the intellect consist primarily of the Roman Catholic Church and the works found on the Great Books curriculum of St John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, her alma mater and employer. That curriculum is based on an almost unvarying roster of titles (Austen, Eliot