Monday, April 18, 2011

On Systematic Reading

Today I finished reading Slavoj Zizek's In Defense Of Lost Causes. Without a doubt the longest and most challenging book I have finished in a while. I have many half baked thoughts about it. I posted two different posts during the course of my reading: one on politeness and the other on retroactive freedom. I am really trying to engage with Zizek and see what he has to say, what his work is all about. It is quite challenging though.

So the end of this book has left me feeling lots of different things. I feel like there are certain things I have grasped and can take away from this book. But at the same time I feel like I'm incapable of talking about how the book flows as a whole, how it is structured, and how how its argument progresses along that structure. I take reading seriously and I typically approach books in terms of their structure and organization. And I feel troubled when I encounter a book in which I can't apprehend its structural progression.

So, I only have one choice: I'm gonna have to go systematic on this bitch.


My favorite professor is such an intense reader. He always referred to 'the nature of the task': what it really takes to break down an important work of non-fiction, what it means to really master a book. It is an insane task. So difficult. Something that takes far more than a single read.

I remember I was in his office once, talking to him about a new book that came out. He said something like 'I've read it all the way through, but I haven't given it a systematic treatment'.

I was like 'oh no, systematic reading'. His entire graduate seminar was aimed at teaching us how to read systematically, how to break down books in all of their complexity and nuance.

Generally, systematic reading begins with the table of contents: you type out the entire table of contents into a word document. From there you fill it in, grapple with each sub-section, each paragraph. Determine why everything is structured the way that it is.

So that is what I'm going to try and do with Zizek. I'm going to put the whole table of contents into a word document and I'm going to do some work on grappling with the structure of the book, the structure of the chapters, the structure of the subsections.

I guess this issue of systematic reading really haunts me. Like I said, I know I'll have to read that seriously in the future. But what is the book that will first demand me to read that way? What will be the first book to compel me to give it a systematic treatment? What will push me over that edge from careful reading to systematic reading? Perhaps In Defense Of Lost Causes is that book. I'm certainly entertaining the idea.

In conclusion, reading is serious business, and I haven't learned to do it seriously enough yet.

Yours truly,

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