Read:Write

I was interested to read Paul Matsuda’s recent entry,
"Read
Everything,"
because it gets at the challenge involved in scholarly niche and rhythm. He begins with this:

One of the stock pieces of advice that I give gradaute students is to "read
everything." Of course it’s impossible to read everything that has ever been
written, but I do expect researchers to have read everything–literally
everything–on subtopics within the field on which they are writing.

This paradox is the ongoing challenge, no? Read everything; to
read everything is impossible. Still, one must. But cannot.
Etc. The outlying factors bear down and raise related questions: write
everything? How much to read before writing? While writing? How much to
write while reading?

I developed a decent relationship with my FYC professor at Central Michigan
(where I studied for a year before transferring) and so listened in on many of
his sage asides. For him, the maxim of read it all shifted to memory and
attention and "read this": "Be one on whom nothing is lost." I remember him reminding
us–fervently–that to feel intellectually small you need only to go to the
library, look at one shelf on one floor of the library, and consider what you
must do to understand it. Phew. Were we ever glad to have a reader.

To my mind Matsuda’s stock advice is good for hearing, even if it can’t be
fully executed. In this sense, it turns into the performance of reading
all that one can possibly read and recognizing (while also not being put off by)
the unavoidable limitation in such a commitment as that.

2 Comments

  1. I have to agree with Paul.
    Reading widely – if not always completely – generates a very different writing ability. At some point (not that I stopped reading; I didn’t), I found myself able to perform a pretty amazing (to me) feat when writing. I was able to pull out of my memory not details, but positions, ideas, arguments, stances from my past reading. That build-up is important. So, I experience the collection/database that Collin writes about in his post. It is this point I stress in both undergrad and grad courses. Research as internal. database

  2. I’d say that it’s pretty much what we’re set up to accomplish as examinees. Our progam’s exam phase is designed so that it’s very difficult to do well without engaging in collection/database-making (all lists are unique). I’m also thinking about Paul’s entry equally from the position of reading intensely right now and knowing that I ought to be doing more writing (beyond note-taking). But yes, valuable, important, and necessary indeed.

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