Dr. Johnson on reading

“I used formerly, (he added,) when sleepless in bed, to read like a Turk.”

That might be Dr. Johnsons most famous quote…

Earlier in Boswell’s Life of Johnson we learn that Johnson read a lot, read fast, read without any system, read anything that took his fancy, and considered this the best way to acquire knowledge. Also he considered reading books a better way to learn than listening to lectures. In this sense Johnson is the perfect example of a ‘new world’ of learning & acquiring knowledge.

“[W]e may be absolutely certain, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject, once observed to me that ‘Johnson knew more books than any man alive.’ He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end. He had, from the irritability of his constitution, at all times, an impatience and hurry when he either read or wrote.”

“Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it. JOHNSON. ‘I have looked into it.’ ‘What, (said Elphinston,) have you not read it through?’ Johnson, offended at being thus pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, ‘No, Sir, do YOU read books THROUGH?'”

“A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?”

“He then took occasion to enlarge on the advantages of reading, and combated the idle superficial notion, that knowledge enough may be acquired in conversation. ‘The foundation (said he,) must be laid by reading. General principles must be had from books, which, however, must be brought to the test of real life. In conversation you never get a system. What is said upon a subject is to be gathered from a hundred people. The parts of a truth, which a man gets thus, are at such a distance from each other that he never attains to a full view.'”

“‘Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together. A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. A young man should read five hours in a day, and so may acquire a great deal of knowledge.'”

Add to this that Johnson wrote for money, wrote extremely fast, often did not edit, rewrite, yes, often did not reread what he wrote and published.

“He told us, ‘almost all his Ramblers were written just as they were wanted for the press; that he sent a certain portion of the copy of an essay, and wrote the remainder, while the former part of it was printing. When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he was sure it would be done.'”

“When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.'”

All quotes from James Boswell, The Life of Johnson, 1791, electronic version: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1564.

(I read this edition: … edited & abridged by Christopher Hibbert, Penguin English Library, Harmondsworth, 1979).

In issue 74 of The Idler he defends enjoying the flow of reading, and argues against marking passages or copying fragments in notebooks:

“It is the practice of many readers to note, in the margin of their books, the most important passages, the strongest arguments, or the brightest sentiments. Thus they load their minds with superfluous attention, repress the vehemence of curiosity by useless deliberation, and by frequent interruption break the current of narration or the chain of reason, and at last close the volume, and forget the passages and marks together.”

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Idler

en,quotations,reading matter,research,ubiscribe | August 29, 2006 | 10:51 | Comments Off on Dr. Johnson on reading |

Really, cycling is not the only thing I do…

I’ve been reading too. And making notes. All of that didn’t make it into the blog.

Spending two days in Brussels at Acting Out Technology (http://www.actingouttechnology.be) was very much worth while.

On the first day I delivered a long sort of improvised talk on 1. Latourian Dingpolitik, ANT, Latours definition of a network, and 2. Web 2.0-stuff. For me it functioned (also) as an explanation of the connection between both. A first public attempt at it. It often feels as if I just happen to think about/reseach online collaboration & sharing & publication issues, and am reading Latour at the same time. But both strands inform each other. I hope to be able to ‘pull them together’ in a text too….

The second day it was to art-historian Eric de Bruyn & his talk on the network in the history of art — from roughly Stan VanderBeek and the Eames IBM-pavilion, via Conceptual Art toward Radical Software. (I love all that). Thomas Zummer — also present — came up good issues & explanations & ideas during discussion with the workshop participants. & some of the proposals of the participants were very, very promising. Inspiring.

I read Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste in the new Dutch translation. Further exploring the world 18th century publishing. Also took a look at Tobias Smolett’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobias_Smollett) The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, and some more Samuel Johnson. Just the fun stuff at the side — but what I learn from it spills over into other areas of interest. Early 18th century being, of course, interesting for its changes in the publishing industry, copyright, writers living from what they write for money etc.

