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Experiences of polyliteracy?

  Tags: Polyliteracy
 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
Volte
Tetraglot
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Switzerland
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 Message 1 of 7
27 August 2011 at 10:33pm | IP Logged 
Polyliteracy is a wide topic, and there has been far too little substantive discussion on this forum about it.

What are your experiences reading Great Books? What first interested you in them? Which are your favourites, and which did you feel you learnt the most from, and why?

What attracts you to reading Great Books in a variety of languages? If you maintain a rigorous schedule, what is it? How do you juggle your languages, and how does your reading of Great Books relate to that?

This thread is inspired by Zwlth. He's raised a number of important points, and I think that several forum members, including him, could contribute interesting points to this discussion.

The questions are merely meant to kick off discussion. Feel free to add other ones.

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Zwlth
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 Message 2 of 7
27 August 2011 at 11:33pm | IP Logged 
I was all but literally born reading. By the time I was a teenager, I found that most of the reading matter that abounded in the world was so unsubstantial that reading it seemed almost wrong. Instead, I favored texts about existential crises, from Dostoyevsky through Camus and Sartre, with a heave dose of Nietzsche thrown in. I chose my college on the basis of its strong Great Books program, and there of course had my mind invaded first and foremost by the Greeks. At first I thought Homer was almost overrated, but having now taught the Iliad and the Odyssey myself countless times, they do indeed deal with most every human situation in such a fashion that you always get something new out of them. And, as they say, all of Western thought is a footnote to Plato and Aristotle. I think we're supposed to be able to divide ourselves into one of their two camps, but just as Aristotle remained Plato's pupil until the latter died and only then began to articulate his own work based on very different principles, I've never found it productive to contrast them. Plato's analogy of the cave has got to be the most enduring perspective for viewing life as a whole, while Aristotle's process of categorization seems to be the best way to get through it. Another great encounter was with the giants of Christan thought, Augustine and Aquinas. I'm not religious and I find scripture tedious and all of the believers I had ever known just seemed downright dumb. However, wrestling with the arguments of these two in my mind positively blew it. Subsequently, going through the entire standard canon and beyond, I've read so many thinkers and their works, be they creative and literary or expository and argumentative, that have meant much to me in particular moods and times, that it is impossible to say from whom I have learned the most or who is my favorite. I could say one thing today and another tomorrow.

I've also always liked foreign languages and been pretty good at them. However, I never got much supportive encouragement to develop them, as the general ethos is that it is the works themselves that are important, that translations are just fine, and that bothering to spend your time learning languages to read them in the original would be a waste of time that you could more productively spend reading. So, I took as much language coursework as was allowed and did more work silently on my own. Thus, when I heard Professor Arguelles articulate the idea that if great works are worth reading and rereading, then surely they are worth reading as they were originally written, that resonated so deeply that I become an instant convert to polyliteracy, as it were, and really stepped up the language work.

Thus, now I can read them in most Western European languages, am still forever getting there in Russian, and believe I have a hope, some day in the not too distant future, of being able to do so in Arabic. So yes, I need to balance and juggle them by trying to keep a relatively rigorous schedule. I used to try to make lists in advance to go through them in rotation, such that upon finishing a book in Spanish, I would then read one in Italian, etc. However, I found this unsatisfactory for two reasons. One is that reading one work by an author tends to make me want to read his other works, not move on to something else. The other is that in order to feel continued sustained vocabulary growth at an advanced level, I need to read extensively in a language over a period of months. If I were to only read one book at a time, I would get to my various languages only all too rarely. So, I've developed the habit of reading several books at a time (which fits nicely with reflective Great Book reading anyway), each one in a different language, at different times of the day. I "read" one book in one language for about an hour by listening to an audiobook as I work out, then I read another book in another language for about another hour in the morning, another at lunchtime, and another in the evening. In this fashion, I not only use, maintain, and continue to grow my languages, but also deepen and develop my contact with various worlds of thought at the same time.
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sipes23
Diglot
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 Message 3 of 7
28 August 2011 at 3:28am | IP Logged 
I've gotten into classics on accident. It all started when my best friend asked me, "What language are you taking
in high school?" He had to take Latin and wanted a friend in the room. So I agreed, not having any better reason
to pick a language in high school.

