Saturday, March 13, 2010

When the Pieces Fall Into Place Comes the Hallelujah

I've been reading Paul Ricouer off and on for several years now, and rather intensely the past few years. I found Ricouer in Brueggemann's footnotes and have sensed an importance to his work related to my own. That sense has intensified with my PhD work. My prof, Pat Keifert, studied with Ricouer (does that make me a grandson of sorts?) and he has drawn me deeper into his writings. I'm in dissertation stage, and so am about to have to say something fairly coherent about how I'm using Ricouer's work. And I'll just say that has been a daunting prospect until this week.

I'm re-reading From Text to Action and Oneself as Another this week. It's my third time through Text to Action. And this time, pages that have gone unmarked in previous readings have jumped out of the book and grabbed me by the throat. Words that were only signs marking some impenetrable world have now become active agents in a world emerging in my reading.

It's not because I'm smarter. I'm convinced of that. I'm at least aware that my mental-acuity-stamina is reduced. I used to be able to do heavy lifting brain work for the better part of a day. I have to pace myself now. I often feel limited these days, and those limitations seem not related to the amount of information I have, but the capacity to make anything useful of the deeper ends of the pool in which I find myself swimming (or drowning).

What has happened is that thing that comes with time and repetition. The forest has imposed itself on the trees. And its not because I lined out all the arguments in some kind of progression. It happened around one "aha" moment related to the importance of texts for Ricouer. I could have written the sentence, "Ricouer's contributions to phenomenology have to do with distanciation related to his notions of understanding texts." But this week that move in Ricouer, away from Dilthey and subsequently Gadamer, has allowed the scales to fall from my eyes. What once was an overwhelming data set has suddenly become an orienting picture.

This has happened to me before, and I'm sure to all of us in one way or another. But sometimes it seems like it will never come. A new world is coming at us so fast and hard that we feel mostly incompetent. This is especially true, I think, of academic or professional programs that cram a lot into a small temporal window. There's really no other way to do it, but when you're in it you feel like you're drinking from a fire hose. I know students in my grad program right now are reporting a similar sensation.

But the "aha" is faithful. It appears to those whom it has chosen. And its appearing is glorious.

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