“…it is a principal task of a successful modern university to teach people how to read [big, difficult, flawed, incredibly insightful, genius books]. Indeed, it might be said that one of the few key competencies we here at the university have to teach—our counterpart or the medieval triad of rhetoric, logic, grammar and then quadriad of arithmetic, geometry, music and astrology—is how to read and absorb a theoretical argument made by a hard, worthwhile, flawed book. People need to understand what an argument is, and the only way to do that is actually go through an argument—to read the argument and try to make sense of it. People need to be able to tell the difference between an argument and an assertion. People need to be able to do more than just say whether they liked the conclusion or not: they need to be able to specify whether the argument hangs together given the premises, and where it is the premises, and where it is the premises themselves that need to be challenged. People need to learn that while you can disagree, you need to be able to specify why and how you disagree.
The first order task is to teach people how to read difficult books…Teaching them how to read difficult books will stick with them over the years. Knowing what to do with a book that makes an important, an interesting, but also a flawed argument—that is a key skill.
…we urge you to focus on the “meta” to the extent that you can: it is not so much the ability to answer the question “what does Marx think about X?” that we want you to grasp, but rather “how do I figure out what Marx thinks about X?” that is the big goal here…
We have our recommended ten-stage process for reading such big books:
1. Figure out beforehand what the author is trying to accomplish in the book.
2. Orient yourself by becoming the kind of reader the book is directed at—the kind of person with whom the arguments would resonate.
3. Read through the book actively, taking notes.
4. “Steelman” the argument, reworking it so that you find it as convincing and clear as you can possibly make it.
5. Find someone else—usually a roommate—and bore them to death by making them listen to you set out your “steelmanned” version of the argument.
6. Go back over the book again, giving it a sympathetic but not credulous reading.
7. Then you will be in a good position to figure out what the weak points of this strongest-possible argument version might be.
8. Test the major assertions and interpretations against reality: do they actually make sense of and in the context of the world as it truly is?
9. Decide what you think of the whole.
10. Then comes the task of cementing your interpretation, your reading, into your mind so that it becomes part of your intellectual panoply for the future.”-Brad Delong, “A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books…” Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality. December 28, 2019
“In the fall of 2009, as the age of blogs was already fading, I launched The Frailest Thing as a space to think out loud as I worked my way through a graduate program in technology studies. In the years since, I sought to think about the challenges posed by emerging technologies, particularly digital media, in light of insights offered by scholars and thinkers from a variety of disciplines, past and present. Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Langdon Winner, and Walter Ong are among the those whose work has informed my analysis and reflection as I sought to clarify the political, cultural, and moral consequences of technological change. Ten years and 800 posts later, it was time to bring the enterprise to a close.
What you have here are 100 dispatches spanning that decade of thinking and writing about how technology sustains, mediates, and conditions our experience. These are the essays that, in my view, have remained useful exercises in thinking about the meaning of technology. Prominent themes include the relationship of technology to politics, memory and time, ethics, and the experience of the self.
I’ve made the work available at no cost, you’re welcome to it. You are also able to pay whatever amount you like for it, should you so desire. Either way, if you find the work helpful, consider letting others know about it and rating the e-book here.
Thanks for reading.-L. M. Sacasas, “The Frailest Thing: Ten Years of Thinking About the Meaning of Technology.”
“The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Adobe Illustrator” is an easy introduction to Illustrator and includes many contextual links to appropriate YouTube videos.
“Pluck, an irritable and featherless rooster, and his best pal, the awkwardly unsocialized but lovable teddy bear known as Fuzz, met long ago in a garbage truck. A tenuous if decidedly co-dependent friendship between Fuzz & Pluck followed, sending them on a series of not-so-heroic adventures. But now, we find them on a ramshackle barge, slowly drifting out to sea. How did they get there? How will they escape? The answer lies in the book’s title, but the true fun is in the Picaresque and often Swiftian adbsurdities that our heroes find themselves in along the way. Ted Stearn’s work is rich with pathos, wit, farce, existentialism and drama. Sometimes cruel but always funny, like a Winnie the Pooh for adults.”–The Moolah Tree published by Fantagraphics
Sold at “Winnie the Pooh for adults.”
“Tis better to have a dispute with honourable people than to have a victory over dishonourable ones. You cannot treat with the ruined, for they have no hostages for rectitude. With them there is no true friendship, and their agreements are not binding, however stringent they may appear, because they have no feeling of honour. Never have to do with such men, for if honour does not restrain a man, virtue will not, since honour is the throne of rectitude.”—The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián
I’ve loved this book since I was in high school.
“‘I don’t believe in argument,” he said…
…’You don’t?’ Erens said, genuinely surprised. ‘Shit, and I thought I was the cynical one.”
‘It’s not cynicism,’ he said flatly. ‘I just think people overvalue argument because they like to hear themselves talk.’
‘Oh well, thank you.’
‘It’s comforting, I suppose.’ … ‘Most people are not prepared to have their minds changed,’ he said. ‘And I think they know that in their hearts that other people are the same, and one of the reasons that people become angry when they argue is that they realize just that, as they trot out their excuses.’
‘Excuses, eh? Well, if this ain’t cynicism, what is?’ Erens snorted.
‘Yes, excuses,’ he said, with what Erens thought might just have been a trace of bitterness. ‘I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you’re supposed to argue about, come later. They’re the least important part of belief. That’s why you can destroy them, win an argument, prove the other person wrong, and still they believe what they did in the first place.’ He looked at Erens. ‘You’ve attacked the wrong thing.’
‘So what do you suggest one does, Professor, if one is not to indulge in this futile … arguing stuff?’
‘Agree to disagree,’ he said. ‘Or fight.’
He shrugged. ‘What else is left?’
‘Negotiation is a way to come to a conclusion; it’s the type of conclusion I’m talking about.’
‘Which basically is to disagree or fight?’
‘If it comes to it.’-Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons. London: Orbit, 2008.
“A collection of my best pieces, covers, and detailed process of my storytelling work + Exclusive November: Commentary Edition…This artbook is…a collection of some of my best pieces commissioned by collectors, comic book covers, and detailed process of my storytelling work from NOVEMBER and STAR WARS: DR. APHRA. I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to understand how I think a page and work as an artist.—Elsa Charretier, “Elsa Charretier’s Artbook.” Kickstarter.com. Ends November 21 2019 1:37 AM CST.
“Hundreds of books about the Russian-speaking world are scheduled to be published in English in 2019. This list narrows that group down to 104 that show exceptional promise — and gives you the tools to find the ones you’ll love in seconds…
…the previews below are largely laudatory, but their optimism can make them a light read in and of themselves: this collection will take you from literary greats to romping counterfactual histories and from dark Soviet humor to gorgeous children’s books.”—Hilah Kohen, “2019’s top Russia-related books: ‘Meduza’ has your reading list for the next 10,000 years.” Meduza. January 30, 2019.
“Mix up your entertainment. If you play games all of the time, go see a play. If you’re always out with your friends, read a book. Stimulate your brain with variety.”—GeneralReposti_Bot, “TL;DR: How to be An Attractive Man.” Reddit.com/r/selfimprovement. October 3, 2019.
Good advice throughout.