And then I picked up Peter Rawlings American Theorists of the Novel, James, Trilling, Booth, from the series Routlede Critical Thinkers (http://www.routledge.com/). (Just because it was a recent acquisition of the library). It’s not a very inspiring book, and I wonder why we (or students of literature) would need a guide to James, Trilling and Booth. Whatever you have against Gerard Genette and narratology, the theories from that field go beyond James and Booth if you ask me. Maybe not when you focus on ‘morality’ — a big issue for James, Trilling and Booth, But when it comes to literature & morality, one better picks up Rorty or Nussbaum (and no, I do not particularly like their approaches to literature).

Of course James’ introductions to his novels are monuments. Certainly Trilling wrote inspiring essays (I did not read anything of Trilling). Booth’ Rhetoric of Fiction is a classic — euh, already considered outdated when I studied Literary Theory end of the eighties.

So why did I read this ‘guide’?

1. In contemporary literature (also in the Netherlands) James — and his theories of storytelling — keep popping up. It is as if he is the grand master to whom one has to turn to really learn what it means to write a novel. I want to understand better: why James…? Of course James is great (though I have severe problems enjoying his writing). But he doesn’t particularly strike me as a ‘model’ for contemporary literature. Am I wrong?

2. I’m interested in AmLit. I do like to read the American essayist Leslie Fiedler for instance. I’ve never read anything of Trilling.

And what did I get?

1. A short recap of Jamesian + Boothian theory. Always handy. Also a reconfirmation that I rather turn to Genette, early Barthes, Russian formalism & structuralism or Bachtin for insights.

2. An idea of Trillings position — he is conservative in his thinking about the art of the novel, and progressive in terms of its transforming power. For me the useful eye-opener is Trillings opposition of ‘sincerity’ and authenticity’: ‘sincerity’ as connected to rhetoric, appearance, 18th century literature, persona’s; and ‘authenticity’ as the twentieth century idea of a true inner self (Freud being important for Trilling). Trilling would like literature to be about the discovering of this authenticy — against the ‘unreal sincerity’. (Well, this is from a summary of Trilling, I have not yet read his Sincerity and Authenticity).

In this way my reading of Jacques le Fataliste, and exploration of rhetorics (with its idea of the ‘ethos’ of the speaker), connects nicely with reading through a not so inspiring guide on American theories of the novel…

en,reading matter,research,writing | August 28, 2006 | 17:42 | Comments (3) |

87,5 / 3.58

Begin van de middag terug uit Amsterdam. Zware buien. Ook in Kanne. Als de zon er weer doorkomt stap ik op de fiets. Het blijft droog, de zon blijft schijnen. Klimmetjes zoeken rond Jupille. De Trixhes (wat een lastige rothelling), de Rue Fonds du Chat (smal), de Rue General Leclercq (niet zo moeilijk). Het blijft een mooi gebied — ondanks alle typisch Belgische bebouwing — vol zware klims. Dan rij ik richting Chaudfontaine naar de Vesdre, door het bos. Hoe is het mogelijk dat ik nu pas dat prachtige stukje ontdek? Omdat ik altijd naar Vaux ss Chevremont daalde? 16.00 – 20.00.

Kanne – kanaal – Hermalle ss Argenteau – Cheratte – Wandre – Rue Colline / Rue Montagnard / Cote de la Xhavee – Jupille – Trixhes – Jupille – Rue Fonds du Chat – Rue de Beyne – Rue General Leclerq – Beyne – Chaudfontaine – Foret – St. Hadelin – Micheroux – Retinne – Saive – Cheratte – Sarolay – Hermalle ss. Argenteau – kanaal – Kanne

(Opnieuw weet ik niet of ik de route goed heb ingetekend; waar ligt die Rue Fonds du Chat; hoe reed ik nou precies bij Micheroux; en onmogelijk om op deze schaal te tonen dat ik heen over de grote weg naar Hermalle reed, en terug via het fietspad langs de Maas).

