Monday, February 25, 2008

Anthologies and Working Out the Mind

I think it’s good to pay attention to the kinds of things we like to hear or read. For example (as if I didn’t intend to bring this up), I’m drawn to anthologies of almost any kind: essays, short stories, travel writing, spiritual writing, some poetry (volumes like, “Best Poems Ever in the History of Mankind” so I don’t have to sift through the soil), scientific treatises (a volume of string theorists), etcetera. The older I get, the more impatient I am with one-author volumes. There are exceptions and necessities, but for the most part, I’m uninterested in reading 400 pages from one person, one mind, one angst, or one imagination. The rule has legs. So I have often counseled folks who come within five minutes of me to never take, for example, your religion from one living person; never take your understanding of the Quran from one commentator or translator (alive or otherwise); and never have your reading experience dominated by one author over a significant period of time. Essentially, never unwittingly make vague or pointed loyalty your spiritual or intellectual limitation. You will regret it. Whenever you have serious conversations with others, it will not be about content, but an invisible defense of a narrow band of learning you’ve accepted as some “whole.” And just about everything you read or hear will be filtered or tweaked to match your prefabricated thoughts.

I’m especially talking about the post-college, or post-graduate life, when our critical thinking skills and other tools and parts of our acumen are pretty much established. The world is big. If something like a leaf has nuance, then imagine what words, ideas, perspectives, and their heirs have in terms of shade, gradation, and distinction. It’s hard to accept that God would create uncountable shades of green but would limit our minds (far more complex than color) to a small sample of perspectives.


Blogger Abuljude said...

My version of this rule: Mistrust Everyone, but figure out whom you mistrust the least.

2/25/2008 3:09 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

AJ, a bit of cynicism, I see. Well, I understand it, though my point is really about a method I recommend no matter the troughs of times. There are times when you begin with trust, then let the evidence move you otherwise. And there are times when you begin with mistrust, until proof of trust is warranted.

2/25/2008 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salaam Dear Brother:

One of my favorite texts is the Anthology of Islamic Literature, a real treasure that taught me so much :)

Ya Haqq!

3/10/2008 3:12 PM  
Anonymous EDITOR said...

as-salam alaykum,

a strong case for having a cosmopolitan outlook on things. to my mind, the question then becomes: what is the meta-level framework that coordinates, adjudicates or unites these different perspectives?

an anthology of poems can often stand on its own without much work, but most editors or compilers i know need to step in to give some cohesion to the disparate contributions of the volume. as you can tell from editorial introductions, these attempts are often pretty shallow or limited--but they point to a perceived need to account for a whole that emerges from the parts.

or is there no whole?

3/21/2008 6:28 PM  

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