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Phile #5 Journaling with the Mind in the Heart

4 Jan

A New Year brings renewed commitments, renewed hopes,  renewed ambitions, and in this case, a renewed blog with a new rationale for posting -that my reading may be entertaining, informing, and transforming. I plan to bring this about through the power of self-education. So without further ado, let me introduce you to:

The Education of a Reader or, The Wordy Nature of Michael’s Mind: Ruminations of Education, Books and Personal Grounding

Education is about bettering one’s self through the acquisition of knowledge that leads to wisdom. In schools (public and private) we learn the rudiments of how to educate ourselves through Authority, Observation, Analysis and Synthesis, (and more often we are only taught a basic vocational skill set that quickly becomes out-moded and out of date in the working world)  but this is not itself education, for at the end of our schooling -including grad school- we at most have a piece of paper that announces to one and all that we (presumably) know how to do research, and how to think critically about [fill in blank here], as well as an introduction to a subject of learning.  It is a beginning, in other words.  In this we see that education  -from the Lain “to lead out of ignorance”- is a lifelong vocation and commitment to our selves.

It follows then, that to say that one is an educated person is at best a partial truth, far better is it to apply a paraphrase of Aeschylus from Agamemnon, referring to of course, Agamemnon (though it could just as likely be from Sophocles in Oedipus Tyrannus referring to, well, Oedipus), call no man educated until he is dead. At best one could say of himself (or herself) that he (or she) is on the path to being educated.

Education properly called consists of many realms, the most important of which is moral and ethical, followed by intellectual (comprised of social, political, economic, scientific, artistic) emotional, and physical.

The best ground for life-long education is the classical tradition. In the West it would Greek and Latin, or more generally, “The Great Books” whereas for the East it would be the Six Classics comprising the Confucian, Mohist, Taoist, School of Names, Yin-Yang, and Legalist Schools.  I admit to not knowing what a comparable foundation would be for the Indian subcontinent, and as Africa  to the best of my knowledge, West and sub-Saharan Africa had no written language tradition until fairly late, and nothing like a unified continental culture to supply a fixed canon of texts (whether oral or written), nor for a foundation for the First Nations of Turtle Island for roughly the same reason; however, I will work primarily from the Occidental foundation of Christian Humanism.

At the same time, education has always been oriented toward vocation, or one’s calling in life. And my calling is to read, to write, to shape, and to serve God and fellow Man.

  Reading for Life, not (yet) Orders

In the Church of England/Anglican Christian tradition (which I call my Christian home), before the rise of the institutional seminary it used to be commonplace for aspiring young men to “read for Orders” under the tutelage of an older priest. This was not necessarily  the ideal situation for the training of Ministers of the Gospel and was often an incomplete process, but it was the most -or only- effective means of supplying a rudimentary theological education, from which the prospective ordinand was expected to continue into a lifetime study of the Gospel.Unfortunately, most priests were hard pressed to come up with weekly Sunday sermons, much less engage in rigorous intellectual formation after ordination.  (Thanks to The New Continuing Anglican’s   “The Bishop’s Course of Study” for the background thoughts).

I though, have always like that concept, of reading your way into being qualified for an office, or an opportunity of ministry to others. But I had never taken it seriously, until now. Back in October, my mother brought my attention to a certain box in the basement of her house that appeared to be a box of old journals of mine. Well, the course of my own mental and emotional development is dear to my heart, so I went down to see what it was, and it turned out to be, not journals, but the missing first half of my collection of The Great Books of the Western World. This sparked in me a renewed desire for reading, which had been lagging of late. In fact, since July I have only been able to read 21 books from my own bookshelves. This led me back to the notion of “reading for…:”

It is my desire adapt this conception (sans the presence of a mentoring elder  at this time to provide accountability) into wider intellectual categories, and so I am proposing to myself a goal: to read myself into a humanistic, philosophical, theological and even scientific (in the biological and human sciences) education. Over the next seven years (or sets of seven years considering the multiplicity of  disciplines I am integrating) I am proposing to engage in intensive readings and responses to gauge my level of understanding. The subjects to be covered include: Theology (especially sacred scripture, dogmatic, moral, pastoral, sacramental and liturgical, spiritual and ascetical theology), Philosphy  (especially metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, of science, and of mind; moral philosophy. political philosophy, and the argument from reason) and Biology (especially evolutionary theory, cell biology, and molecular neurobiology). Other subjects to be treated of include -to a greater or lesser extent: Classics, History, Sociology, Anthropology, Area Cultural Studies. and Literature.

