Frater Novae Res (fraternovaeres) wrote in amst3920,
Frater Novae Res

Reading for Power

"The Master of the Temple asks, on seeing a slug: 'What is the purpose of this message from the Unseen? How shall I interpret this Word of God Most High?' The Magus thinks: 'How shall I use this slug?' And in this course he must persist."

- Crowley, Liber ABA.

Whenever I read something, whether for class or on my own, I remember the course of action Crowley describes above. To read for power, you have to formulate your will, and use that will to inform your reading of a text. "Why am I reading this? What do I want to get out of it?" The ultimate task is to use the text, but before you can use it you have to understand it. This goes for anything, not just reading. As much as you may want to drive to work, for example, you first have to understand the mechanics of the car in order to operate it. It isn't enough to like the car, or to reject the aethetics that informed the cars design (or even to object that the car's designers ignored alternative designs when building the car). You have to have a purpose in dealing with the car, understand how it works, and then use it to further your greater ends.

I mention this because, in the course of our class, the complaint has been made that such and such an author is "biased" and what not, which closes the discussion rather than open it up. The intention in making such a claim is never articulated, but the conversation-stopping result makes apparent the aim of the complaint. This, to me, reveals the lack of a formulated will on the part of some of our classmates, a reluctancy to understand the texts on their own terms, and consequently an inability to use the texts. Why are we reading these books? Is it because they have been assigned to us, because we are told to? On some level, yes; those are the circumstances of the situation. But, is it necessary to confine our experience with the text to that circumstance? I'm assigned the same reading as everyone else, but my objective in reading the texts is larger and more focused. I read the books we are assigned for power, to grow in my understanding of the topics discussed and use that understanding to my advantage where it has bearing on the real world. To have the deep, consequential, meaningful discussions I think we all want to have, we first have to individually determine why we are reading these books, make an effort to understand them, and then determine what we can get out of them. This is a "meta" approach to reading, as it involves operating on a plane above the mere process of reading the text.

Our course work is informed by a particular perspective, and each author brings his own perspective to bear on his account of history and historical processes. If we read for power, we can use even this perspective to understand and use the text. If we don't have a clear idea of why we are reading these books, don't make an effort to actually understand the books, and don't intend to use the books in any meaningful way, then we will continue to have the shallow, ataxic kind of discussions so common in our class. This doesn't mean we have to agree with the authors. Understanding does not imply agreement. But even attempts at criticism will be weak if that criticism of the text does not proceed from a place of understanding. For example, one criticism of today's chapter involved Phillips' alleged reduction of the fall of the Roman empire to religion. This is a weak criticism, which is refuted by the text itself. Religious problems are one of five reasons Phillips gives that were involved in the fall of the Roman empire. Further, Phillips spends a majority of his time discussing the role religious conviction plays in the problems he analyses because this is the purpose of his book. He makes it clear that the issues cannot be confined to their religious components, but says that religion is an (oft overlooked) component that needs to be addressed. Part of using the text may involve criticizing it, but when this criticism isn't informed by understanding of the text it will necessarily be weak. Are we criticizing the text to use the text, or to avoid the text? One of these tactics involves reading for power, the other is a reactionary disinclination to negotiate with the text on its own terms, twarting understanding.

We each have diverse reasons for taking this course. But, to get more out of the course than an emotional charge, we have to rise above a reactionary, shallow reading of the books we are assigned and read them for power.

Tags: power, reading
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