Posts Tagged ‘reading’

How Not to Do Anything: An Expert Guide – How Not to Be Well-Read, and Remain Uninformed

Saturday, October 29th, 2016
Image Credit: http://www.grmatthews.com/single-post/2015/07/23/Bored-of-information

Image Credit: http://www.grmatthews.com/single-post/2015/07/23/Bored-of-information

Some of the most successful idlers are prone to expending vast amounts of time reading books or (let’s be realistic) the Internet, due to a desire to be the kind of person who reads widely and knows what’s going on in the world. Reading is as good a waste of time as anything else that no one is forced to do, and if that’s what you like to do when you’re doing nothing, more power to you. But to a true layabout, reading, or at least reading books or the news or just about anything that’s particularly serious, is a bit too much of a hassle.

For most of recorded history, reading was the best entertainment that could be found anywhere, at any time, and it was beloved of some of history and literature’s greatest loafers, like Aristotle and Hamlet. However, in today’s crowded entertainment marketplace, reading can’t compete. Even reading something as innocuous as the tabloids is infinitely more taxing than watching reality television, or having a tiny woman in a box on your computer screen tell you what it says in the tabloids. The internet is an immaculate solution to the problem of serious reading: not only can you pick from an incomprehensibly large selection of vacuous material, but you can even post your own most banal and meaningless thoughts. Which means that anyone with an internet connection can find a supply of asinine amusement that is literally limitless.

To those who aspire to the pinnacles of sluggardom, I recommend the following habits:

  • Abstain from all newspapers (and their websites), non-glossy magazines, and books not written by famous people. Basically, avoid anything that’s actually in print and isn’t colorful.
  • Get all of your news from celebrities’ twitter accounts.
  • Always go with the movie version.
  • Instead of reading canonical authors and books, read their wikipedia pages. (This trick works with less well-regarded books, too!)
  • If you disagree with your reading material, find something else to read.

By Aaron Brown


Aaron Brown was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book “How Not To Do Anything: An Expert Guide.” If you like Aaron’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from his e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

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At the End of the Day

Monday, April 28th, 2014

In everything that I have thus far said about the experience of reading and my own experience of reading, there is only one notion that I want everyone to constantly bear in mind: this is only one possible potential of understanding reading. The analogy of understanding the world as a text may be understood in a plurality of contexts. All I offer is one possible method and whether or not this reader wishes to take it to heart depends on the heart of the reader.

 

“What is given form here is not the totality of life but the artist’s relationship with that totality, his approving or condemnatory attitude towards it; here, the artist enters the arena of artistic creation as the empirical subject in all its greatness but also with all its creaturely limitations.”

—György Lukács

 

The beauty of the analogy of a text is that it allows for the reader to choose between understanding the text as a thing created by a person, taking that person into consideration; or taking the text as its own entity, which only truly comes into becoming when engaged in participation with a reader. Regardless of which text appeals to one’s sensibilities more, both texts are created by language, which by itself calls for the most intricate plurality known. Language is the simplest whole that is simultaneously a multitude of disconnected parts. This idea can be traced back as far as Genesis. When God destroyed the Tower of Babel, he wasn’t destroying mankind’s creation of language and his achievements. He destroyed mankind’s attempt to unify all the languages, because language isn’t meant to be a perfect unification. It urges its own tension and to deny that is like denying one’s own self-awareness. What texts do is they take this language and utilize it in order to create a poetic rendering of the world. And despite the fact that by creating this rendering, this reflection, the image created is merely an appearance, a portrait of what is truly attempting to be represented, and we are able to get more from this image than from anything else.

