02 February 2007

New Perspectives: A Nibleyesque Musing

So, every Friday for my Hugh Nibley class, we're supposed to ramble for one page on what we thought of the readings. You know I'm all for stealing homework for blogposts, so you may see a few of these this semester. But hey, it's Hugh Nibley, so it's for your own good!

Some very interesting readings this week—“Treasures in the Heavens” was, of course, astounding. It was interesting to me to see how Nibley treats things I would normally think of as abstract philosophies as concrete facts. As an English major, I often wonder how important the abstract concepts we discuss in class are because they seem so detached from what constitutes the majority of our lives. But Nibley makes no apologies for the fact that his ideas are big and seemingly unconnected to the mundanities of day-to-day life. He’s not concerned with forcing you to realize why his theories are relevant to you—if you don’t understand the importance of them, then perhaps you aren’t ready to read Nibley.

The idea of heaven being more concrete and real than this life also matched up with what I’m reading in CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Heaven is not going to be less real than this life, but more. We are here to prepare to experience that level of reality and power that we could not have managed without a body. I guess the reason we think of heaven as so spiritual and insubstantial is because we have difficulty imagining anything more concrete than this reality.

I really liked Nibley’s “An Intellectual Autobiography” on a couple of different levels. First, it was just a great piece of creative non-fiction. As a writer, I admire Nibley’s style in this piece: he doesn’t allow us to get bogged down in the details of his life, giving us just enough to move us through his intellectual journey without confusion. He makes everything fresh and humorous. Second, I really enjoy the idea of giving an intellectual autobiography. Isn’t that the story we’d rather tell—the story of how we grew as a person—rather than the dates, facts, and figures that normally occupy so much of a biography?

Finally, one particular passage really struck me, the one where Nibley talks about working through the entire nine floors of the Berkeley stacks. The idea is so very appealing that I’ve begun to think about trying to do this myself with the BYU library. It’s definitely a crazy project, but it would be so rewarding. Think of how much you could learn about interests you didn’t know you had just by browsing through the stacks of an entire library! Not to mention the bragging rights . . . .

“Educating the Saints” was one of the Nibley articles that I had read before. However, I saw it in a new light this time. I just completed a paper on early Mormon ideas about rhetoric and education. The section where Nibley explains Brigham Young’s lack of eloquence was very relevant to the paper I was writing. The early saints really cared very little for ideas about formal education; they unabashedly shared the truth as they found it and sought more, not worrying about clever phraseology or the opinions of the intellectual elite.

I wonder if we could not use a lot more of that, even at BYU. Sometimes it feels like, even in the undergrad years, there’s such a push to get enough accomplishments to fill out a good resume (or, as Nibley says, stand at attention at the end of an obituary). When you ask people what they are learning at school, they inevitably list classes and activities rather than ideas, which strikes me as sad. The university is very display oriented, so much so that when I mentioned that I am “learning just to learn” to a classmate, he didn’t know what I meant and expressed an extreme distrust for any supposedly higher motive in education: “I’m in it to get the grade so I can get into grad school.” Learning seems to be lost on the learned.


Cathryn said...

I was thinking about this "learning just to learn" business today, but in the context of secondary education.

I need to remember to blog about that sometime soon.

Paradox said...

You're an English Major at BYU?

This may be a bit unorthodox, but I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind establishing a correspondence with me, so I can learn more about what BYU has to offer to someone with my educational interests. I'm interested in courses in creative writing (as well as journalism). I'd like to get someone's opinion of these courses as much as possible, because I live in Maryland, and can't do a campus tour of BYU, or sit in on any of the classes. You're the first BYU English major I've come across, and I'd be interested in your opinion of the English major as offered by BYU, the university itself, the people, the food, and anything else you might be willing to tell me.

If you wouldn't mind passing this information along, I'd REALLY appreciate it!

And great post, by the way. I'll definitely be checking back in to read more=)