Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kinds of Scholars

I have this special notebook in which I capture all of my fragments of thoughts jotted down here and there -- new insights that crystallize in class discussions or in conversations with friends; clarifications of ideas that I write while waiting for appointments or while grabbing quick meals between scheduled events; thoughts that come to me while I am preparing for class or working on a writing project: thoughts that are sparked by what I'm working on but that do not immediately fit into the task at hand; etc.

In fact, these thoughts get jotted on any scrap of paper I happen to find. But I've tried to have the presence of mind to keep putting these scraps of paper into this notebook.

Now I have been going through that notebook like a treasure chest. It's a great way to be clarifying my writing goals for my sabbatical.

And as I've been going through it (feeling a little overwhelmed at the complexity of my own thinking, to be honest), I had this thought yesterday.

There are different kinds of scholars:

  1. There are "secondary-literature scholars" who barely read the primary scholarship but are very well acquainted with the secondary literature and mostly respond to that, referencing the primary scholarship only when absolutely necessary to check it against competing claims about it in the secondary literature.
  2. There are "primary-literature scholars" who barely glance at the secondary literature but read the primary literature in depth and interpret it on their own, making connections to contemporary issues and their own experience of life.
  3. There are "comprehensive scholars" who work well with both the primary literature and the secondary literature, and thus are able to understand more fully the context in which the primary literature was written, and know the appropriate and responsible ways to make connections to the contemporary world.

My natural inclination is #2 ("primary scholar").

But my aspiration is #3 ("comprehensive scholar"). No wonder I'm overwhelmed!

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