 

“Why couldn’t the world that concerns us—be a fiction? And if somebody asked, “but to a fiction there surely belongs an author?” —couldn’t one answer simply: why? Doesn’t this “belongs” perhaps belong to the fiction to? Is it not permitted to be a bit ironical about the subject no less than the predicate and object?”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

 

A frequent topic of conversation these days is where the direction of literature is headed, especially printed literature, in this technological Internet age. But what is rarely considered is the fact that literature is merely one medium for language. Similar questions are also asked about poetry, which seems to be suffering a more brutal battle than prose. But at the end of the day, poetry and prose are merely forms for the content of language. If the Internet and technological age are as threatening to the mediums of poetry and prose as people are making them out to be, then what will merely happen is that language will find a new form, a new vehicle. The only reason it’s difficult to imagine the type of vehicle it would be is because we have lived in constant mediums of language since before the time of Homer.  Now we have the Internet, something maybe vaguely conceptualized before its time, and we have absolutely no idea what the potential form of language will be in relation to the world that the Internet has created for itself. We’ve already gone through the times of Leet speak and Internet shorthand (LOL, OMG); but that’s just the evolution of conversation. The evolution of the poetic rendering of the world in the world of the Internet is, for now, a difficult thing to conceive.

 

“A whole world will envelop you, the happiness, the abundance, the inconceivable vastness of a world. Live for a while in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Reading ‘The Unnamable’

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

In an attempt to describe the active and action experience of reading, I took notes on my thoughts and streams of consciousness while reading The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett. I read the novel in three separate sittings. I usually read novels quickly, often finding myself intensely caught up in the world of the novel. This applies especially to nineteenth century novels. I’ve been able to read War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and Crime and Punishment in a single sitting, but with The Unnamable I had to take breaks in my reading because of the overwhelming nature of the novel.

Jerry Bauer. Portrait photograph of Samuel Beckett, not dated Gelatin silver © 2006 Jerry Bauer

Beginning the new novel was so daunting that even the name intimidated me. I had previously read a plurality of Beckett’s works, so I was aware of what I was getting myself into. During my reading of The Unnamable, I took notes on what my thoughts were at the time. (From now on my transcription of my reading of The Unnamable will be italicized.) Beckett’s novels always plainly spell out the undercurrents of my own thoughts. As a modernist writer, rather than creating a world through his novels, Beckett instead uses his novels as a method of sorting out his own problems, as well as holding a mirror to those of the reader.

Where now? Who now? When now? Unquestioning. I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypotheses, call them that. Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on. Can it be that one day, off it goes on, that one day I simply stayed in, in where, instead of going out, in the old way, out to spend day and night as far away as possible, it wasn’t far. Perhaps that is how it began. You think you are simply resting, the better to act when the time comes, or for no reason, and you soon find yourself powerless ever to do anything again.”

1st edition (French)

From the moment I began, the words struck me. I read them in my head and I can feel felt the neurons in my brain jump to attention. ‘Where now? Who now? When now?’ I can almost see the black ink leaking out of the pages, waiting for me to soak it up with my fingers like a sponge. When reading I feel a need to absorb the text, rather than merely inhabiting its world. Beckett’s work is particularly conducive to this, because he doesn’t try to create a world that the reader can inhabit. He isn’t trying to tell a charming story that will distract me from the world. No. What he’s doing is redirecting my attention back to the world, and my thought/memory is my magnifying glass. He reminds me to check what I think and directs my mind, while I travel through with my own mind. However, too much time spent in this magnified world is a little overwhelming, so I occasionally stop for a cigarette, taking a break from staring at the thick black twists and turns on the page.

I used Beckett’s own words as a diving board to jump off of into a stream of consciousness.

He only tells the stories of these characters in order to aid his own view of himself. He says these are necessary for self-definition. Is there anything unnecessary for self-definition? How can one even tell? What good does it even do to self-define? Is that even the point? And even when one self-defines, or realizes oneself in one of these meaningless stories, how can one tell that one is supreme? There must be more than one. He keeps saying he’ll get onto serious matters soon, but nothing is serious. I shouldn’t even take his words so seriously. But I do. I take all literature seriously. I read the words of these authors, gasping through pages looking for the answer. I don’t really know what the question is, but if these men and women were able to write such things, they must understand something that I do not, and I wish to learn that from them. But even I know that there is no one supreme understanding, which is why I will continue reading and learn of every thing that I possibly can. But then again, nothing is serious, so why take it so seriously?

