Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Annotation: Toddler Edition

We all know that children imitate their parents--for good or ill.  So, given my practice of annotating texts, it shouldn't have surprised me that our then-toddler son Grayson thought an open book (in this case, Paul Ricoeur's Oneself as Another) was an invitation for inscription.  Notice that he has already mastered the "layering" principle, utilizing two different colors for his annotation.

Toddler annotation of Ricoeur, Oneself as Another
I knew exactly where to find this, since in some ways it is one of the most important inscriptions in my library--a tactile reminder of what really matters.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Annotating Texts: Some Suggestions (with Pictures!)

A friend of mine who is also a doctoral student recently asked if I had any sort of system for how I annotate books, particularly primary texts.  It was an interesting question, because annotating books is certainly one of the central practices of my scholarly life--and yet it's not something I was ever explicitly taught, nor is it something I've attempted to teach to others.  I suppose I (mistakenly) thought it was somehow "natural," or that annotation practices were so idiosyncratic that it would be presumptuous to even try.

On the other hand, the question got me wondering whether this isn't one of the sorts of concrete aspects of study and scholarship that professors should spend more time talking about.  So, with just that notion in mind, I've here gathered a few random thoughts about how I approach the annotation of texts.  And I've included a few examples, not because I think my approach is exemplary, but only to give some concrete pictures to consider.  I'm sure others have both more elaborate and more efficient procedures.

I would preface this by noting that I think annotation is always determined by a telos: I mark up a book differently if I'm teaching it vs. writing a review; similarly, my annotation will look different if I'm reading the book as a primary resource for a writing project vs. professional development and trying to keep up in various fields.  (I also mark up novels, but won't touch on that here.)

Without further adieu, some random thoughts for a friend that might be helpful to others:

1. Your notation should be a way for you to keep track of the thread of an argument. So on one level, you should be underlining and putting notes in the margin that help YOU keep a handle on the argument. Ideally, you want to do this in a way so that when you return to the book, you can quickly reorient yourself to the argument and the main moves of the text. This requires watching especially for transitions and turning points in the argument.  (I use the top of the page to note themes I'll want to find quickly when I page through later.)

Husserl, Cartesian Meditations

2. You need to develop your own way of noting gradations of emphasis. This might be a simple as single underlining and double underlining. Or could be different colored pens, or ink vs highlighter. Whatever. I just find it helpful to have some layers. (This is especially important when you return to read a text again and again--look for ways to distinguish annotations in later readings--you might have to buy purple and green pens!  And sometimes you'll find you need to later scratch out juvenalia.  My copy of Of Grammatology is filled with this because I first read it as an ardent undergrad who was clueless.)

Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

3. Use numbers in the margin to track different parts of an argument as it unfolds.

4. Write marginal comments to try to encapsulate key points in your own language. If you're reading a translation, at some points you might want to note key terms in the original language.

Augustine, Confessions

5. Put circled question marks in the margin where you just can't figure out some point. Don't get bogged down there, however. Note it, mush on, and it might become clear later.

6. Cross-reference. You know how some Bibles have those elaborate cross-reference systems?  Do something like that yourself: point back and forth with marginal notations like: "Cp. p. 17" and then go back to 17 and note the other page.

Heidegger, Being and Time
7. Argue with the author in the margins. Put big Xs (or "B.S."!) beside passages that deserve critique. Perhaps briefly note your critical point.

8. Finally, and maybe most importantly treat the hors-texte blank pages at the back as space to create your own personal index, tailored to what's at stake for you. You're always reading a book with some interest, from some angle, so create an index that helps you come back to the book later and immediately get back up to speed. This might include tracking some specific themes and noting the page numbers where it appears, then drawing some lines of connection, etc. It's also a space to perhaps summarize your taken particular issues, etc.

Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas

Derrida, The Gift of Death [annotated for writing an article]

Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception [annotated for teaching, then writing]
James Davison Hunter, To Change the World [annotated for a review]

Ultimately, you need to craft a 'system' that works for you.  And be open to evolution and development on this score: I annotate books much differently now than I did in college or even grad school.  It's never too late to start, and you can always change how you do it.

Next up: pics of "notes" that my toddlers inscribed in my books over the years!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How (Not) To Be Worldly: Tracing the Borders of the "Earthly City"

[Apologies for the radio silence over here at Fors Clavigera. To be honest, a lot of my energy has gone to Twitter, which I have found to be a delightful experiment so far.  In fact, the essay I link to below grew directly out of a Twitter exchange with Andy Crouch!  (You can follow me by clicking the link on the right; if you're not a Tweeter yourself, I'd encourage you to consider it.  And look for a future blog post with some reflections on my Twitter experience so far.)]

The phrase "earthly city" gets thrown around quite a bit, but with little precision, and not a little misapplication.   To try to clarify use of  the term--and its distinctly Augustinian heritage--I've just published a little essay, "How (Not) To Be Worldly: Tracing the Borders of the Earthly City" as part of Christianity Today's "This Is Our City" initiative.  (You might think of this as a general audience summary of a key theme in my engagement with "two kingdoms" thought.)

