I stumbled on this Seneca quote a while ago:
Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed.
I immediately saw the timeless wisdom in this advice. Confucius discoursed amply on the necessity and benefits of careful reading, but I suspect that it was a lot easier back then (especially since he largely contributed to establishing the canon of what scholars should read) then it is in our age of global information bombardment and hyper-specialization to determine ahead of time what exactly a carefully-directed reading program should consist of.
For someone who is both a specialist (I try to *barely* keep up with image/art theory, contemporary art, market trends, current research interests, et al), a literature junkie, and a ceaselessly curious pseudo-intellectual *too much so for my own good*, applying this advice seems to present particular challenge.
I do realize however that my reading tends to go under the following categories (I’m trying to list everything, however ridiculous):
1) How to’s – how to file my income taxes in the US and in France, how to bill a client, how to start a company, how to streamline my workflow, how to breathe, how to make and keep friends and make love like a rock star (Aha! Does this sound like something you want, or rather need to read?) Most of this stuff takes place online and I often get sidetracked into something intellectually more engaging and totally lose track of time. I still haven’t done my US taxes yet. I don’t understand which form(s) I’m supposed to use. I have until June 15th. I really need help.
2) Trance reading. This is the kind of books that you are so familiar with that you enter into a trance immediately and are transported onto another plane. Probably the most self-indulgent type, this can range from reading a favorite passage from the Dream of the Red Chamber for the 30th time, to reading my own manuscript for the potential that it presents, to rereading favorite poems; I read that for George Bush Jr, it’s the Holy Bible for Dummies – anyhow, the point is, we each have these readings.
3) Research-related reading. When I finished my thesis at Louis Lumière, I was so done with school and research, but somehow the theory bug just would not wear off. Let’s face it, even in the most pseudo-intellectual of all pseudo-intellectual places known as Paris, you still don’t need a firm grasp of theory outside of the academia, really! It will get you no cash; you will acquire a bunch of weirdo friends of manic brilliance and despairing social outlook; and if you write books, you’ll be sure that the 1000 copies that you manage to print will be handed to the friends aforementioned, and possibly collected by the libraries of institutions where these nerds abound (albeit still a minority). If this still sounds mildly attractive to you, then Paris is your city!
4) How often have you put something on your reading list upon someone’s ardent recommendation, or because it’s part of THE canon, world treasure and whatnot, and find yourself utterly bored out of your mind, or completely revolted by the style? You carry on just for the sake of future prestige or face-saving in a cocktail party, whatever, fuck that! If you recommend me a book in this category, I will come after you! There are other things that are truly great that I just haven’t had the time to read for some reason. I’m lucky that I got a strong head start in Chinese classics, but can you imagine that I’m still on Volume I of A la recherche du temps perdu? And it’s truly breathless…
5) Other people’s blogs. This category is self-explanatory; however, how we are supposed to deal with this deluge of reading material is something less clear.
6) Non-fiction: history, biographies, interviews, science, research…. (My brilliant and socially adapt photography friend Pierrot and I both agree that non-scientific theory is fictional. The official term is la théorie fictionnelle). Despite being left-handed and an artist, I am actually quite left-brained as well. Caculus and physics were my strongest subjects in high school. I like to understand how things work, and can never resist the elegance of a flawless system, exemplified by integral calculus or a Bach contrapuntal fugue.
7) Current events. Over the years, I found that politics and current events have been relegated to the last place, because they just don’t engage me intellectually like they used to and I don’t find following them mentally or spiritually rewarding. I also cancelled all my magazine subscriptions to avoid clutter and unwanted reading material, and now consult most newspapers online and buy magazines on impulses.
8) Secret reading material. This could be pornography, e-books from a sect that you secretly belong to, manuels on how to manufacture nuclear bombs in your kitchen, textbooks on witchcraft or lucid dreaming, whatever is chicken soup to your soul.
I know some of you here are big-time readers, and would like to know if you have any thoughts on this. How consciously do you choose your reading material given that time is a limited resource? How do you deal with the frustrations of knowing that you can never master an area of study as well as you would like to?
(Now finished with procrastination and back to writing proposal and artistic statements for JM and me. We are waiting to hear back from Arles for an exhibition space during the photography festival. He will kill me if he knows that I’m posting this instead of working on Arles. Plus he’s a subscriber, but will probably not have time to read this till the end )
||Currently listening :
By John Zorn
Release date: 20 August, 1996