My thinking begins to mirror his writing style, as each of his statements leads my mind to wander into my own life and reflections. Like Beckett, I keep backtracking and having to remind myself against dogmatism. But at the same time, I am still constructing a meaning with the help of the text, and any meaning that I do construct is whatever meaning the text could give me in that moment. I’m put in a strange state of feeling consumed by Beckett, yet the consumption is coming from inside me; I’m collapsing into myself like a black hole over and over again with every sentence he causes to gestate in my mind. When he stops putting paragraph breaks in the text, there stops being paragraph breaks in my mind. I follow what he is doing in my own fashion, and I take everything that I can see him offering me; even with the daylight I can feel myself falling into his own pit. And it’s alright. I know what’s down there and I want him to guide me through it.

Now there are no more paragraph breaks. It is all a big chunk of stream of consciousness. I can feel that from now on there will be no more breaks in my mind or in his. You’re never not thinking about anything. Even pauses and nothingness are something. I guess this is not a change from how it was before, but something feels different. Like there’s something inescapable now about the mind and thought. He keeps changing the point of view over and over again. I cannot tell which character he wishes to talk about anymore. Not that it even matters.

Beckett fills me with a much different type of exhilaration than Tolstoy and the difference in the texts leads to a different kind of construction. In reading Beckett, I’m suffering alongside him, the narrator, and every character he’s ever constructed. I felt an urgency to finish not because I want as much of the world as possible as fast as possible, but because I urgently want to leave his world behind and return to anything but it. If I were to put it down and take a break, it would only extend both our suffering. I wished to return to my own world where reality isn’t so concentrated as it is in The Unnamable. But once I surfaced back in my own world, I’m left with an impression of the entire novel upon my brain. I felt his words burrowing deeper and deeper into my brain, and as I had with War and Peace, I looked upon the world in rose-coloured-Unnamable-glasses. And the beauty of it is that both Beckett and Tolstoy are right. They are as different as night and day but they both say the same things and are both trying to talk about the same thing; the world.

 

 

 

 

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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The First Time You Meet the Text

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Experience is like that river that can’t be stepped in the same way twice. Just as college discounts and college savings are perpetually in a state of motion, so is a text.

The experience of reading can be split into three sections based on time; the first reading of the text, the aftermath and residue, and the rereading of the text. Each reading is particular, while the general text stays the same. It’s like that line in the song from Pocahontas, “You can’t step in the same river twice”. But instead of just the water flowing and changing, the reader is constantly changing and becoming, and because the reader is constantly changing, their constructions of the same text change as well. After reading a text, the direct effects and impressions begin to fade, but when a text profoundly affects the reader, the relationship that the reader forms with the text will change the reader. It’s like meeting a new person, falling into a deep and complex relationship immediately, and then having to say goodbye to them, because they do not exist without you. There will always be the memory of the experience, and you are changed by that memory from that moment on.

The first reading is just like meeting someone for the first time. And different books inspire different first impressions. The first time I read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, I could not put it down and stop reading until I had finished—roughly fifteen hours later. The words on the page pulled my eyes and my mind in to a point where my eyes could not keep up with my mind wanting to ingest every last morsel on the page. When I had finished, it was as though I had donned glasses and every particle of light that hit my eye was refracted by War and Peace.

I read novels quickly, preferring to absorb the novel as rapidly and intensely as possible rather than dragging the experience out over months. This applies especially to nineteenth century novels, mainly Russians works. I’ve been able to read War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and Crime and Punishment in a single sitting because once I’ve stepped into the world I cannot bear to leave it until it had come to fruition.

On the other hand, when I read The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett for the first time, it was necessary for me to put it down and take a day or two before I picked it back up. It took me three separate sittings to finish it because of the physical toll it would take on me due to the overwhelming nature of the novel. His novels have always plainly spelled out the undercurrents of my own thoughts, and watching them be thrust to the surface and spelled out in language made me need to take a step back.