Of necessity, as I am reading out of my own resources for the time being (until I can organize my thoughts, prepare more systematic reading lists culled from my existing books, solicited recommendations, and online resources; and arrange visits to my alma mater‘s library) my selections will be eclectic. Although, I have it on good authority that I own, not to mention have already read, more theology than most priests, yet alone most seminarians. Knowing this, my other fields of intellectual interest and endeavor are, I am sure likewise well represented in my library. I say this not to boast, for the only thing worth boasting about is my faith in Christ Jesus- but to ponder the circumstances of a layman having a potentially greater knowledge of theology than some priests. To me this is a humbling condemnation of the state of clerical education (Although this really a post -or set of posts- for a sister blog “The Walsingham Way” and really belongs to a discussion of catechesis, Christian Formation, and the Christian response to God and Neighbor), and worth pausing for a moment before going on.

My goal for this first year is two books, How to Read a Book. Revised and Updated Edition, by Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren (1972) -“The classic guide to intelligent reading” as it is billed- , and Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: a Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis, by Joan Bolker, Ed. D -even though currently I have no prospects of entering a formal academic program of instruction- and as much of the Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopedia Britannica, -edited in part by one Mortimer J Adler- as I can with the remainder to be read the following year(s).

After this initial taste of the Pierian spring,  I plan to read  selections from the Greek and Latin Classics with Loeb Classical Library,  volumes of Blackwell’s Companions to Philosophy and Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophy, the English translation of Kittel’s Dictionary of New Testament Theology, and companion series Dictionary of Old Testament Theology, volumes from Anchor Bible and Anchor Bible Reference Library, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, the Popular Patristics Series from St Vladimir Seminary Press, Paulist Press’s Classics of Western Spirituality, and numerous individual volumes.

I title drop here not to boast of how wide my reading is or will be, or how well read I will (potentially) be, and certainly not to boast bout my academic and intellectual achievement or achievements (or lack thereof), but to show how far I have to go before I can begin to consider myself on the road to a holistic education.

Readings will be complimented by language studies: Hebrew, Koine (possibly Classic as well) Greek, Latin, German, French,  Japanese (because…Japanese) one year primarily devoted to each language in turn.

Every Wednesday, a Note*

Piles and Philes will become a sort of running personal journal of reading responses, with new content posted every Wednesday, in emulation of certain online graduate degree programs I have researched over the years that use Wednesday as weekly deadlines for posting reading and critique assignments.  No matter where I am in my reading, Wednesdays will provide the summary of my understanding to date. So, I will be changing the Piles and Philes description to read : a journal of reading, viewing, and thinking with the mind in the heart. This does not, of course mean that I will cease from writing free-standing interviews, though I suppose a three year gap between entries might suggest otherwise. I have plenty of draft reviews -I only need to finish them.

I am sure that my reading lists will be more exhaustive than my actual capacity to read them (though this knowledge won’t prevent my making the attempt).  The reading lists are more of an ideal, the closer I come to the ideal, the better prepared I will be when chance happens.  An old saw says that if you devote an hour a day every day for seven years to a subject of interest, then at the end of seven years you can attain expert understanding in that field. This too, is a ideal to live up to, not a ironclad demand that must be obeyed on penalty of intellectual disfigurement. Other recent reading about directed self-study suggest that I should spend a minimum of 10 hours per week in my studies. This I can do. And hopefully, my Wednesday posts will prove the pudding.

