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robertogreco : puritans   2

Common-place: Common Reading: Undisciplined Reading: Finding surprise in how we read, Matthew P. Brown
"I read and teach novels regularly. But is the linear novel the only way one gets lost in a book? Consider those reference works that captivate you: a cookbook, a sports trivia volume, or a recordings guide. You open these books and escape into the pleasure of the cross-reference, the serendipitous, the transport to the known and the unknown. When I open David Thomson's New Biographical Dictionary of Film, forty minutes later the hard-boiled eggs are hard and boiling over, the cats are draped over the sleeping three-year-old, the dishes are still in the sink. Other than in Thomson's massaging, prickly prose, I know not where I am. The faint motion sickness I feel is from the cascade of ideas, memories, and anticipations, so different from the psychological and physiological response to channel- or Web-surfing, comparable fragmented modes of consumption. But reference-book reading of this sort assumes connoisseurship—that fancy word for heavy-panting, lighter-waving fandom—a habit of mind profoundly disciplinary.

I should feel shame about my disorderly reading, but I don't. In fact, I'd like to defend it as a reading practice of depth, rather than superficiality. Disorderly reading mimics the mind's generative activity of thought and discovery, those instances where you know something is happening but you don't know what it is. We might better call it discontinuous or nonlinear reading and acknowledge its long history, a history that reveals the fact that nonlinear reading lends itself to routinized procedure as well.

Reading seems ineluctably bound up in discipline, in customary behavior that precedes and structures the significance of the reading. But how then does reading become a means to the new, the unknown, the undiscovered? If even messy reading falls into predictable patterns and outcomes, how might what we read, or rather how we read, surprise us?

My contention is that one might use discipline to escape discipline, that freeing the mind is achieved by entering into restrictive procedures that liberate thinking. Let's begin by assessing that literary form most associated with the unknown, the undiscovered, or the novel—that is, the novel. Then we'll turn to early modern disciplines, finding analogies in them for contemporary reading scenes. Our guide here will be that Other to the twenty-first-century secular intellectual: the seventeenth-century English devout, those bigoted regicides and colonial Malvolios known—not without controversy, now and then, now perhaps more than then—as "Puritans.""



"Another reading discipline of surprise derived from Puritan mores is the conventicle. Conventicles were extramural religious meetings of select congregants within a church, most famously practiced in early America by Anne Hutchinson during the Antinomian controversy. (A quiescent version of conventicling from contemporary church history is the cellular model of Rick Warren's organization, the Saddleback megachurch.) Rooted in the idea that reading matter rather than institutional authority could be a source of spiritual sustenance, conventiclers absorbed scripture, repeated sermons, and sang psalms. Conventicling operated along a spectrum from conservative to separatist. And, like puritan, conventicle was a rhetorically charged word that could mean devout private gathering or conspiratorial unlawful assembly, depending upon who did the labeling.

Pious or riotous, conventicling illuminates a classroom dynamic familiar to current undergraduate literature professors. My rough sense is that in research universities and non-elite colleges, a majority of the students in each course are cats we herd unsuccessfully, while a largish minority learn something in a rote way. The remnant is the conventicle, actual or virtual students who meet with their minds in class discussion, with each other outside of class, and with the professor after sessions. When I read Susannah Rowson or Herman Melville or Toni Morrison or Richard Powers for class preparation, I have the majority in mind, as I gather the three points I want to get across in the fifty minutes. Reaching and teaching this majority is one of the real pleasures of my professorial life. But, in the reading prep, I have the conventicle in mind, for that is where the surprise happens."
via:asfaltics  reading  howweread  matthewpbrown  2007  books  chaos  messiness  linearity  novels  behavior  orderliness  rules  academics  academia  pedagogy  nonliner  structure  structures  puritans  conventicles  oulipo  authorlessness  linear 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Why the cult of hard work is counter-productive
"In the vanguard of “productivity” literature and apps was David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system, according to which you can become “a wizard of productivity” by organising your life into folders and to-do lists. The GTD movement quickly spread outside the confines of formal work and became a way to navigate the whole of existence: hence the popularity of websites such as Lifehacker that offer nerdy tips on rendering the messy business of everyday life more amenable to algorithmic improvement. If you can discover how best to organise the cables of your electronic equipment or “clean stubborn stains off your hands with shaving cream”, that, too, adds to your “productivity”...

The paradox of the autodidactic productivity industry of GTD, Lifehacker and the endless reviews of obscure mind-mapping or task-management apps is that it is all too easy to spend one’s time researching how to acquire the perfect set of productivity tools and strategies without ever actually settling down to do something. In this way, the obsessive dream of productivity becomes a perfectly effective defence against its own realisation.

As Samuel Johnson once wrote: “Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought.”

...

"It took a long time before the adjective “productive” – which once simply meant “generative”, as applied to land or ideas – acquired its specific economic sense, in the late 18th century, of relating to the production of goods or commodities. (The noun form is first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in an essay by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which he writes of the “produc­tivity” of a growing plant.) To call a person “productive” only in relation to a measured quantity of physical outputs is another way that business rhetoric has long sought to dehumanise workers.

One way to counter this has been to attempt to recuperate the supposed vice of idleness – to hymn napping, daydreaming and sheer zoning out. Samuel Johnson is sometimes counted among the champions of faffing, perhaps simply because of the name of his essay series The Idler"



"David Graeber, the anthropologist and author of Debt: the First 5,000 Years, would also probably approve of it as a characterisation of what he calls “bullshit jobs”. In a recent essay for Strike! magazine, Graeber remarks on “the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations”, all of which he describes as “bullshit” and “pointless”. Their activity is to be contrasted with that of what Graeber calls “real, productive workers”. 

It is telling that even in such a bracingly critical analysis, the signal virtue of “productivity” is left standing, though it is not completely clear what it means for the people in the “real” jobs that Graeber admires. It is true that service industries are not “productive” in the sense that their labour results in no great amount of physical objects, but then what exactly is it for the “Tube workers” Graeber rightly defends to be “productive”, unless that is shorthand for saying, weirdly, that they “produce” physical displacements of people? And to use “productive” as a positive epithet for another class of workers he admires, teachers, risks acquiescing rhetorically in the commercialisation of learning. Teaching as production is, etymologically and otherwise, the opposite of teaching as education. 

Idleness in the sense of just not working at all, rather than working at a bullshit activity, was championed by the dissident Marxist Paul Lafargue, writer of the 1883 manifesto The Right to Be Lazy. This amusing denunciation of what Lafargue calls “the furious passion for work” in capitalist civilisation, which is “the cause of all intellectual degeneracy”, rages against its own era of “overproduction” and consequent recurring “industrial crises”. The proletariat, Lafargue cries, “must proclaim the Rights of Laziness, a thousand times more noble and more sacred than the anaemic Rights of Man concocted by the metaphysical lawyers of the bourgeois revolution. It must accustom itself to working but three hours a day, reserving the rest of the day and night for leisure and feasting.”"
productivity  brain  labor  idleness  bullshitjobs  2013  time  gtd  davidallen  via:shannon_mattern  lifehacker  samueljohnson  laziness  puritans  work  workethic  gettingthingsdone 
december 2013 by robertogreco

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