The Great Re-Education
November 4, 2012 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I realized recently that as a college graduate with a B.A. in Philosophy, i know absolutely nothing. I want to educate myself in classic literature, great music (folk, jazz, classical), philosophy, poetry, and art. Where should i begin? The project seems overwhelming to me. I'm throwing out the TV and i want to occupy my time with material that will help me grow as an individual. Any ideas? Suggestions?
posted by hiddenknives to Education (21 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I'm taking an intense and highly interesting Modern & Contemporary Poetry class through Coursera, which has reinvigorated my affection for poetry. There are plenty of other classes offered for free through the site, though not so many that are focussed on the humanities. The course started back in September, but if you're not so worried about participating in the live sessions/writing the assignments/being exactly on course, it doesn't matter and you can go at your own pace.
posted by staboo at 6:02 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

On the literature side, Bloom's The Western Canon is probably one good starting point.
posted by pont at 6:11 PM on November 4, 2012

Go experience stuff.

Where do you live?

If it's a city and there are museums and such, start there!

If it's a college town, flip through the course offerings. Maybe you could audit Intro To Classical Music or The American Novel?

Got a Netflix subscription? Jazz, for starters.

Also, iTunes U is great for this sort of thing. I've enjoyed a classes from Yale on Early Medieval Europe and Ancient Greece, as well as one from some state college in Missouri when I was going through one of these phases on Classical Music a year or so ago.

PBS can also be great for this stuff. They show a lot of opera, dance, theatre, and documentaries.

Poetry? Hie thee to the library, of course. I have the Oxford American Poetry, which is probably all the American poetry I'll ever need.
posted by Sara C. at 6:11 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Project Gutenberg is vast.
posted by mhoye at 6:24 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

For art (and a lot of history), read Art Through The Ages. For growing as an individual, people seem to recommend getting really good at speaking by doing improv and/or Toastmasters. My personal bias (might not be right for you, since you majored in Philosophy) is that the ancient texts do not have universal answers to life's big questions, so you should master one of the growing subfields of engineering (such as computer science or biochemistry) and join the people building the tools to unlock these mysteries.
posted by sninctown at 6:30 PM on November 4, 2012

You might enjoy reading An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't It might be a good jumping-off place to see what you might find interesting.
posted by 4ster at 6:47 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, this looks interesting.
posted by 4ster at 6:54 PM on November 4, 2012

My favourite way to mooch education from the internet is the humble LISTSERV. Whether you're interested in specific authors (for example Joyce, Nabokov, Pynchon, David Foster Wallace) or broader areas (18th century interdisciplinary studies, Victorian studies, all manner of humanities) there's no better way to find out what people talk about when they talk about their work...aside from actually talking to them, anyways.
posted by Lorin at 7:06 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you might be starting off on the wrong foot. It sounds like you feel guilty because you don't know everything about everything, and you're daunted by the task ahead of you. There is no daunting task and no need for guilt. There is a mountain of treasure that is constantly growing. As a modern person of at least nominal means, you are swimming in endless treasure. Mankind has worked for millennia to bring the world's riches to you. Think of it as your birthday, every day, forever. Think of it as the first day of summer vacation. Think of it as a surprise inheritance. Every reading list, compendium, or flogilege is at best a guidepost. You don't owe it to Harold Bloom to read Agrippa, but he'll tell you that it exists and is waiting, patiently, for you to read it.
posted by Nomyte at 7:10 PM on November 4, 2012 [16 favorites]

This is a lifelong pursuit, and one that you should entertain because it's enjoyable and enriching, not because it ticks off boxes. You don't need to throw out your television, you just need to spend time exploring things that appeal to you, in addition to relaxing.
posted by ellF at 7:14 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you were in a decent philosophy program, then you should have acquired serious reasoning skills and a precise bullshit filter. Don't discount that toolset so easily. It'll come in handy while you're out a-questing for knowledge.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:42 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was in high school I used to read the New York Times Sunday Book Review a lot. Between that and the Critics pages in the New Yorker, you begin to pick up a good sense of which writers/artists are considered essential just through the offhand way people will mention them in reviews of other work. Plus it's a two-fer; you read a review that seems interesting to you for the work itself being discussed and you pick up on similar people to seek out because the reviewer cites them as influences. If you like the first thing, you're likely to like the second thing.
posted by Diablevert at 8:03 PM on November 4, 2012

This isn't "classic literature" in the sense of the classics of antiquity, but the following two books led me to some interesting reading: A Reader's Guide to the Twentieth-Century Novel, The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors. Rummage around, see if you find anything.
posted by Nomyte at 8:22 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

i want to occupy my time with material that will help me grow as an individual.

