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10.17.2009

My reading history


My reading history ended - in terms of what one can get out of such influences as classic imaginative literature, history, philosophy, sacred writings - back sometime in... (well, way back when).

You don't have to read a library. You just have to read until you begin to discern that influences reside in a hierarchy and then make efforts to engage each level of that hierarchy until you reach the top. You do this by not staying on the same rung of the ladder, so to speak. You engage influences that are just above your current level of understanding and just outside your current interests. It is also common to read a great work prior to getting to that level. This helps one to know that the levels exist to begin with.

Higher influences are basically imaginative literature, history, philosophy, science, art, music, and sacred writings (and anything else generally falls into a sub-category of those seven). Athletics and performing arts are also influences.

The higher works have two common characteristics: 1. They are rare. I.e. many genre novels, few epic poems. 2. They require more effort of attention to engage and digest and finish and get understanding of. I.e. they don't pull you towards them like lower influences, you have to bring the motivation and effort to engage them (it's easy to read a bestselling thriller, difficult to read Thucydides).

In academia they are clueless regarding what I've written above. A common literature professor will not be able to discern the difference in influence and inspiration between the Iliad and a comic book (and will take pride in not being able to discern that). If you're in academia and truly an exception, my apologies. You really have to be a rare exception though. (And you're probably not.)

On the other hand one can read every great book in existence and remain a shallow fool. (One can learn at the feet of Jesus and still get no understanding.)

In my own reading history I was able to discern the mountain (switching metaphors) and to climb the mountain. I say there are summit works (Homer, Shakespeare, Plutarch, Thucydides, Plato, etc.), and then there is the 'beyond-summit' work, the Word of God itself.

This is the context of my saying my reading 'came to an end.'

One other thing to discern regarding influence carried in the written word (really, the most foundational influences are in the written word) is there is - as de Quincy outlined in an essay - the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. If all you read are books that give you knowledge, shallow surfacy knowledge usually, you are a common type and usually a shallow soul. You also need language. Higher visual language. Powerful language that can only be found in great works that deliver such language. The Homeric epics are the greatest example regarding this. (Other than the Bible, but as mentioned above the Bible has to be seen in a higher category.) The Iliad and the Odyssey are literature of power; they give you higher visual language that once taken in you can see things in yourself and in the world that you wouldn't have been able to see without that language. J. M. Roberts' History of the World is literature of knowledge (as an encyclopedia is). Most philosophy is literature of knowledge (there are exceptions, the Republic being one). Works of history can fall into either category. A history of art, or of New York will be knowledge; whereas Herodotus and Thucydides are literature of power. Some fall in-between. Grail romance is a visual language that is powerful. Greek myth as well. Even Grimm's Tales are powerful, deep language. Shakespeare is literature of power. Anyway, these basic two categories must be discerned.

There is also knowledge that is beyond the ordinary. Knowledge (and the practicing in real time of that knowledge) that gives us understanding of ourselves and the world around us. One has to venture into 'occult' areas (fending off the voices of the world and the devil at every step, including shallow Christians; i.e. voices that attempt to dissuade you from seeking such knowledge). These types of writings (and schools) vary greatly in worth (it goes without saying), and one often has to search through acres of mud to find a nugget of gold (mixed metaphor, sorry). One has to be able to navigate unknown waters with hazards in them. The Spirit of discernment, the Holy Spirit Himself is helpful (needless, again, to say). Basically, one has to fear God alone and not man. This is what leads to wisdom and understanding.

You also have to know what is out there. Know the field. Know what exists. This means seeking lists and making your own lists. How many great epic poems are there? Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost. Those five would be on any list. What are the classical historians? What would be considered great novels? What are the basic categories of books to begin with? (history, philosophy, all types of imaginative literature such as novels, lyric poetry, plays, etc.) Finding out about books from reading books. Some authors are good at leading one to other authors. Taking notes. The good thing is higher influences are not infinite. The categories and sub-categories of them are not infinite. There is a finite number of them. They can be listed and categorized. Captured, so to speak. Displayed. You don't have to read them all (see above about levels of influence). Two great works can represent the same level and go over the same ground.

What I've been doing in the last few years is reading great works that I passed over earlier just to now, like a retired athlete, work muscles so they don't atrophy.

I've been focusing on great novels because they deliver - they specialize in - universal human nature and the ways of the world. Understanding that can atrophy first. Musically more like a quartet or a fugue. Something you can get in to and follow at a close level along with the novelist and re-awake such understanding and discernment in the transactions between human beings and in the world.

Other than this, for me, complete Bible readings are a constant. They can become mechanical, which is not good, so one does want to develop level of being somewhat in-between complete readings. (Develop level of being...that 'occult' subject matter mentioned above...)

Don't fear the word 'occult', by the way. It just means hidden. Though it can be right under your nose. Not for everybody, but available to anybody.

Another way to categorize some types of influences is exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric. Example: exoteric would be like a common systematic theology; mesoteric would be an allegorical work discussing truths of one's inner being; esoteric would be practical level knowledge and practices. When one comes to the point where one says: "But what is it that I'm actually to do?" One is ready for the practical level. (This does not reference works vs. faith, by the way.)

Another categorization is: philosophy, theory, practice.

Enough of these scattered notes. There is a lot in the above.

There's also something to be said for choosing a handful of influences (books in this case) and getting to know them very well rather than having only a shallow connection to a thousand different ones. Make them a balanced handful.

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