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Mark Edmundson quotes (showing 1-20 of 20)

“The English major is, first of all, a reader. She's got a book pup-tented in front of her nose many hours a day; her Kindle glows softly late into the night. But there are readers and there are readers. There are people who read to anesthetize themselves—they read to induce a vivid, continuous, and risk-free daydream. They read for the same reason that people grab a glass of chardonnay—to put a light buzz on. The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people. What is it like to be John Milton, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe? What is it like to be them at their best, at the top of their games?”
Mark Edmundson
“English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.

Real reading is reincarnation. There is no other way to put it. It is being born again into a higher form of consciousness than we ourselves possess. When we walk the streets of Manhattan with Walt Whitman or contemplate our hopes for eternity with Emily Dickinson, we are reborn into more ample and generous minds. "Life piled on life / Were all too little," says Tennyson's "Ulysses," and he is right. Given the ragged magnificence of the world, who would wish to live only once? The English major lives many times through the astounding transportive magic of words and the welcoming power of his receptive imagination. The economics major? In all probability he lives but once. If the English major has enough energy and openness of heart, he lives not once but hundreds of times. Not all books are worth being reincarnated into, to be sure—but those that are win Keats's sweet phrase: "a joy forever.”
Mark Edmundson
“The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough.”
Mark Edmundson, Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education
“In later life most good things happen very slowly; only bad things tend to happen fast.”
Mark Edmundson
“The reason to read Blake and Dickinson and Freud and Dickens is not to become more cultivated or more articulate... The best reason to read them is to see if they may know you better than you know yourself. You may find your own suppressed and rejected thoughts flowing back to you with an "alienated majesty”
Mark Edmundson
“The presence of God compelled human[s] to quest for an ideal. They had to strive for something to win God's blessing.... Nietzsche feared that with God's passing even that striving would stop. No one would think it worthwhile to try to overcome himself. People who would live happily with their own limitations.... Worse was life in which humanity had lost all interest in ideals. This was the world epitomized by "The Last Man." This creature hops and blinks on the Earth's crust, small and self-seeking, lives with the most pitiable credo: `One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: Both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.' The Last Man has his `little poison now and then: That makes for agreeable dreams'; he is cautious, self-absorbed, noncommittal.... What happens now and in the future if our most intelligent students never learn to strive to overcome what they are?”
Mark Edmundson
“Real reading is reincarnation. There is no other way to put it. It is being born again into a higher form of consciousness than we ourselves possess.”
Mark Edmundson
“Language, a great poem in and of itself, is all around us. We live in the lap of enormous wonder, but how rarely do most of us look up and smile in gratitude and pleasure?”
Mark Edmundson
“[Steven] King is an entertainment. King is a diversion. But when you try to take him as a guide to life, he won't work. The circles he draws on the deep are weak and irresolute. And this is so in part because King...is a sentimental writer. In his universe, the children...are good, right, just and true.... But bring this way of seeing the world out into experience and you'll pretty quickly pay for it. Your relation to large quadrants of experience...will likely be paranoid and fated to fail....”
Mark Edmundson
“Books are where the ideas come from, though the ideas need to be simplified, reduced, submitted to ideological purification." ("Notes on the Mono-Culture").”
Mark Edmundson
“Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play—work you do so easily that it restores you as you go.”
Mark Edmundson
“What Proust is describing is an act of self-discovery on the part of his reader. Immersing herself in Proust, the reader may encounter aspects of herself that, while they have perhaps been in existence for a long time, have remained unnamed, undescribed, and therefore in a certain sense unknown. One might say that the reader learns the language of herself”
Mark Edmundson, Why Read?
“How did the students respond to being treated like customers? They didn’t seem to mind at all. From what one could see, they loved it.”
Mark Edmundson, Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education
“When the goals of the Self are the only goals a culture makes available, spirited men and women will address them with the energy that they would have applied to the aspirations of the Soul. The result is lives that are massively frustrating and not a little ridiculous. People become heroically dedicated to middle-class ends—getting a promotion, getting a raise, taking immeasurably interesting vacations, getting their children into the right colleges, finding the best retirement spot, fattening their portfolios. Lives without courage, contemplation, compassion, and imagination are lives sapped of significant meaning. In such lives, the Self cannot transcend itself.”
Mark Edmundson, Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals
“Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said that the limits of one’s language were the limits of one’s world. By coming up with fresh and arresting words to describe the world accurately, the writer expands the boundaries of her world, and possibly her readers’ world, too. Real writing can do what R. P. Blackmur said it could: add to the stock of available reality. There”
Mark Edmundson, Why Write?: A Master Class on the Art of Writing and Why it Matters
“At a certain point, professors stopped being usefully sensitive and became more like careful retailers who have it as a cardinal point of doctrine never to piss the customer off.”
Mark Edmundson, Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education
“My students, alas, usually lack the confidence to acknowledge what would be their most precious asset for learning: their ignorance.”
Mark Edmundson, Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education
“To be happily married, as I've been fortunate enough to be, is to be a partner in a conversation that can last a full adult life. To have a true friend is to be able to test your hypotheses against someone who's receptive, but who won't give ground forever, and then let your friend try his wares out on you. At its best, friendly conversation is about giving up all claims to property and priority and engaging in collaboration--so that, at least for the two of you, something like an improvised musical composition in two parts is taking place. You do some rhythm to his lead; he lays down a bass line when you want to run the thing out into space. You both wind up saying things and thinking things that, alone, you never could have. This kind of hybrid mixing, this collaborative creation, is greatly to be treasured: it's one of the best parts of life.”
Mark Edmundson
“In Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, there is a passage that gets close to the core of what a literary education should be about. The passage offers a deep sense of what we can ask from a consequential book. Proust speaks with the kind of clarity that is peculiarly his about what he hopes his work will achieve. In particular, he reflects on the relation he wants to strike with his readers. "It seemed to me," he observes, "that they would not be 'my' readers but readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers—it would be my book but with it I would furnish them the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I would not ask them to praise me or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether 'it really is like that.' I should ask whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those which I have written.”
Mark Edmundson, Why Read?
“For someone growing up in America now, there are few available alternatives to the cool consumer worldview.”
Mark Edmundson, Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education


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