A Day In the Life: Reading for Comps

August 21, 2008

I will intermittently be sharing with the Salad community a (somewhat) live journal of my day as I read for Comprehensive Exams coming up in September. In case I have never formally made your acquaintance I am Rabbi Dr. Professor Jurgen Haverstam. I study modern Jewish intellectual history, religion (I think), and was never taught how to use a comma properly.

9:30-10: Wake up and get out of bed

No, you’re haven’t misread, this is an half-hour long procedure. Though I get plenty of sleep I hardly spring out of bed. I spend twenty of these minutes wondering if I should buy an air purifier but think better of it.

10-12: The day is greeted…meekly

These hours are not bound by any real routine, but rather are a way for me to ingratiate myself into the world of sensory perception. I check my email to improve hand-eye coordination; I drink water, a substance to which I have a full-blown addiction; I follow some of the more crucial threads and requests on Facebook (that promiscuous girl I was too ashamed to ever get with wants me to join her wagon on Oregon Trail? What does it all mean?). Though I no longer fall victim to the bottomless hole of AIM, G-chat has made the private absurdly public and my inability to ignore digital communication means more time wasted – this gets rationalized by my saying: “This is how to maintain vital human connections in less than ideal circumstances.” Irony: making use of my education in order to justify my neglecting it.

12PM: The hour of guilt-laden stress in upon us

My desire to be tidy and official translates into a noon start time. Certainly midday is an auspicious hour to begin my scholarly pursuits. Sometimes I’ll begin on a half hour – there isn’t any real method here. It’s all about how what helps you get to bed at night.

Today I pick up one of the secondary sources on my reading list, Protestant Thought in the 19th Century by Claude Welch. Unconsciously I’m trying to keep morale up after yesterday’s less than successful foray into what was supposed to be a helpful secondary source on Hegel’s thought – Yirmiyahu Yovel’s introduction to Hegel’s Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit. Yes, that’s the introduction to a book whose subject is Hegel’s preface to his most important book. I’ll just let that linger for a moment. Please read on only when you’re ready.

Yovel’s work is said to be a useful introduction to Hegel’s thought in general. His approach, as he tells us in the introduction, is to understand Hegel in his own terms. The problem with this approach is that Hegel’s thought, especially his “terms”, is impenetrable and downright nutty. I say nutty because as you’re reading him you believe that this man was a) off his rocker and b) totally correct about a lot of things. The journey of the mind can get pretty emotional.

1:50 …

I text a friend whose job does not start until mid-September and is, until that time, a lady of leisure. It’s getting to be time for a coffee break.

2:20 On my way downstairs I check the mailbox, an event that will never lose its ability to arouse anticipation and excitement. This particular checking is especially rewarding – I’ve received my first handwritten dispatch from our friend Dash. I leave the mail in the mailbox so that the excitement continues when I return home.

2:30-5 I reluctantly meet my friend at Starbucks. Ordinarily I would be happy to go to Dunkin’ Donuts because it is that upon which America runs; I’ve been reading about William James today so it’s especially fitting. However, since my friend has received a $2 coupon for any iced beverage which she earned by going to Starbucks earlier that same day (!) my impecunious ways overtake my ultra-Americanism (a fire stoked by the Olympics) in my decision-making process.

After a leisurely coffee break we stop at the Garden of Eden, a haughty market whose sole appeal is its unbelievably fresh and cheap produce. Placards under each item read “Temptation in every aisle” and I find myself agreeing. I buy items for a stir-fry I had no intentions of making. Marc Taylor once taught a class I was in and said that every story has three parts: Beginning, middle and end – Paradise, Fall, Redemption. It is certainly no coincidence that I live just east (and the tiniest bit north) of such a place.

5:15PM  On my way back upstairs I retrieve my mail, handwritten postcard from Dash included. I can only hope that in writing this post, reading and responding to his letter, and moving forward with my reading plans that this day can yet be redeemed. Then again, it’s almost time to get supper started – anyone want to come over for stir-fry?

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