Writing and Reading

(Harry Grant Dart, 1911)

I think of myself as someone who writes, but mostly not for any specific audience, and not in conventional media. In fact my writing has mostly been a means of self discovery. The whole game of academic writing never appealed to me, being far too aimed at reputation-building and point-scoring, and tending to be more and more specialized where I wanted to explore the more and more generalized. I generally enjoyed talking/lecturing (though I tended more to the improvisatory and the eclectic than the sage-on-the-stage didactic) because I could tell stories, construct intricate narratives, pull verbal rabbits out of hats, make wry asides... those things don't translate well to conventional books and articles. I have notebooks and journals and file folders and textfiles crammed with pensées and reflections... the Mathematician's Toast applies: here's to Pure Mathematics, may it never be any use to anyone.

When I discovered hypertext, sometime in the late 1980s, I finally had a medium that allowed the allusive outward linking that was congenial to my verbal style. In my librarian years (basically 1990 to 2005) I explored hyper-everything with great glee, and created an edifice of electronic documents that were mostly of interest to myself, but are still out there for googlers to find. Quite a bit of that trove is accessible via the links on http://oook.info/current.html though I haven't been assiduous about keeping the page updated.

If I were to point you to a couple of relatively lengthy texts, they'd be A Rumination on Yoga Practice and Musical Ruminations, August 2005 --both essentially concerned with ME rather than with some less-fascinating topic.

The blog is a primary outlet, less detailed and less eloquent than I'd like it to be, but now and again I have used it as a medium to stretch out a bit. It does index the flux of my attention and interests about as well as can be.

I've always felt that my own writing was idiosyncratic, generally satisfying to me as a means of Expression, but not necessarily a basis for helping anybody else to develop as a writer. In the most general terms, I've long felt that what somebody who proposed to be a Teacher should do, first and foremost, is to be seen to be a Learner, with the underlying hope that students might be inspired/encouraged in the direction of emulation. I summed a lot of that up in a statement of "Goals and Methods of Teaching" almost 20 years ago and I still think pretty much the same things. So I feel myself to be a Learner in the grand process of articulating what I think.

cultivate the Art of Contextualizing Juxtaposition, spinning out the stories liberated by juxtapositions, and encouraging others to play at doing the same. In the context of teaching-learning, it's encouraging students to MAKE things; whether they're haiku or collage or mashup or essay matters less than the evolving taste for making and mooting own expression, in [semi-] public space. The essential is that the instructor be seen to be doing the very same thing. (http://oook.info/blog/?p=733)
I have played at haiku/senryu
moral certitude
inspires the cannon fodder
waving flags: Huzzah!!

another martyr
ours or theirs: keep careful count
a winner someday

Shannon's Barred Owl

Florida guest
spring snowstorm

Hiking the AT in Maine

What I wish I'd figured out long ago (and think pretty much NObody has figured out) is how to help people learn to be active READERS. I surely spent a lot of years reading (a lot of) stuff very mechanically, or (truth to tell) superficially, and only in the last 20 or so have I had the feeling that I was sometimes really getting to the essence of reading as a mental process. Fortunately my education spared me the burden of "close reading" and lit-crit and postmodernist flimflam about textuality that has blighted most of the humanities (and, I think, done nothing to help ordinary folk toward the satori of Active Reading). Perhaps not so fortunately, the present is a challenging time for reading in the full sense I'm after here, and (for example) the 140-character limit of Twitter is no help at all when it comes to eloquent communication. I don't think I buy the line that says "nobody reads anymore" but the eloquence of long-form material like New Yorker and New York Review of Books articles isn't a common taste these days (and maybe it never was). Certainly the college-age young are not much inclined to be readers, from everything I've seen and heard, and the trajectory of higher education is further and further from that golden dream of the Liberal Arts.

A lot of MY real education took place in Cambridge and Palo Alto bookstores, browsing and buying stuff that seemed like it opened new doors... and those bookstores are mostly vanished now. The Web and Amazon fill that empty space for me, and there are hundreds of books in the home library that I could profitably pick up again. In fact I've often thought about trying a systematic tour through that library, trying to put each book into its context and perhaps extract nuggets of especially great import... but for whom or for what? The answer is unclear, unless it's for my own Integration.

Start anywhere
It all connects
and the trick is to choose
among branching paths
or perhaps it's to
unwind the thread
as you sally forth
so as to be able
to reconstruct
your wanderings
That reconstruction is a tale
a narrative of Tolkien proportions
though without the necessity
of any end to the hero's quest
and indeed with no heroes
or deus ex machina
just the progress of discovery

And what does the Argonaut seek?
Not fleeces or immured maidens
gloriously slain foes
or vanquished enemies

It's the link, the nexus,
the skein of allusion
the journey and not
the destination
the joys of finding and telling


This is fully in accord with the Dictum of my patron saint, Hugh of St. Victor:
Omnia disce, videbus postea nihil esse superfluum
(Learn everything, you will see later that nothing is superfluous)

So yes, I read a lot of books. My regular reading also includes several magazines and quarterlies (these days, it's The New Yorker, NYRB, The Baffler, London Review of Books, Fretboard Journal), and I follow several hundred blogs via their RSS feeds. The blogs often point me to books that Amazon then delivers. New shelves get built as needed.