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Thoughts on Deep Reading

Posted by Remy on September 27, 2012

Here are some off the cuff remarks about learning to read deeply.

  1. Gauge the value/level of worthiness of each book. Not all books are worthy of deep, prolonged and slow readings. Someone once said (often attributed to Sir Francis Bacon), “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Ask yourself if a book should be read fast or slow, in short snippets or over longer reading sessions, and whether or not it should be read again.
  2. Mark passages, used partly to determine where you are in the overall argument, like breadcrumbs in the forest so that if you lose the thread of the point you can backtrack and sort it out. The first part is understanding what the writer is saying and little tick marks or marginalia outlining the book will help you in following the argument. But also marking passages will allow you to return and reflect on a point. Reading books is easy, understanding books takes time. Thinking is a luxury most cannot afford, but in developing your intellect/moral imagination requires thought and meditation.
  3. Apply the lessons learned from a book to another area or field. If you learned something about the nature of God, ask yourself what that says about fathers. If you learn that the Romans largely borrowed their laws, ask what that says about their religion. Knowledge is useful, but simple facts aren’t worth much. Value what you learn by using it.
  4. For any new point you learn, pause and think of another example explaining it. If you can’t teach the lesson, you didn’t learn the lesson. Use an example from the Bible, or history, or a book or movie to express what you just learned. Teaching is illustrating and the more illustrations you have, the better you know something and the better you’ll be able to pass it on.
  5. One simple interpretive rule is to trace all problems in society to the church. The church is the mover and shaker of history. If something is wrong in society, something is wrong in the church. Analysis is key to deep reading and this is a foothold into critical thinking.
  6. Read other books at the same time. This might take some more practice and discipline, but if you are able to read multiple books at the same time you get a lot of cool cross-pollination. Critical thinking is imaginative thinking; thinking widely means reading widely. Plus, reading an array of books at the same time forces more concentration as you switch from book to book. Often times it will force you to swoop backwards in your reading to pick up the thread of the argument, but being able to carry multiple lines of argument or stories in your head is excellent training in debates and mental flexibility. Also, I never use bookmarks, which forces me to recognize through memory where I am in a book. Often times I pick up at a place that I might’ve already read, but because I didn’t get it the first time I didn’t remember. So going without a bookmarker helps me read a book.
  7. It is important to submit to an author in order to learn from him, but at some point you need to resist him in order to test the verity of his point and to learn the strength of his argument. As you read, carry along counter-arguments to see if he addresses them. Anticipation is key to critical thinking, but also minimizing blindspots will help in using what you learn. Not all points are equal and as you read you should make mental note of weak points, points that are for the choir (so to speak) and points that are best to aim at antagonists. The weak push against the strong to get stronger. Test the wood of the bridge to ensure it will carry you over. These are wise things.

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Joel Weinsheimer : On Metaphors

Posted by Remy on May 25, 2012

“If thought is indivisible from language, then thought is more fundamentally metaphorical rather than logical. . . . Metaphor, by contrast, consists in a reversible, oscillating, circular movement.  If pages are like leaves, then leaves are also like pages. Each sets up a resonance in the other, thereby leveling the hierarchy.  Whereas induction and deduction are vertical models of thought, concerned with the ‘higher’ universal and the ‘lower’ particular, metaphorical transference operates horizontally.  Like the iconic relation of existent to existent, or the emanation of the real from the real, metaphor connects two things on the same plane.  To say that a table has legs does not subsume it to the body; to say that the human body has a trunk does not abstract something common to it and a tree.  Neither descending nor ascending, neither subsumption nor abstraction, metaphor is a lateral movement.  Like deduction, metaphor begins with a concept, but the concept is changed by the transferred application; like induction, it ends with a new concept, but by the metamorphosis of a previous one.  Because it is horizontal, metaphor flattens out the difference between particular and general, unfamiliar and familiar. . . . even in such defamiliarizing tranferences as ‘the pages of the tree,’ the unique appeals back to the familiar and the singular to the common.”