Every Reader a Prayer

And yet, I must become ruthless in pursuing prayer as well. If I am not grounded in prayer, all the studying, reading, viewing, thinking, and writing in the world will not benefit me one iota. But that, again, is a post for another blog.So look for it soon!  What this means in part is that I consider my reading itself a form of prayer to God (in fact, some Orthodox Jews consider study of Talmud itself to be a fitting prayer unto God in lie of sacrifices due to  the  [current] abeyance of Temple worship, and then there’s the wonderful verse in 2 Timothy “Study to shew yourself approved unto God” (2 Tim 2:15) but oh look, another Rabbit Hole). It also means that I must integrate prayer into study and study into prayer, and even apply Lectio Divina, if possible (out of one rabbit hole into another).  My prayer life, though is always a work in progress, and seems to be more like public road works projects -lots of noise and very little to show for it more days than not than anything else.

So join me on this renewed journey of the mind in the heart, and I promise you will be entertained, informed, and just possibly, as transformed as I hope to become.

For next Wednesday, I plan to introduce How to Read a Book, as well as other people’s responses to it at work.  Look forward to some interesting times, y’all.

*Of necessity, this post was not pre-read or vetted by anyone other than myself, so that I could push it out this first Wednesday of 2017. If you. my good reader, should find any error, inconsistencies, or other room for improvement, please let me know and I shall incorporate your advice as best I can.  Thank you for helping me to improve myself.

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Meta-Pile #6 Cleaning the Plate, 13 Weeks at a Time

17 Jun

Of late, I have found myself  bogged down among a plethora of books from two separate libraries, as well as volumes from my personal collections, while simultaneously pulled in 5 or 6 directions intellectually speaking (on top of  the rest of my life happenings). This has been the result of  half-hearted intentions on my part to prepare for  further graduate work in history, humanities, and philosophy.  Needless to say, this has even negatively affected my output of reviews: attempt too many tasks and nothing gets done.

10 June 2014

So I have decided to make a “clean sweep”, return all (or at least the very, vast majority) and start anew with 6 books filling the role of text-books to provide background exposure to the courses of instruction I desire to take. From there I shall proceed to actively read only 6 volumes at any one time from all combinations of sources: personal public, college, or private library collections, giving me 6 days of active reading and one day of rest.

17 June 2014

Yeah, okay that idea died an ignominious death. I did, however take the step of returning all my borrowed volumes from Berry College. I still plan to ultimately reduce my reading loads to 5 books a week at a time, one volume per anticipated blog (with allowances for this blog, which may require more volumes and produce more reviews, once I’ve built up enough entries to make regular posting worthwhile.

The Thirteen Week Reading Diet

In the meantime, I still plan to continue  my background reading toward the various M.A. degrees I am seeking, only this time I will give myself deadlines. I also  have a definite format in mind, based on the syllabi for the courses in the programs, with which to direct my reading, note-taking, and responses to the material (this is my way of making myself accountable to myself, by announcing what I am doing, that way people can bug me about my progress). The programs I plan to pursue maintain a 13 week course schedule; so to acclimatize myself to the reading and writing workload that these degrees entail I shall take a text or texts on a subject (for instance Mortimer J Adler’s How to Read a Book, or Will (and Ariel) Durant’s 14vol Story of Civilization), and spend  (up to) 13 weeks reading them.  For each week of reading, I will produce a review for the book, or  in some cases the section of book, I’m reading, and a final summary of my reading at the end of the 13 week cycle; only then will I  move on to the next assignment.

I will title each review “Select Reading Program” to keep track of my progress. (Incidentally, this process is also a good way to work my way through the ginormous backlog of reading material I have accumulated over the years.)


 

To give you a hint of how many directions my fertile mind has been stretched into, the following six areas have the most volumes within my personal library, and form the core of my intellectual pursuits. In fact, with the exception of Japanese Studies, I have found that all these areas comprise sections in a larger endeavor conceived of as a ‘natural history of the soul’ that engages philosophy, theology and science.