cycling,nl | August 28, 2006 | 16:07 | Comments Off on 87,5 / 3.58 |

47 / 2.00

Opnieuw vroeg op. Nu geen zon, wel weer matige weersvoorspellingen — maar mijn fiets is toch smerig. 8.30 – 10.30. Nu denk ik bij Mesch zelfs droog thuis te komen als het alsnog plots gaat hozen. De zware bui duurt tien minuten en hoewelik even schuil word ik toch drijfnat, en zie af van een extra ommetje via Eijsden. Kanne – kanaal – Visee – Alle du Hennen – Mons – Bombaye – Warsage – Neufchateau – Les Waides – La Heydt – Warsage – Gravensvoeren – (+ klimmetje) – Mesch – Withuis – Moelingen – Lixhe – Lanaye – Kanne

cycling,nl | August 28, 2006 | 16:07 | Comments Off on 47 / 2.00 |

50 / 2.10

Vroeg op voor een rondje. F. slaapt nog. De zon schijnt, de weersvoorspellingen zijn slecht. 8.00 – 10.15. Tot La Heydt is het volledig droog, dan wat sputters, het laatste half uur zeikt het. Toch rij ik nog wat kleine doodlopende weggetjes in bij ‘s Gravensvoeren. Kanne – kanaal – Vise – Allee du Hennen – Mons – Bombaye – Warsage – La Heydt – Rullen – St. Pietersvoeren – St. Martensvoeren – Gravensvoeren (+ Altenbroek, Koetsweg) – Moelingen – Lixhe – Lanaye – Kanne

cycling,nl | August 28, 2006 | 16:05 | Comments Off on 50 / 2.10 |

46 / 2.00

Ochtendritje. Vanmiddag komt F. Bewolkt, redelijk fris, lekker fietsweer, zware benen. Flinke zuidenwind. Kanne – Eben – Moulin de Broukay – Wonck – Zichen – Val-Meer – Bassenge – Boirs – Glons – linksaf klim + rechtsaf in klim – Slins – Hermee – Oupeye – kanaal – Loen (fabriek) – kanaal oversteken – Kanne

cycling,nl | August 21, 2006 | 18:16 | Comments Off on 46 / 2.00 |

97 / 4.54

Eerst Dewey lezen, dan fietsen. In de ochtend flink wat regen, later ook opklaringen, om 15.00 op de fiets, en een groot deel in de zon gereden, drie kleine buien, redelijk fris, heerlijk fietsweer. Fikse zuidenwind. Een perfecte dag om wat Houtepenklims te doen. Echt vermaak voor de zondag — wanneer de Luikse wegen heel rustig zijn. (De gemiddelde snelheid kruipt wel naar onder de 20, ook door al het zoeken, en op de terugweg ging de Veille Voie niet echt makkelijk meer). Het is inderdaad een prachtig gebied… soms hetzelfde stukje heen en weer gereden. Rue Melard, Cote de Bois des Dames (toch? de klim naar links), Rue Tesny, Rue Bois Sauvage (na Rue Marchon — loopt dood), Bellaire / Fleron, Rue Heids de Chene (nu met spiksplinternieuw asfalt, maar niks makkelijker, Angliru-herinneringen), Rue Haute Folie, Veille Voie Bellaire, langzame klim vanuit Jupille door het bos, Veille Voie (Cheratte), Wihxou — heel klein paadje, met bord ‘doodlopende weg’, naast de friterie (tot nu toe over het hoofd gezien…). De route zit vol heen en weer, doodlopende wegen inrijden en ik heb geen idee of ik de route juist heb ingetekend. Maar het was genieten. (En zo’n zestal ‘echte’ Houtepenklims op 1 tocht is echt genoeg, voor mijn benen dan…)

