The Processing of Knowledge
Let me start by saying, I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead of me in my Master’s degree. But even after the first week, I am slightly saddened at the reality versus my preconceived notion of ‘higher education’. Over the last two years or so, I have had the time and luxury in my Undergrad degree to read books for pleasure. I don’t mean harlequin romances, or pocketbook novels, but books that have expanded the limited scope of theory that was offered in my coursepacks. I’ve read Foucault so i could better understand references made in other readings, as well as de Certeau, Arendt, Parsons and Merton (among many other books that I never completed)
I took my time to read each sentence completely, digesting the words in the order that they were written. I took notes, re-explaining the paragraphs, thoughts and ideas to myself, in an attempt to embody the knowledge that I was working through. This is how i learn, how I take theories, concepts and abstractions and make them part of who I am in order to say that I “know” a theory. Otherwise, I would just say that I’ve ‘read’ a theorist and move on in a converstation.
Last year, in casual conversation with a professor, I was told that I would not have the luxury to read like that as I moved onto grad school and further. That what was required of me to read – the volume of work – would not allow for such a time consuming, word for word digestive process that I have come to enjoy. I balked at the idea at the time. Sadly, this week – I eating my words of disbelief.
But sometimes, the irony is in the theory….
This past week, I have been pouring over a collection of Simmel’s articles titled “On Culture” for my Sociology of Culture class. It is, in my opinion, fascinating. Written around 1914, I find myself in awe of Simmel’s ideas of culture, knowledge, cultivation, spirit and potentiality (among many other ideas that he intertwines in the 200+ pages we have to read). With a delay in receiving the reading material due to a shortage of copies available, I only began my 135 page weekly assignment. I understand that I am in grad school now, and that will not seem like alot to others who have studied past their undergraduate degree. But almost 4 days behind my reading schedule, I am finding myself in an internal struggle between getting the assignment “read” for class, or reading the text, as I normally do, dissecting the choice of language, making external connections to ideas presented within the work and taking pages and pages of secondary notes that re-explain Simmel’s concepts in terms and examples that allow me to retain the information as truly a part of my personal body of knowledge.
The irony lies in the content of a part of Simmel’s theory. To Simmel, in order for a person to ‘cultivate’ knowledge, they must ingest it to the innermost parts of their core, letting it become part of their greater potentiality of self. When this is done, one can be seen as ‘cultivated’ or ‘cultured’. He continues on to discuss the fragmentation of knowledge and self when a person consumes knowledge to ‘know’ it, but as an ‘addition’ to the self, not as an integral part of one’s core. As I’ve come to call it in the last few days of thinking about this – the difference is between truly knowing something from your heart and soul and having sticky notes of random knowledge that we can draw upon in the right conversation.. I choose to have less internalized knowledge then more sticky notes…
So, I am struggling with myself. Should I read at my pace, ingesting all that I can? Or plow through the readins to say that I’ve read the material before class… either way, the irony in the text is something for me to smile about while i struggle.