Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Featured Passage, Sven Birkerts on Contemplation

If you read Tuesday's post on aborted books, you might remember I mentioned Sven Birkerts's ideas on contemplation.  Here is a very smart, and very true, paragraph from his article "Reading in a Digital Age," which appeared in the American Scholar.  Enjoy, especially his concluding sentence!

  "Reading the Atlantic cover story by NicholasCarr on the effect of Google (and online behavior in general), I find myself especially fixated on the idea that contemplative thought is endangered. This starts me wondering about the difference between contemplative and analytic thought. The former is intransitive and experiential in its nature, is for itself; the latter is transitive, is goal directed. According to the logic of transitive thought, information is a means, its increments mainly building blocks toward some synthesis or explanation. In that thought-world it’s clearly desirable to have a powerful machine that can gather and sort material in order to isolate the needed facts. But in the other, the contemplative thought-world—where reflection is itself the end, a means of testing and refining the relation to the world, a way of pursuing connection toward more affectively satisfying kinds of illumination, or insight—information is nothing without its contexts. I come to think that contemplation and analysis are not merely two kinds of thinking: they are opposed kinds of thinking. Then I realize that the Internet and the novel are opposites as well."

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