Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"What is Patrick Thaddeus Jackson reading?"

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is the author of Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West.

I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:

I'm on sabbatical at the moment, so for the first time in a while I am getting to read books that are not directly related to the courses that I am teaching at any given time! I tend to read in "channels" when I can, simultaneously reading books in different genres at different times during the day or week. I am presently in the middle of four books:

1) in the philosophy channel, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. A classic, and one that I have to admit that I've never read cover-to-cover before. I'm extremely interested in the relationship between knowledge and experience, and Kant is a seminal thinker of this relationship. Since one of my sabbatical goals is to eventually spend some time wallowing in American pragmatism (Dewey, James, Rorty), I thought it was best to go back to some of the traditional works first; after Kant I plan some Hegel, Vico, Durkheim, and Weber.

2) in the historical channel, David McCullough's John Adams. I started this book some years ago when it first came out, but had to put it aside half-finished because other things (like working to get tenure, and having kids!) intervened. Now at last I have been able to pick it up again, and am enjoying McCullough's ability to spin an engrossing narrative of the American founding. Next up on this channel: Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton.

3) in the spirituality channel, Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known. It's a fascinating book in which the author presents a re-visioning of higher education in terms of the practices of a truth-seeking community, using the monastic tradition as a kind of inspirational guide. My favorite line this far: "Objectivist education is a strategy for avoiding our own conversion. If we can keep reality 'out there,' we can avoid, for a while, the truth that lays the claim of community on our individual and collective lives." Next up: Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy.

4) finally in the fiction channel, I just finished Iain M. Banks' Feersum Endjinn. Banks is my favorite currently-working science fiction author, and this book -- although not part of his "Culture" series -- is an intriguing tale of a future earth in which people live their lives mostly or completely online as part of the "cryptosphere." A quarter of the book is written from the perspective of a character who can only spell phonetically, and those portions of the book basically need to be read out loud in order to make sense. Fascinating stuff, and Banks is brilliant as always. (His Excession and Look to Windward should be on everyone's reading-list, as they are both marvelous tales about the arrogance of a dominant society intervening in the affairs of less-powerful societies so as to "improve" them.) Next up: either Justin Lieber's Beyond Rejection or Stephen Baxter's Coalescent.
Visit Patrick's teaching blog and faculty homepage.

About Civilizing The Enemy: page 69 test.

--Marshal Zeringue

(This post first appeared on Writers Read.)