Tag Archives: reading

Silent Prayer

After writing two books—the first on philosophy, the second a collection of poetry—I see my writing in a new light. I am a better philosopher than a poet, and this is fine because I write always with the spirit of a poet. Blogs, emails, research papers. Even grocery lists.

I’m writing this now because I want to say what I truly am: a reader.

Recently my mother and I visited my father’s grave. She brought a book of prayers that bring her comfort and insisted I read one out loud, and I did because we both needed to hear it.

Afterwards my mother paused and turned to me. “You have always been a great reader, even as a child.” I took her at her word and said a silent prayer. Later I read a little Baudrillard and thought of this blog and the books I have written and the things I still want to say.

Have I ever written a word without reading it to myself first? Am I not my ideal reader?

A great writer is a patient reader who knows when to pause and see the world anew—not as it appears, but how it might have been, or how it will never come to be. A great writer erases him- or herself from the world word by word, offering a different version of events in which he or she has already disappeared, or never arrived.

Socrates, as envisioned by Plato, said philosophy is a preparation for death. Socrates wrote nothing down. He couldn’t see for himself that writing, too, is a preparation for death—that writing about the departed brings us closer to death.

Two interpretations among many: I went to read a prayer in a cemetery, but there was no sign of my father. Or it wasn’t clear I had read a prayer in a cemetery until I blogged about it here. All that remains of my father is a sign.

Until I die I will write, but not before reading every word back to myself—not to ensure clarity, but to suspend meaning, to render the world more enigmatic for those I’ll leave behind.

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Filed under Life, Philosophy, Poetry

Page Not Found (Refreshed)

I wasn’t happy with my original Page Not Found post from May 7, so I refreshed it and deleted the old one.

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Books are self-contained bodies of knowledge. Readers searching for deeper connections are free to scan their references and head to the library for more books. This is the tradition of scholarship.

The Internet is a sprawling, image-saturated map with no territory. It leads users on an open-ended quest for pseudoscience, celebrity gossip and mounting piles of pornographic truths.

Books are heavy. The Web is far more mobile.

There are apps today for everything, including one that tests kids’ “logo literacy.” Parts of logos are missing but enough remains for players to recognize the company. This is about purchasing power, and the production of future consumers. Knowledge means finding the best deals before the Joneses pull up in their minivans.

Reading entails patience, context and attention to nuance. Its pleasure is often deferred. Googling is the drive for immediacy, “just the facts.” It’s a data game rigged by clever search engine optimizers in which sources link but nothing clicks.

Consumerist culture is raising a generation of browsers with no history but the accumulation of cache. Few can sit still long enough to digest the news.

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Politics

No Ledge

I was reading a philosophy book recently and stumbled upon a random line break. The word “knowledge” jumped to another page, splitting into “know-ledge.” This led me to “no ledge,” a metaphor expressing the essence of knowing as I’ve approached it since college.

Pragmatic people see education as building a foundation of facts and figures, a baseline for measuring objective truths. They think that learning enhances mastery over the world, that it’s a tool used to increase confidence and stability.

But dynamic thinking is all about vertigo and disorientation. It’s a shock to your system. Searching for a different angle, you look out the window of your high-rise apartment and find there is no ledge. How far will you stick your neck out to glimpse what lies below?

Most people venturing into the unknown have a fallback plan that maintains the status quo. If things get too scary, they retreat to their comfort zones. Thoughtful people ask serious questions with no clear solutions. Excited by the prospects of deeper truths, we devote our lives to following ideas wherever they lead. Sometimes we have to catch ourselves before tumbling all the way down.

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Hire Purpose

I’m good at reading about life from a distance. Making a living is where my trouble lies.

Do I find a job around my passion—namely, reading and writing—or do I hold a job and pursue my passion for words on the side? For a number of years now, because of my anxiety and depression, I’ve been unable to work consistently, thus delaying a move in either direction.

I’m still searching for that courage the characters in my books exhibit with such grace. It’s easy to share their outlooks, their suffering, their encounters with tragedy and triumph. But facing the indifference of the universe and pressing on—inventing my life and living without excuses—these are challenges I feel compelled to abandon before the starting bell sounds.

Figuring out my place and dealing with my illness is work enough now, but it’s time to emphasize practice over theory. Be realistic, I tell myself, recalling a Roman proverb I found in one of my philosophy books not long ago: “First live, then philosophize.”

Somehow I’ve approached things backwards. I continue the struggle to turn my life around.

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Engaging Critical Thinking

We’re still learning how the Internet is affecting communication. It’s clear, though, that our daily online experience has fundamentally altered the act of reading. I’ll let Alan Kirby, a PhD in twentieth-century literature and culture, explain via metaphor what’s going on here:

If literary research is like marriage (a mind entwined with the tastes, whims, and thoughts of another for years) and ordinary reading is like dating (a mind entwined with another for a limited, pleasure-governed but intimate time), then Internet reading often resembles gazing from a second-floor window at the passersby on the street below. It’s dispassionate and uninvolved, and implicitly embraces a sense of frustration, an incapacity to engage.

–Alan Kirby, Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture, 2009, pp. 67-8.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the average reader needs to enter the marriage that is literary research, but I am suggesting that ordinary reading (the dating in Kirby’s analysis) is a lost art in the post-Internet age.

Most people skim articles for information and then move on to the next enticing mouse-click, wherein they skim again, digesting little beyond the juicy headline. When it’s a piece on Jennifer Aniston getting engaged, this is often an effective strategy. After all, we’ve yet to read the next link regarding Kristen Stewart and her cheating ways.

But treading the surface of facts without diving in and immersing oneself in the whole story goes beyond reading articles and into thinking critically, especially where politics is concerned.

Politicians have always been hard to read; now it’s nearly impossible. The practical implications of our ignorance are mounting. How can we make informed decisions about Mitt Romney or President Obama if we only skim their sound bites and talking points?

Looking out the window at passersby might be temporarily pleasing, but to peek out the curtains for a few seconds is a terrible approach when you’re choosing the leader of the free world. Let’s take critical thinking out for dinner and a movie before November 6. We might just fall in love with reasoning.

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Filed under Culture, Politics