The beauty of these first readings is that when you look back at them, you realize that what struck you in the first reading is what you held as a priority when you first read it. When I spoke with Ilja Wachs, a teacher of nineteenth century literature at Sarah Lawrence College, he related his experiences reading Anna Karenina for the first time. He noted that in his early readings of Anna Karenina, “whenever Levin came in the scene, I’d say ‘Get out of here, I want my Anna!’ Anna was beautiful, Anna was hot, I was in love with Anna, really”.[1] As a young adult, the vibrant and lovely character of Anna was what drew him, and his reading was centralized around Anna. Now when he rereads, “every time Anna comes in the scene I feel depressed, ‘Get out of here, I want my Levin’. I want Levin mowing, I want Levin in the spring. You get there real changes”.[2] As a grown man, now in his 80s, he is no longer attracted to Anna’s tragic beauty; instead he wants the collectivity, universality, and “grounded substantiality”[3] of Levin. “I can no longer stand Anna, now I want Levin on the scene all the time”[…] the way he extracts meaning from work, I mean, I think that’s very fundamental for me, and wasn’t then”.[4]  As his priorities and way of looking at the world changed as he grew older, so did his readings and experience of reading. He compares it to a “wonderful mirror”,[5] reflecting back at you your values. As one changes, so does the readings of the text; the text initially offers a plurality of possible readings, and the reader ascribes to one and reconstructs it for oneself. The reader “relates the different views and patterns to one another [and he] sets the work in motion, and so sets himself in motion, too”.[6] This is why the definition of the text is not in the text itself, but in the experience of the reading and the actualization of the interaction between the text and the reader.

 


[1] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[2] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[3] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[4] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[5] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[6] Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. 21. Print.

 

 

 

 

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Constructing A Text

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Reading a text is no different than looking at one’s college career and wondering where one’s going to find college savings and discounts in a world that seems to be framed for adults. In fact, you control the framing of the world just as you control the framing of a text.

When one reads a text, one is reading with one’s own rules for construction, as well as the rules and guidelines for construction that the text provides. A definition of the text cannot be given without consideration of the reader. A text does not exist until it has been read, and every reading is a unique interaction between the text and the participating reader[1]. Wolfgang Iser suggests that the text offers “‘schematized aspects’ through which the subject matter of the work can be produced, while the actual production takes place through an act of concretization”.[2] The text can offer several possible constructions of meaning, but these constructions do not exist until there is a reader to construct them. Iser identifies the two poles of a text as the artistic and the aesthetic; the artistic pole is the text as written by the author, and the aesthetic pole is the realization of the text by the reader.[3] Due to this plurality, a text cannot be defined by either pole; instead, it is defined by the relationship between the two poles.

By Louis Wain

When you see and understand anything in the world, it can always be interpreted as a split between these two poles. In a conversation, there exists the other participant with their own structure of beliefs, and you, who interprets and understands what they are saying. A conversation cannot be defined by either of these alone; it only exists as a relationship between these two poles, and that relationship is what should be focused on, understood and used as a basis for further activity. This parallels the split that exists in the world between thought and action.


The idea of a split seems to be a difficult thing to comprehend at first, because the world seems to be made up to wholes and unities. And while it is true that the split is a manmade construction, the split is in fact necessary towards the understanding of the whole. A human can be called the combination of thought and action, a simultaneously looping of one to the other, creating a state of becoming. Both particulars, thought and action, are necessary towards understanding the general relationship that is created out of the two. Just like how the two poles of a text, the artistic and the aesthetic, are both necessary towards the understanding of the text. And the text is simultaneously general and particular; it exists as the general book and as the particular reading. This is because language and speech are simultaneously thought and action, existing in both worlds. It is both a truth and an appearance.

Most things in life can be divided into the realms of truth and appearance. This is not to say that these are the only two realms of the world, but it can help one’s understanding to acknowledge these two realms. To recognize that someone can act differently from how they are thinking, regardless of intention, is what opened mankind up to the idea that things may not always be as they seem. But to be fair, in this instance there is an error in the rhetoric. Things will never be as they seem because things will never be anything. They are perpetually in a state of seeming, of becoming, and to become what you seem is an endless cycle.