Here's the opening to the essay:

I often hope that my office is haunted. You see, I inhabit a humble corner of cinder-blocked space, with a tiny sliver of window, that was once home to one of my role models: Rich Mouw. Longtime president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Rich made his mark on evangelical social thought while teaching philosophy at Calvin College. It was during that time that he penned a series of small books that not only changed my mind; they redirected the shape of American evangelical cultural engagement. So you can see why I sort of hope that my office is—well, if not haunted, perhaps enchanted. I keep hoping that some of Rich's passion and wisdom could seep into me as I inhabit the same space, an heir to his thought and indebted to his example. 
In books like Political Evangelism (1973) and When the Kings Come Marching In (1983), Mouw challenged the apolitical, otherworldliness of evangelicals by persistently pointing to two themes in Scripture: (1) God's affirmation of the "very-goodness" of creation (Gen. 1:31), including the commissioning of human beings to undertake cultural labor in this world; and (2) the biblical vision of shalom as our true eschatological hope—a creation renewed and restored and flourishing in accord with God's desires. From beginning to end, Mouw emphasized, the Bible enjoins us to join God's mission of renewing all things (Col. 1:15-19). So, as he provocatively put it in his 1980 book, rather than looking for a divine escape hatch out of this world, we areCalled to Holy Worldliness
If that phrase gives you pause, you aren't alone. Isn't worldliness a bad thing? Aren't we supposed to resist the world (per James 4:4-5)? Isn't the "whole world" under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19)? Here we hit upon the multivalence of biblical language. Scripture can both loudly proclaim that "God so loved the world" and that we should "love not the world" (1 John 2:15). Context means everything here. As Mouw qualified it, what God delights in is a holy worldliness—a rightly ordered investment in God's creation with a view to fostering its flourishing. It's a "worldliness" in the sense that it is not "otherworldly"; it isholy insofar as it encourages mundane, domestic, cultural life lived under the lordship of Christ.

Read the rest of "How (Not) To Be Worldly: Tracing the Borders of the Earthly City"...

Friday, August 03, 2012

Bruce Springsteen, Educator

I was 15 years old when "Born in the U.S.A." was released, and even those of us in Canada couldn't evade its impact and allure.  This was also the era of the emerging ubiquity of the music video, so Courtney Cox's cameo in the "Dancing in the Dark" video is forever emblazoned on my memory.

I'm nothing close to a Springsteen "fan," however; and yet David Remnick's recent New Yorker profile  was captivating.  What's not to love about a working class Jersey guy who reads Dostoyevsky?

The dynamics of his relationship with his father--and its impact on his creativity--is compelling, and I'm sure has a kind of universal resonance.  As Springsteen frames it at one point:

“T-Bone Burnett said that rock and roll is all about ‘Daaaaddy!’ It’s one embarrassing scream of ‘Daaaaddy!’ It’s just fathers and sons, and you’re out there proving something to somebody in the most intense way possible. It’s, like, ‘Hey, I was worth a little more attention than I got! You blew that one, big guy!’ ”

But it's his long-time bandmember Steve Van Zandt who offers an analysis of their generation that was almost epiphanic for me.  Talking about Springsteen's tortured relationship with his father (a product of that proverbial "Greatest Generation" that endured WWII), Van Zandt observes (warning: mature language ahead):

“The torture we put these poor guys through, when you think of it now. My father, Bruce’s father—these poor guys, they never had a chance. There was no precedent for us, none, in history, for their sons to become these long-haired freaks who didn’t want to participate in the world they built for them. Can you imagine? It was the World War Two generation. They built the suburbs. What gratitude did we have? We’re, like, ‘Fuck you! We’re gonna look like girls, and we’re gonna do drugs, and we’re gonna play crazy rock and roll!’ And they’re, like, ‘What the fuck did we do wrong?’ They were scared of what we were becoming, so they felt they had to be more authoritarian. They hated us, you know?”

I'm sure the gist of that has been said a million times before, in a million different ways, but it just caught me short in a way that was revelatory.  The insight is probably more perennial than we realize.

Remnick's profile also confirms the way that David Brooks has invoked Bruce Springsteen.  I'm thinking particularly of Brooks' 2009 column, "The Other Education," in which he recounts the sentimental education he received by immersing himself in Springsteen's lyrical universe and concert energy.  "Over the next few decades," Brooks noted, "Springsteen would become one of the professors in my second education. In album after album he assigned a new course in my emotional curriculum."

This is no accident.  Springsteen playfully and ironically confesses as much to Remnick.  When he emerges from the dressing, he snaps into a posture in which he challenges the audience: "'Are you ready to be transformed?' What? At a rock show? By a guy with a guitar?  Part of it is a goof, and part of it is, Le's do it, let's see if we can."

Or as he sings it in "No Surrender": "We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school."