1, Birkerts begins by linking reading (at least the comprehension part) and thinking as both being invisible activities, but he sees the connections as going well beyond this superficial observation. He argues that the way we read is related to the way we think about the world. Using metaphors of time (deep vs momentary) and space (vertical vs horizontal, intensive vs extensive) he describes a momentous cultural shift that has occurred over the last centuries. What are the implications of this change, and does he portray it as good or bad? Include a statement from Birkerts’ text as evidence for your assessment of his view on this. What is the optimal approach for forming knowledge or wisdom, from his point of view?
- How does Birkerts’ discussion of reading and comprehension (in his broad sense) relate to our readings from last week (Cronon, Adler/Van Doren, Leopold)? For example, what are the implications of Birkerts’ insights on vertical and horizontal reading (and thinking) for Cronon’s understanding of liberal education? Birkerts mentions a “natural ecology of information and context”; how might this relate to Leopold’s concern for understanding connectedness in natural landscapes?
- What is the relevance of Birkerts for our work in this course? What can you take away from his essay regarding the reading and research that you will be doing? If Adler and Van Doren are encouraging us to read extensively (syntopically), does that contradict the value that Birkerts seems to place on deep reading? Or is his interest in finding meaning—comprehension—compatible with their description of finding the common ground between varying sources?