Recently I read a book by Jacques Derrida for a book club I was part of. This was the first Derrida I had read, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.
But what stood out to me the most from the experience with this dense, difficult text, was how much I read, how quickly, and how naturally.
The book was hundreds of pages long, and I worked through it in only a few weeks, while spending most of my waking hours during that time watching two very needy (and of course very beloved) little children, and helping my pregnant wife (we’re expecting again, by the way!). I was also doing my usual daily language practice habits in what little alone time I could find, and keeping up my usual output for this blog, etc. It sounds like I’m bragging, and I’m really not, that’s not the point at all. I have a small reading habit, and I stick to it consistently, and my hope is that I should be able to continue sticking to it for the foreseeable future.
Not only did I read the whole book, but I took some pretty detailed notes on the entire thing, such that, I hope, if I need to cite it or refer to it in the future I should be able to navigate around my notes pretty easily and find whatever I might want to recall. That’s just because my reading habit is actually more precisely a note-taking habit, with reading as an incidental (but necessary) condition of the note-taking.
It wasn’t too painful. And when I finished, it didn’t feel like a huge accomplishment that I needed to celebrate, just another step on the road, and so I immediately picked up with the reading project I’d intended to pursue next. It wasn’t until later, looking back on it all, that I wanted to write a little reflection like this on the experience as a whole.
Where these small habits make me so excited is when I think about them and look five or ten years down the road. If I can keep this habit up, even if I have to cut it down to half speed at some point in the future for some unforeseeable reason, I will have such an amazing foundation of knowledge to draw on. For the past year my focus has largely been on Strauss, and after the master’s program it will probably return there for a while. That’s exciting to me, but not so impressive to most others. But let’s say, when I’m ready to study the most important books from the history of feminism, or socialism, or modern conservatism: I will move through the important texts so rapidly, and will be able to speak intelligently on each topic. And the knowledge will build month after month, year after year, and will even compound in a way as the different objects of study relate to one another and shed light on each other.
I have difficulty imagining what it would be like to be that person, so knowledgeable and so able to draw out reams of information and argumentation as needed. But if all goes as planned, I look forward to finding out.