Biology and Chemistry

Humanities and Classics

Japanese Studies/Anime

Jewish Studies

Patristic Studies

Philosophy – Epistemology / Metaphysics / Ethics / Political Philosophy / Philosophy of Science (Biology)


 

Select Reading Plan, The Texts:

The books listed below represent the choice of books for my first four ‘courses’ of reading, what I have termed my “Select Reading Plan

1) Humanities

How to Read a Book : The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading Rev. and updated ed. / Mortimer J. Adler, and Charles Van Doren. New York: Simon and Schuster 1940. [1972].  xiii, 426 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

The Story of Civilization  / Will Durrant. NY: MJF Books. 1935. 1963. 14v.  v1 Our Oriental Heritage

History of Philosophy 9v. / Frederick Copleston.

2) Theology/Patristics/Jewish Studies

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 10v / Gerhard Kittel, editor. Geoffrey W Bromiley, translator. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.  1964.  [v1 Alpha – Gamma] [Fifth Printing 1972]

3) Anime/Japanese Studies

Culture Shock! Japan [third edition] / Rex Shelley. Portland, OR: Graphics Arts Center Publishing Company. 1993. 2000. 280 p. ; ill. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

 The Electric Geisha: Exploring Japan’s Popular Culture / Atsushi Ueda, ed. translated by Miriam Eguchi.  Tokyo:  Kodansha International. 1994.  260p.  Includes Glossary

The World of the Shining Prince : Court Life in Ancient Japan / Ivan Morris.   New York:  Vintage. 1964. Introduction copyright 1994.  xxvii,  336p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature  [2d ed] / J. Thomas Rimer. Tokyo: Kodansha International. 1999.  244p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

4) Science

Biology:  [bibliographic citation not yet available] *

Chemistry: [bibliographic citation not yet available] *

a variety of used college-level textbooks acquired from *cough* Goodwill Stores, as well as popular science magazines provide the basis for my background science readings


 

For simplicity, I’ll update this post with my current status each week

Week One:  June 22-June 28 2014

Meta-Pile #5 The Gentle Art of Reviewing: The Five Forms

17 Jun

As part of my ongoing quest to perfect my reviewing style, expand my knowledge base, and make better analyses of what I read, thus improving the reviews I offer, (the perfect excuse to spend mindless hours browsing and searching Wikipedia, naturally,I have tried to identify just what it is I am doing when I craft a book review. To my surprise, I learned that book reviews are considered to be a form of literary criticism.

Oddly enough, it’s hard for me to think about myself engaging in literary criticism when I’m only writing  book reviews (especially when most of them are non-fiction), because for me  literary criticism involves  the production of articles of 10-30 pages or longer monographs that evaluate the literary quality of an author’s work, and I have no formal training in literature,  but that is exactly what I am doing. In researching styles and templates for reviewing books, I  have had cause to look back to my student days, and  the instructions from my undergraduate professors on critiques we wrote on assigned reading, and realized that I preferred writing reviews that looked like that, but then I wondered,  is a ‘critique’ the same as a ‘review? And what about those pesky terms “bibliographic essay” and “literature review?” How do they fit into the equation, And then,  to complicate matters further,  I like to read Publishers Weekly, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, Books & Culture, the book review sections of academic periodicals, and even user-generated reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.com, so you could say that I like formal book reviews over informal assessments.