Kanne – kanaal – Maas – Hermalle ss Argenteau – Cheratte – Voie Melard (verboden in te rijden, eigenlijk een soort voetgangerspad naar boven) – Cheratte – Veille Voie af – Wandre – Cote de Bois de Dames (linksom omhoog en ook weer afdalen) – Rue Tesny (schitterend) – Jupille – beetje links aanhouden, wandelgebied in – Rue Marchon (na wat zoeken, volg de groene B+pijl — mountainbikeroute, de Rue Marchon loopt dood, maar heet uitzicht is prachtig), omkeren, nu de rue Bois Sauvage in, bij splitsing rechtdoor (linksaf loopt dood) – door het rommelige bos afdalen, v.v. omhoog en weer afdalen – klim naar Bellaire – Fleron – afdalen richting Jupille – linksaf Rue Heids de Chene – Fleron – afdaling naar Vaux ss Chevremont – even rechts naar Beyne en via L38 fietsroute (hier verhard) weer terug – Vaux ss Chevremont – Rue Haute Folie – abdij Chevremont – Rue des Gottes – Magnee – Fleron (op een of andere manier achterlangs via fietspad) – afdalen ri. Jupille – rechtsaf Rue Veille Voie Bellaire (steil maar makkelijk) – Jupille – klim naar Wandre – Bois les Dames – Cheratte – Veille Voie – Sarolay – Argenteau – Whixhou – Argenteau – Vise – kanaal – Kanne

cycling,nl | August 21, 2006 | 18:12 | Comments Off on 97 / 4.54 |

150 / 6.50

Eerst Dewey lezen (Reconstruction in Philosophy — prachtig & glashelder), dan fietsen. Schitterend zomerweer, eerst erg warm (27 graden?) en zonnig, later veel bewolking en hier en daar een zeer lokale bui — je zou er in 2 minuten doorheen rijden, zo lokaal. Ik voel slechts een paar sputters. 13.00 – 20.00. Raar rondje, ik was helemaal niet van plan om lang door het bos te rijden, maar deed het toch. Ditmaal over Henri-Chapelle gereden, waar een familiefietstocht gaande was en honderden mensen in oranje T-shirts zich vanuit Verviers naar boven hesen, dan via Welkenraedt en tja, dan zit je dicht bij Eupen…

Kanne – Lanaye – Moelingen – Gravensvoeren – fietspad achterlangs – Schophem – St. Martensvoeren – St. Pietersvoeren – Veursbos – Aubel – Henri-Chapelle – Welkenraedt – Membach (via de fietsknooppunten, erg slechte en modderige weg, maar je komt er wel onder de snelweg en TGV mee door (de weg over Baelen is nog altijd afgesloten) – Eupen – stuwmeer – dan, meest de knooppunten volgens om het meer en vervolgens dwars door het Hertogenwoud om uiteindelijk in Goe uit te komen – Goe – Hevremont – Limbourg – Clermont – Froidthier – Val Dieu – Mortroux – Warsage – Gravensvoeren – Mesch – Oost-Maarland – Maastrich – (euh, ik had de boodschappen op de Jan van Eyck laten staan, en vervolgens met groenten, worst en eieren onder in mn trui als pakezel naar huis) – Kanne.

cycling,nl | August 21, 2006 | 18:10 | Comments Off on 150 / 6.50 |

61,5 / 2.42

Veel wind, zuidelijk. Felle zon en wolken. Redelijk warm (23 graden). Vreemd weer. Eerst werken dan fietsen, en daar tussenin eindelijk weer ‘ns een uurtje lekker in de zon lezen. Kanne – Lanaye – Moelingen – Gravensvoeren – Martensvoeren – St. Pietersvoeren – Aubel – Froidthier – Les Trixhes – Val Dieu – Mortroux – Dalhem – Vise – kanaal – Kanne

cycling,nl | August 21, 2006 | 18:09 | Comments Off on 61,5 / 2.42 |

85 / 3.54

Eerst werken, dan fietsen. 16.30 – 20.30. Laten we zeggen: een toeristisch rondje — wat wil zeggen dat ik hier en daar op goed geluk een weggetje in sla, geen doel heb, geen route plan, en ook nog foto’s maak. Het is verrassend warm (25 graden?), eerst zonnig, later bewolkt.

Kanne Рkanaal РVis̩ РLorette РDalhem РMortroux РVal Dieu + RA klimmetje (net voor Val Dieu, loopt dood) РRossenfosse Рri., Charneux РBattice (via een klim die ik niet kende) РLa Minerie РThimister РClermont РFroidthier РLa Bushaye РAubel РSt. Pietersvoeren РMartensvoeren РGravensvoeren РMoelingen РLixhe РLanaye РKanne

cycling,nl | August 18, 2006 | 11:20 | Comments Off on 85 / 3.54 |
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