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N.D. Wilson on Critiquing Stories

Posted by Remy on May 17, 2012

“One final thought: never read or watch a story like a passive recipient, enjoying something in a visceral way and then retroactively trying to project deeper value or meaning onto the story you’ve already ingested. Such projections have been making authors and directors seem more intelligent than they are for decades. As you watch, as you read, shoulder your way into the creator’s chair. Don’t take the final product for granted, analyze the creator’s choices and cheerfully push them in new and different directions. As we do this, the clarity of our criticism will grow immensely.”


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via Leithart

Posted by Remy on May 26, 2010

Austin Farrer commented, in an essay on CS Lewis’s apologetics: “though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroyed belief.  What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned.  Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

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10 Things You Should Know

Posted by Remy on April 14, 2010

about JRR Tolkien.

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Out of Education

Posted by Remy on April 2, 2010

In the ancient world, education was only for the citizen; slaves were excluded. Not only was it considered a waste of resources, but educating slaves could only mean trouble. Imagine how an oppressed group of slaves, who could be beaten and killed without trial, would respond to reading Hector’s words from the Iliad:

“Come, now for attack! We’ll set all this to rights,
someday, if Zeus will ever let us raise
the winebowl of freedom high in our halls,
high to the gods of cloud and sky who live forever–
once we drive these Argives geared for battle out of Troy”

Or their response to the historian Thucydides when he said:

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Rome lived in fear of a slave revolt and for good reason, the slave population toward the end of the first century has been estimated to be between thirty and forty percent of the population. The Spartans were outnumbered by their slaves seven to one. Julius Caesar alone brought back half a million slaves from Gaul. The revolts, when they did occur, resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

With the rise of Christianity the world was changed. Rather than the oppression of the weak by the strong, servitude became the guiding principle. Friedrich Nietzsche, that great militant atheist, called Christianity the triumph of the slave’s morality, a morality not determined by the whims of the strong. Education was no longer banned from slaves.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Why is there no Jewish Narnia?

Posted by Remy on March 10, 2010

A fascinating read from the Jewish Review of Books.

A taste:

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition. Let us take two central examples: the magical world and the idea of evil.

Christianity has a much more vivid memory and even appreciation of the pagan worlds which preceded it than does Judaism. Neither Canaanite nor Egyptian civilizations exercise much fascination for the Jewish imagination, and certainly not as a place of enchantment or escape. In contrast, the Christian imagination found in Lewis and Tolkien often moves, like Beowulf or Sir Gawain, through an older pagan world in which spirits of place and mythical beings are still potent. Nor is this limited to fauns and elves. This anterior world can be dark and frighteningly alien, as Tolkien has Gandalf indicate in The Two Towers. “Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves,” the wizard says, “the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not.” Lewis sounds the same note in Perelandra when, far below the surface of the planet Venus, his protagonist catches an unsettling glimpse of alien creatures, and wonders if there might be “some way to renew the old Pagan practice of propitiating the local gods of unknown places in such fashion that it was no offence to God Himself but only a prudent and courteous apology for trespass.”

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Three Quotes on History

Posted by Remy on March 1, 2010

History never looks like history when you are living through it. It always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable. ~ John W. Gardner

History is more or less bunk. ~ Henry Ford

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that History has to teach. ~ Aldous Huxley

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5 Myths / Urban Legends about John Calvin

Posted by Remy on October 8, 2009

Myth No.1: John Calvin was a sour puss.

Myth No.2: Calvin was a tyrant.

Myth No.3: Calvin and Calvinism are identical.

Myth No. 4: Calvin was a religious fanatic.

Myth No. 5: Calvin was sadistic.

from Michael Jinkins via Per Crucem ad Lucem

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For Readers

Posted by Remy on September 24, 2009

A while back I decided that reading one book at a time is for sissies.

Bookmarks are for sissies too.

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