[1] Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. 20. Print.
[2] The Act of Reading  21
[3] The Act of Reading, 21

 

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Reading From The Outside

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

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If one considers all speech to be poetic, and all worlds are framed by speech, a reader’s interaction with a text is an apt metaphor for one’s attempt to function and participate in the world.

When regarded from an outside perspective, the act of reading looks like an absolutely useless and monotonous activity. A person will sit for some duration of time, stare at an object, occasionally make a flipping motion with his/her hand, turn from one thin thing to another, and then resume staring at a different side. From the outside, it looks as though there is literally nothing happening; there is no activity other than the occasional hand motion, which does not seem to accomplish much at all. And when the act of reading is finished, there does not seem to be any discernible evidence that any semblance of an activity has occurred. Even Sartre admits that the writer’s activity is useless; “it is not at all useful; it is sometimes harmful for society to become self-conscious”.[1] The writer is useless because his activity is not, by all definitions, productive for a society, and the reader is useless because his activity is not even discernable as an activity.

In reality, the exact opposite is the case. Not only is the act of reading an incredibly active process, one of the most active processes coupled with thought, but it also cannot be objectively defined. The reading of a text can only be defined with regards to the reader, as well as every potential reader. Far from being a solitary event, the act of reading is an incredibly intersubjective experience that can never be the same construction twice. A text is not an object; for a text to be an object, it must exist prior to its construction. But a text does not exist before it is constructed by a reader; it only exists in its ongoing construction, in its becoming. This is why, at least for me, whenever someone asks me what a book is about, I have an incredibly difficult time answering. I can tell you what the book is making me think about, but what the book is about depends entirely on however you read it. The black marks on the page will always be there, but they do not mean anything without a reader who forms a relationship with them and assigns meaning. The only reason these black marks mean anything to us, the only reason we call them words, is because the idea of ‘words’ has been so naturalized in society that it never occurs to us to disassociate them from our own usage. To take a step back and understand something outside our own usage of it creates a perspective that allows us to realize that more than one perspective may be valid. This is how a text gets reconstructed differently by different readers. And not only can the same text be constructed differently by different readers, but the same reader will construct a text differently every time he/she reads it. The text is not defined by the black marks or the different readers, but rather the specific relationship between the two, which encompasses a plurality of definitions, especially those contingent upon time.

Breaking away from objective/subjective and turning towards a framing of the world that relies upon relationships can not only explain the phenomenon of reading, but is an incredibly useful way when attempting to understand the world. There is no ‘you’ and ‘other’ in the world. All that exists and all that you can participate in is the relational activity that occurs between these two things. If you remove the notion of an objective world from your frame of understanding and instead focus on the relations that are happening between you and others, and participate on the basis of your understanding of those relations, a multitude of freedoms are opened up for you.

 

 


[1] Sartre, Jean-Paul What is Literature? Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York City: Philosophical Library, 1949. 71. Print.

 

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Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Commuter Blues: How to Make the Most of Your Daily Ride

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

For some students, the optimal college dorming experience is not a feasible financial option and the only choice available to them is to make a daily commute to campus. Although it is oftentimes a long, tiresome affair – Believe me I know!  I commuted almost two hours a day from Queens to the Bronx for over three years! – there are some things you can do to make the most of the time that you spend stuck in the car or on the train. That way when you do finally make it to your destination, you will have less work to do and will have more of a chance to relax after a long day of commuting and learning.

If you are taking public transportation to get to school, then your commute is probably the best time to get all of that assigned reading out of the way. So before you bolt out the door in the morning, check to see what needs to be read for your classes and try to devote your commute to completing that task. It’s a relatively easy way to get things done. Honestly, there is not much you can do on a train or a bus, so remembering to grab those books or that e-reader (i.e. Kindle, Nook, iPad) in the morning will also save you from countless hours of commuter boredom. And, on the plus side, when you finally get home, you will have less to do and can maybe even squeeze in a little relaxation time before you have to start the cycle all over again.

Even if you drive a car to school, there are still ways that you can get some of your homework done before you pull into your driveway. Although you can’t actually read a book while driving, you can listen to one. So my advice would be to see if you can find the audio book versions of those novels for English class, and listen your way to some free time.

-Christina Brower

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