Friday, September 20, 2019

Quotes: On deep reading, writing, and meaning

Annie Murphy Paul ("Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer," Time, June 03, 2013):

The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love.

This is not reading as many young people are coming to know it. Their reading is pragmatic and instrumental: the difference between what literary critic Frank Kermode calls 'carnal reading' and 'spiritual reading.' If we allow our offspring to believe carnal reading is all there is — if we don’t open the door to spiritual reading, through an early insistence on discipline and practice — we will have cheated them of an enjoyable, even ecstatic experience they would not otherwise encounter. And we will have deprived them of an elevating and enlightening experience that will enlarge them as people.

William Poundstone (Labyrinths of Reason:  Paradox, Puzzles and the Frailty of Knowledge, New York: Anchor Books, 1988. p. 200):

Most rational people do not ponder Newbold's and Levitov's cases long before rejecting them. To say exactly why we reject them is something else. Susan Sontag defined intelligence as a "taste in ideas." It is difficult to codify that taste.

Fernando Pessoa (The Book of Disquiet. Edited by Maria Jose de Lancastre. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. London: Serpent's Tail, 1991 (a collection of writings that were unorganized upon Pessoa's death in 1935). p. 258):

To say things! To know how to say things! To know how to exist through the written voice and the intellectual image! That's what life is about: the rest is just men and women, imagined love and fictitious vanities, excuses born of poor digestion and forgetting, people squirming beneath the great abstract boulder of a meaningless blue sky, the way insects do when you lift a stone.

Aline Kilmer, (quoted by the AP, quoted in The Week, Feb. 5, 2016. p. 19):

Many excellent words are ruined by too definite a knowledge of their meaning.

Akwaeke Emezi. Freshwater. Grove Press, 2018):

We don’t have to swallow our work or be afraid that it’s too deviant to do well; there is, in fact, no canon we cannot touch. Even when seized by a thousand fears, we can make strange and wonderful things simply for the sake of the strange and the wonderful, we can create without permission, we can write into the unknown.

Mallarme (quoted in Anatole Broyard (d. 1990). Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir. New York: Carol Southern Books, 1993. p. 32):

If a person of average intelligence and insufficient literary preparation opens one of my books and pretends to enjoy it, there has been a mistake. Things must be returned to their places.

Uzma Aslam Khan (The Geometry of God, Clockroot Books, 2009. Kindle location 1718):

Until now we were stepping outside the box the lines were loose. But now Nana wants to follow the laws he wants a legal ghazal [poem]. While we think of one Nana says, 'Everyone understands love through the images of love like the bulbul and the rose or the hunted bird or eye lashes like daggers or we have made up our own. But a ghazal in English is illegal!'

Willis Elliott (Flow of Flesh, Reach of Spirit: Thinksheets of a Contrarian Christian. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995. p. 114):

Your 'soul,' by which here I mean your interiority, is compounded of all the conversations you’ve ever had — with other human beings, with God, and with yourself. That’s only one angle from which to describe your soul, but it’s a vital one, theoretically developed by social-psychologist George Herbert Mead (as the social origin of consciousness), and clinically tested and developed by a man I studied with, Hugh Missildine (as 'the child of the past within'). Mead died before I could get to him, but he got to me through his writings. Both men have been important in the shaping of my understanding of interiority and thus in my devising the Thinksheet genre.

James Baldwin, quoted in The San Diego Union-Tribune which was then quoted by The Week, July 28, 2017, p. 17:

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read."

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Quotes: We understand through word, image, sound

"Seneca believed...arguments are like eels: however logical, they may slip from the mind's weak grasp unless fixed there by imagery and style."

Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, Vintage Books, 2000. p 92.

"The magic of words still remains for me. I prefer them to ideas.
Chicago newspaperman Ben Hecht, quoted by Ron Powers, in The Beast, the Eunuch, and the Glass-Eyed Child. New York: Anchor Books, 1990. p xvii.

"Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in the types and images. It (the world) will not receive it in any other fashion."

Gospel of Philip

"I realized that only in music could I find the answer I was seeking to the questions of the previous evening. Argument I could follow, it weighed with me, yet I could decide nothing from it.
Fred Hoyle. October the First is Too Late. Connecticut: Fawcett, 1966, 1968. p 156.

"But I think everyone should have a little philosophy, Thomas said. It helps, a little. It helps. It is good. It is about half as good as music.
Donald Barthelme. The Dead Father. New York: Pocket Books, 1975. p 76.

What do we want more than knowledge?

"Why should workers become intellectuals? I find it hard to imagine a less attractive prospect than a society made up of intellectuals," said Christopher Lasch.

Intellectual projects may not even be able to achieve what they set out to do. Knowledge is, first of all, not necessarily the final goal. Sometimes the goal of knowledge is to find a better goal.

"This, then," said Soren Kierkegaard, "is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.

Knowledge is also fragile and elusive. It dies a little bit in the process of coming into being.

"The forceps of our minds," said H. G. Wells, "are clumsy things and crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it."

In which case, said Parker J. Palmer, we must reconnect with the truth as it is known before the mind even grasps it, as "every time we get in touch with the truth source we carry within, there is net moral gain for all concerned. Even if we fail to follow its guidance fully, we are nudged a bit further in that direction. And the next time we are conflicted between inner truth and outer reality, it becomes harder to forget or deny that we have an inner teacher who wants to lay a claim on our lives."

We may still have to engage in our intellectual projects, but at least we understand their proper limits — that is, where the academic exercise ends and where we begin.

"Many academic examinations fall into this category, in which it is psychologically healthier for the student to realize that he is required to take the examination and he doesn't like it, and to study for it with that realization in mind. The damage to his integrity comes," as Rollo May explained, "when he tries to persuade himself that he does like it."


Christopher Lasch. The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1984. p. 27.

Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard), Philosophical Fragments, ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 37.

H. G. Wells, quoted in, quoted in The Week, June 14, 2013, p. 19.

Parker J. Palmer. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004. p. 19.

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p 103.