Dec 16, 2006

an Emerson a day for twenty days

As a form of "benign brainwashing," I decided to take up a modified form of Joe Carter's reading challenge. Carter's original recommendations, as applied to my task:

"1. Choose shorter books and work up to longer ones."
I chose Emerson's "Self-Reliance," since it's not terribly long (though it's longer than it should have been, in retrospect), it's rhetorically powerful, and it's preachy.

"2. Read at your normal pace."
Most of the time I did. There were a couple days, though, where I speed-read, due to time constraints. "Self-Reliance" is short, but it's still a lot longer than, say, the book of Galatians.

"3. Skip the commentaries."
I avoided the endnotes, and didn't read any other analyses, historical or otherwise.

"4. Stick with the process."
Did it. It wasn't as much of a slog as I thought it would be. In fact, the day after I finished, I picked up the book again to revisit a couple passages. More on that later.

"5. Choose an appropriate version."
I used Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It wasn't until I picked up a different version in a different anthology that I saw the interesting changes the manuscript underwent, due to later editing by RWE. He softened some of his language over time--for example, no longer referring to certain doubters as "aged ladies."

"6. Pray."
I'm not a praying man, and it would be a bit strange to ask God (or Emerson) to open up my mind to insights from the text. Instead, I made sure I sat in a quiet place, focused carefully on the text, and resolved to take it seriously, even when I disagreed with it. (The irony of my choice was not lost on me. It would be strange to wholesale adopt the arguments of a piece that argues, "Insist on yourself: never imitate.")

"7. Begin today."
I started the day I first read Joe Carter's post (November 18), and made it all the way through, despite debate tournaments, turkey dinners, and a Canadian snow adventure.

Coming soon: I'll describe what I learned, how my outlook changed--and didn't--and why doing this with any piece of literature is potentially good and bad.

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