Friday, March 26, 2010

Reading for the next four years

Came across this reading list which is the backbone of the curriculum at St. John's College with the semester schedule for reading is available here and here. The goal of this reading and listening (Note Bach/Schubert among others) is to connect the student to the development of Western thought both for the purpose of understanding history and also to recognize when others, to use the vernacular, 'remix' the old into the new. (I.e. David Foster Wallace's work Infinite Jest pulls from Hamlet talking to Yorick's skull. This kind of thing matters deeply to the reader where the author is, however obliquely, talking to the reader's skull. If the reader is not aware, or has never encountered, the author has no reason to make the effort.) Also reading in this breadth is to see connections that the author, because of their own limited experience (all experience is limited) was not aware of or had not seen.
Recently, I came across a timely article in entitled Oh, the Humanities! by Rochelle Gurstein. Mz. Gurstein argues for the continued importance of the humanities and their relevance from the same reason that St. John's runs their students through four years of intensive reading/study/discussion. Not that the study needs to be 'relevant' to the student's lives but to engage in study for those "...who wish to make reflective inquiry a vital part of their lives." One of the most difficult things is mustering up the energy just to start this process of inquiry. The other very difficult thing is continuing it but to do so in the company of like-minded individuals is an incomparable opportunity. The humanities keep us from chasing ourselves giving us the tools, the recognitions to know when ideas are being pimped as new and when a really interesting idea is new conglomeration of things and has worth. (Not to say that all new things are good but rather the distinction between the re-packaged-as-new and the-ingested-and-marinated-object-as-new. ) This is the worth of the humanities to strengthen the resolve and increase the depth of that which engenders reflective inquiry-that 'zone of silence'.

In the fall I'm planning on taking a crack at reading through the St. John's lists. You are welcome to join the conversation. Giles and I talked about this already and we may very well end up modifying the schedule a bit to fit with full-time work schedules but these texts will stay constant.

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