In all I have come to identify five forms of book evaluations, some which consider only the “book-in-hand”, some which cover multiple books:  Book Review, Book Critique, Annotated Bibliographies, Bibliographic Essays and Literature Reviews,  all of them forms of directed literary criticism -even when the source material is non-fiction. To keep them straight in my mind, as well as to help you, the gentle reader, I decided to  air out my findings and so I present to you the Five Forms of Book Reviews:

  1. Book Review.  A book review gives an evaluation of a book (text or audio) that either provides a recommendation for or against reading it, (which seems silly to my mind, because simply hearing about a work is not the same as reading -or seeing, or hearing- the work for yourself), or that provides a (hopefully reasoned) judgement about the story or argument.  These can be academic and journal reviews, personal reviews, paid reviews, volunteer reviews, and professional reviews  According to Wikipedia, a book review is a “form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. … Reviewers, in literary periodicals, often use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work” (1) and notes that often, evaluations are based on personal taste, which translate into only those books get reviewed that a reader really likes or really hates. The majority of people, however understand, and use a book review as a way to respond to the experience of reading, and don’t always provide convincing reasons for this response, so instead of a reasoned opinion on an author or a boo, it becomes a statement of personal taste and we all know the maxim about taste: De gustibus, non est disputandum.
  2. Book Critique  A critique of a work covers more than just the bare bones of plot, theme, style.  It considers the author’s credentials (and thus his expertise or authority in writing), the strengths and weaknesses of the argument, as well as engaging with other reviews of the work to give a more balanced view. A proper critique should also provide some context about the work: when, where, and why it was written, and how -if at all- it should affect our judgement of the work. In some of the more august reviewing literature,  critiques and reviews blend together, but I like to make a distinction. I suppose this means my ‘reviews’ are actually critiques, but since ‘review’ is a little less pretentious-sounding than ‘critique’, I’ll stay with ‘review’ to describe my evaluations.
  3. Annotated Bibliography :  Annotated Bibliographies are perhaps the ‘easiest’ or simplest form of literary criticism that covers multiple titles. It’s really a listing of books, together with a one or two sentence description of its contents, or recommendation about it’s use. These are usually topically and/or chronologically oriented, and find a home within public libraries, undergraduate libraries, or even museums.
  4. Bibliographic Essay :  Bibliographic essays are usually stand alone works that include comments and evaluations of multiple works either by the same author, or on the same topic.  I will use them in two other ways:   to review an author’s entire corpus, or a majority portion thereof; or to provide readers wit a generalized reading plan on a topic of interest.
  5. Literature Review:  Literature Reviews cover the current state of research (or scholarship) on a problem of scientific or humanistic note, or within a particular  academic discipline.  They are designed to be more impartial than a bibliographic essay, and are usually found within a larger research context, such as scientific research papers, a master’s thesis or  doctoral dissertations.

These five forms make up the expected literary and intellectual content  of Piles and Philes, and to a lesser extent my other forthcoming blogs.

 


Sources:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Review  Accessed on 9 June 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique  Accessed on 9 June 2014

Phile #4 Bibliographies and Blogs

15 Dec

or  “What do you do with a drunken blogger…early in the mornin?”

As is evident from previous posts, I am not shy about sharing bibliographies (whether or not I ever get around to reading the books on said bibliographies (though it is always my intention to do so), the fruits of my biblio-lunacy. I collect books like certain people collect fortune cookies fortunes, like  women collect shoes and purses, like otaku collect anime goods, and like dust-bunnies collect …well, more dust bunnies (I could add, “like tribbles produce other tribbles, but that’s stretching things a bit)

To prepare myself for undertaking formal (distance-learning) academic study again I  have taken up the noble and occasionally gentle art of blogging, of which Piles and Philes was but my first down-payment. At the same time, in order to meet my commitment to my Episcopal parish I have drawn up a three year schedule of book reviews (A fourth, provisional year has also been drawn up, but not finalized)

I hope to introduce these other blogs over the course of  the next year as I build up my intellectual stamina so to speak in preparation for this return to school for graduate-level work in the fields of history, humanities, philosophy, theology, and science (probably a combination of biology and evolutionary psychology).  I’m also going to share recently acquired bibliographies:  from Cobb  County Public Library, from Amazon, from other bookstores (especially Used or Secondhand bookstores) and from within the bowels of my preexisting personal library, targeted toward the blogs in question, to be added as meta-piles.

