March 04, 2013

Creative reading

The theme at Goat Rope these days is Ralph Waldo Emerson's influential essay on The American Scholar. In that lecture, delivered to distinguished Harvard alumni, he disparaged book learning separated from life. And, although I am a reader's reader, this is one time when he makes pretty good sense to me. They go better together.

Some of the best reading I've done has happened when I've been immersed in some struggle or other that called into play everything I had. For example, reading about the history of the civil rights movement or reading the works of social thinkers like the great Jewish sage Martin Buber or Protestant theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich  was much more nourishing and real when I was in the midst of a fight for racial justice or workers' rights and grappling with questions of means and ends. Likewise, reading Hobbes was more alive when I was working to reduce youth violence, just as modern philosophers like Habermas or Rawls were when I was trying to deal with and figure out different systems of domination.

Here's Emerson making what I think is the same point:

There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant; and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. 

Sometimes I've returned to the same books that once burned on the page at a later date and a calmer time and found, with Hamlet, just words, words, words.

WILL HE OR WON'T HE? Here's the Washington Post interviewing WV's Senator Jay Rockefeller about the future of health care reform, including the question of whether WV's Governor Earl Ray Tomblin will expand Medicaid.


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