Reading Hard Texts

Reading Hard Texts

So I am reading Hegel these days. It's dense. I am also reading about Hegel. That is not quite as dense, but it's still dense. The research that I am doing has lead me down a path that requires a lot of time in Hegel. When I realized that this was going to be a huge part of my project, I laughed and said, 'I thought I could make it my entire academic career without seriously engaging with Hegel.' It turns out I can't. The more intimidating part of this is whenever I talk to a fellow PhD student about this, their response is 'Good luck.'

You see, Hegel is one of those philosophers that just doesn't come easily. I once heard a philosophy professor say that Hegel put philosophical writing back about 100 years and that every philosopher after him tried to mimic his obscure writing form. The other part of this is that there are multiple interpretations of what exactly Hegel is saying and many are diametrically opposed to each other. This is going to be a slog.

However, in the midst of this I am learning that it is good to read hard texts. It is good for me to read slightly beyond what I think I can comprehend. It forces me to slow down and try to digest exactly what is going on. It also forces me to read Hegel on his own terms. It can be easy for me to go into reading Hegel with a preconceived notion of what he is saying, and thus I can write him off without actually engaging with his argument. What I am being forced to do by spending a lot of time in Hegel, is really attempt to understand Hegel in his own context.

This time in Hegel has convinced me of this; reading hard texts on their own terms is an important skill. Reading people with whom we disagree and attempting to truly understand their argument is important. We may still end up disagreeing with the person, but at least we can get where they are coming from. It teaches us to be charitable with one another. It also helps us to develop the skill of listening to those with whom we disagree without shouting them down. These are skills that are sadly missing in much discourse these days.

So, I recommend picking up a book, or reading a blog, or looking at an article by someone or about something that may be just a little over your head. Read it slowly. Try to understand the argument. I think that in this practice you will find that you develop into a better listener, a better thinker, and a better neighbor.

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