Latin has been a gift. There's tons of red-meat stuff written in Latin. I cannot imagine reading Latin in translation:
it seems wrong. I won't claim I've done anything more than read a mile wide and an inch deep, but I did read
book 1 of Ovid's Tristia in July. Just fantastic. Ovid may be my favorite poet of all time. That said, what I really like
in Latin are the equivalent of potboilers. The Satyricon. Gesta Romanorum. Saints' lives. I also like non-fiction.
Pliny's Natural Histories is fascinating. So yeah, the trash. I read the classics, but devour the trash and non-
fiction.

I've recently been working on Ancient Greek. It's <expletive deleted> awesome. Well, Herodotus anyway. (Though
JACT has done a nice job of adapting Greek classics for beginning students in their Reading Greek text.) I'd say
more about it but shouldn't given my limited reading.

I've always enjoyed Latin, but when coupled with Greek I can see why these two got saddled as classics. I can also
see why they're not made widely available in original language: they're subversive. Something about a translation
takes the edge off of it and renders it safe. I'd say that translations rob them of vitality, but Heany's Beowulf
would argue otherwise. I wish I could put a finger on why I feel this way about translations.

I've got a dual language Inferno that I want to read. I've also got a copy of Candide in French (if I ever do that). I'd
agree with Zwith that most reading material is pretty light, but that doesn't bother me. Even light stuff can be
worth thinking about. Example exercise: Gilgamesh and the 2005 Dukes of Hazzard movie. Discuss parallels.
They're there.

For me, this is what makes the classics fascinating. I can draw parallels and discuss elements of trash when cast
in the light of classics. I can get substance out of the insubstantial. Reading classics in the original language
draws me in to their illumination even further.

[Edit: remove typo.]

Edited by sipes23 on 28 August 2011 at 3:29am

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Volte
Tetraglot
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Switzerland
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 Message 4 of 7
29 August 2011 at 5:04pm | IP Logged 
I've been reading extensively from an early age. I'm intensely curious, and like to know a little bit about many things, and a lot about a few. Most of my preferred fields are ones where strict polyliteracy cannot be of direct help, because the books worth reading are far under a century old, and predominantly in English. To me, the key thing is that I am learning something, or grappling with interesting ideas - and I have rather strong views on which ideas are and are not interesting.

Where I value polyliteracy is in its ability to give perspective, especially diachronic perspective, and to have a mental overview of the history of the ideas which shape civilizations. Reading the fiction and non-fiction of various eras and locations lets me glimpse into worlds I can never directly experience - and sometimes the glimpses in translation are fascinating enough to make me want to read the original.

Polyliteracy has also brought me an appreciation of poetry. I have never particularly enjoyed English-language poets, including Shakespeare. Studying original Esperanto poetry, and listening to recorded poetry in Slavic languages has made me realize that poetry really can be beautiful.

Profarguelles wrote:

If there were one thing about myself that I could change, it would be to have better balance, a better grasp of mathematics and the hard sciences. In the circles of my own personal acquaintances, most mathematical/hard scientist types ignore languages not only because they can due to the universality of English, but also because they have an active disdain for them; most soft scientists (i.e., humanistic types), on the other hand, seem to ignore mathematics and the hard sciences because they are truly hard for them and/or are genuinely uninteresting for them.


I've always been a bit of a "renaissance person", with an active interest in a variety of 'hard' and 'soft' fields. However, until a few years ago, I did have a disdain for language learning, born of years of mandatory language classes which I did not want to take, the majority of which were poorly taught, and in all of which I learned very little. I maintained a small interest in languages, but had no idea how to approach them, and primarily ignored them. At this point in my life, I largely share Professor Arg├╝elles' view, but am approaching polyliteracy from a more technical background, rather than approaching technical subjects from a background in polyliteracy.

I don't think I will ever be a 'traditional' practitioner of polyliteracy - I honestly don't see the personal value of studying many of the so-called Great Books in depth, though I respect that there are people who do find this a meaningful and enriching pursuit. Furthermore, while I consider lists of Great Books a useful starting point, I have quite a critical view of the content of most such lists. That said, I think some Great Books are truly brilliant, and the experience of studying at least a few in depth is worthwhile.

While not a practitioner of polyliteracy, I hope to occasionally interact and cross-pollinate ideas with some. Regardless, I read extensively, and intend to continue doing so, in a variety of languages, in the original and in translation, and including Great Books, without limiting myself to them.

3 persons have voted this message useful



Emerald
Triglot
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 Message 5 of 7
29 August 2011 at 6:11pm | IP Logged 
Volte wrote:

I don't think I will ever be a 'traditional' practitioner of polyliteracy - I honestly
don't see the personal value of studying many of the so-called Great Books in depth,
though I respect that there are people who do find this a meaningful and enriching
pursuit. Furthermore, while I consider lists of Great Books a useful starting point, I
have quite a critical view of the content of most such lists. That said, I think some
Great Books are truly brilliant, and the experience of studying at least a few in depth
is worthwhile.