The Soul of Understanding

What this means is I’ll get to share more and more lists of books, so that together our gathered intellectual ambition can exceed  our reach. It also means  that, as the number of posted reviews in certain areas increases, I’ll be able to return to these books, organizing and integrating them into literature reviews and bibliographic essays for more comprehensive understanding With that said, my upcoming blog projects for 2013 include.

1 Earmarks and Porn: A Christian review of political culture  A blog which relies on book review of current and historical works on political philosophy, political events, biographies, and agendas, as well as the occasional scriptural commentary to build up a Christian understanding of politics in an age of increasing globalization and interconnectedness.

2 The Strange Affair of the Evolutionary Creationist:  A study in ideas that will review books along the creation-evolution, mind-body, science-religion, faith-reason divide (and just perhaps, supply me with research material and leads for an eventual dissertation), primarily pursued through (you guessed it) reading and reviewing other books in the hyphenated fields above, to build up my own understanding of issues,

3 Miihaa – The Clueless Fanboy Anime Review : for the love of Japanese and Anime culture -This little gem (the product of my major non-academic interests, (aside from fiction writing) offers for the interested reader reviews of anime series as well as books (and the occasional blog) about Japan and Japanese culture and society (including anime and other art forms), history, language, literature and religion, in an attempt to develop a proper understanding and context for the continued enjoyment of anime (at least insofar as a Gaijin like me can understand it. I plan, and hope, to include guest posts from fellow members of the AWA Video Room Staff (if not wider AWA Staff)

4 Walsingham Way: Pilgrim Thoughts on the Journey of Faith –  A personal devotional and theological blog (actually an existing, though dormant blog) where I could gather my thoughts on Jesus and Faith  framed by a threefold chord of Marian, Patristic, and Hebrew modes of understanding, naturally complemented by more reading and more reviews.

The Three Constants

The end of the matter is that I will be constantly seeking understanding, constantly studying, constantly putting to use the fruits of my reading in the pursuit of true wisdom. And if, at the end of another 40 years of life, I can claim a little increase of understanding of the ways of God and men, I will count those years well spent.

So, until we meet again, Keep reading, my friends!

Meta-Pile #1 on Reviews and Reviewing

16 Oct

You would think  that a person trained in library science should have a better sense of organization when it comes to sequencing the books to be reviewed,  and yet, judging from the lack of order in my list of  Amazon reviews, even I have to scratch my head and wonder what is going on. It was only after staring at all the assorted stacks of books in my writing area that I came to the following conclusion: That the reviews that will appear here in Piles and Philes are are deliberately presented without a  pre-determined order, although at times I may post a series of works on similar subjects or related themes. Instead, it reflects an organic development based on my interests and whichever particular book happens to be in front of me, and any other related books that I can locate in a given time period (thus fulfilling the occasional and eclectic nature of my reviewing).

My intention has long been  to review as completely and thoroughly as possible my existing and future personal collection of books and other media, items borrowed from public (currently the Cobb County Public Library) or academic libraries, and books loaned to me by other individuals, and this intention has survived many attempts at a systematic read through (probably because I’m good at distracting myself with books from other sections in the library at Just the right moment 🙂 .

I make no apology for the eclectic nature of the collection as it makes it’s way onto the blog: I read what I like or what catches my eye (whether or not I agree with it’s contents) and review what I read (or watch).

For example: God’s Chosen Fast, my  first review (see supra), was initially read and reviewed for an issue of my (Episcopal) parish newsletter during Lent of 2011. This gave me an  existing review that was easily  adapted  for an Amazon Book Review (not to mention a Goodreads review)  when I decided to start a comprehensive program of reviewing; and, but a short step to incorporate it into the Piles and Philes.  Moreover, I have chosen this same process for the first 18 reviews to appear, because it offers both less, and more work. In fact, this double or triple editing style of multiple postings of the same review allows me to fine-tune the review for the particular audience, and increases both my understanding and enjoyment of the work in question.

Until next time then,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty!

 

edited for consistency on 17 October 2012