While not a practitioner of polyliteracy, I hope to occasionally interact and cross-
pollinate ideas with some. Regardless, I read extensively, and intend to continue doing
so, in a variety of languages, in the original and in translation, and including Great
Books, without limiting myself to them.


This is more along my line of thinking. I like some "Great Books" however to limit
myself to that would I think be to deprive myself of real reading pleasure. Many of the
books we are admiring now were not at the time of their writing Great Books. Who is to
say which books from our era would last for generations? While books are great learning
sources, they are also a source of pleasure. I like to use my language skills to read
the things I enjoy, and learn from that. Polyliteracy, it may not be by Prof.'s
definition, but it is literacy through many languages.
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TEM
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 Message 6 of 7
02 September 2011 at 9:44pm | IP Logged 
My experiences in polyliteracy are limited but hopefully the beginnings of a strong foundation.

So far I've read Anna Karenina in the original Russian, as well as quite a few short stories and poems of
Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Lermontoff, Pushkin and a few others. I'm slowly, but with great pleasure treading
through Eugene Onegin at the moment. In Latin I've read through quite a bit of Cicero (Catiline Orations and
De Officiis mostly) as well as bits of Ovid, Caesar, Seneca, and Sallust, and later stuff like Gesta
Romanorum
(strongly agree with the previous poster who recommends this) and writings of Augustine and
Aquinas, plus the Latin Vulgate. I'm now, just as with Onegin, treading slowly but joyfully through the
Aeneid-- and let me tell you I am one happy tortoise! Fortunately, my pace and ease of comprehension
seems to be growing rapidly every day so that soon I should be able to read later books at a more normal pace. I
should mention of course that for all the aforementioned works I've read through them quite slowly and usually
with the aide of dictionaries and/or parallel interlinear translations, but soon I should be able to tackle them with
only occasional use of such tools.

---

Quote:
Polyliteracy has also brought me an appreciation of poetry.


Same here-- though I do remember very much enjoying Poe's The Raven sometime in Middle School (or was
it early HS?) but being repulsed by most of the more modern poets we read. I basically didn't read English
language poetry at all after that until my first forays into reading Russian poetry in the original. I remember
specifically the poem that did it too: Lermontoff's Kozachnaya koliybel'naya pesn'ya (Cossack's Lullaby).
After that I began reading English poets (with a bit of Middle English) and appreciating them as never before.

Quote:
I've recently been working on Ancient Greek. It's <expletive deleted> awesome.


I hope to delve into Ancient Greek in the near future but right now I think that I need to keep my attention
focused on the languages I've already started-- though I have learned the Greek alphabet and a few words but
nothing serious. I've read quite a bit of Ancient Greek writings in translation and will probably feel a certain
restlessness until the day I can read these foundational texts (both for Western Civilization and for my own
personal worldview) in the original.

I think I'm the exact opposite of Augustine who loved Latin studies over Greek. I've always felt more naturally
drawn to Hellenism than Latinism... I feel these comparing even my baby steps into Greek with those first baby
steps into Latin years ago. Yet for certain reasons I haven't been able to fully ascertain I've felt compelled to learn
the Latin before the Greek. One might use some Platonic terms and say that my soul is naturally closer to "the
form" of Hellenism than that of Latinism if one were the type to believe in such things. Nonetheless I think that
perhaps through learning the language I posses less of a natural proclivity to I've reaped some unexpected
benefits.

Sorry if this post is a bit rambling. I often find these sorts of things easier to address in a somewhat oblique
manner.
1 person has voted this message useful



sipes23
Diglot
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United States
pluteopleno.com/wprs
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 Message 7 of 7
07 September 2011 at 7:14pm | IP Logged 
TEM wrote:
I hope to delve into Ancient Greek in the near future but right now I think that I need to keep my
attention
focused on the languages I've already started-- though I have learned the Greek alphabet and a few words but
nothing serious. I've read quite a bit of Ancient Greek writings in translation and will probably feel a certain
restlessness until the day I can read these foundational texts (both for Western Civilization and for my own
personal worldview) in the original.


Ancient Greek is so much better in the original. I'm about halfway through book 1 of Herodotus's Histories. I cannot
tell you how good it is. Geoffrey Steadman has been making some really good commentaries for intermediate
readers at great prices. I cannot recommend his work highly enough.


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