The stuff that will help you grow best is whatever stuff actually calls to you.

This sounds like hippie-ass bullshit, I know, but seriously. There is no universal master plan for personal growth. The best you can do is follow your own individual curiosity and taste. Read whatever books spark your interest. Listen to whatever music moves you. Browse a lot; dig deep into the stuff that you find rewarding and thought-provoking; cheerfully ignore the stuff that doesn't.

People on a diet sometimes talk about listening to your body. The idea is, you know, your body is telling you what it needs — whether it's hungry or full, or thirsty, or tired, or whatever — and you just have to pay attention.

Well, your brain knows what it needs. Your soul* knows what it needs. Just pay attention.

*Or, you know, whatever weird little pre-rational tangle of emotions and urges and questions you've got lurking in there instead.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:26 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's a mistake of the first order to ask the Internet for guidance here. There is no canon to be mastered. Read what you love to read, and don't bother with the rest. Listen to what you love to listen to, and don't bother with the rest. Your time on earth is finite, don't waste it on things that don't speak to you.
posted by bricoleur at 8:33 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Read what you love to read, and don't bother with the rest. Listen to what you love to listen to, and don't bother with the rest.

And keep in mind that this will change over time. When I was in my early 20's, I thought: I am interested in THIS but not THAT. As time has gone by, slowly but surely I have become interested in certain values of THAT, until probably by the time I am elderly I will pretty much have THAT conquered.

Don't fear that you're interested in the wrong stuff, because later you will be interested in different stuff.

Unless you're cut out to be an academic, I suppose, and then you'll probably just become more and more interested in a narrow yet infinitely deep niche of very specific THIS. Which is also fine.
posted by Sara C. at 8:43 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think a good way to learn about classical music is to go to some live concerts. Go to the box office one afternoon and ask if they have discounts for young people. Many symphonies do, because they are trying to encourage a new generation to go to the symphony. Often that works out as a day-of-the-concert thing: the symphony sets aside a certain number of tickets for young people, and then you can arrive an hour before the concert and buy a ticket at a major discount, for $15 or something. You have to ask about these sorts of deals though; that sort of thing isn't always advertised clearly on a sympony's website.

Even if your local symphony doesn't have a discount like that, then it is still often pretty easy to find cheap seats. Sometimes you end up sitting by the rafters, but sometimes not, and when the concert hall is a good one, it doesn't really matter anyway. The people at the box office can help you with this too. It's perfectly acceptable to say to them, "I'm looking for the cheapest seat possible for the concert on Sunday. What would you recommend?" When you go to ask these sorts of questions, just don't go in the pre-concert rush (which is generally the hour before the concert starts). I find that afternoons are best; box offices are usually open at least once or twice a week during the day, and it is generally a lot less busy.

If you're interested in folk music, get your hands on The Anthology of American Folk Music by Harry Smith. If most of your exposure to folk music up until this point has been hippies from the sixties singing sweet songs with a guitar, then prepare to have your hair blown off by that anthology.
posted by colfax at 1:49 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, in reply to those who have encouraged me to read what i want, and listen to what i want, i am, and it's not working. I write, record and produce music and over the last two years i have become stale. I have no avenue for discovering new music, and the new music i discover, i hate, and if i discover something i like, i'm always thinking "Well, i would do it like this."

I need a wealth of other art to attach myself to and to draw from. The reason i am stepping out of my comfort zone is because i feel devoid of actual content. I'm not doing this because i want to impress people or have something to talk about at parties, i'm doing this because i need something to enrich the only thing i care about.

More suggestions please!
posted by hiddenknives at 9:50 AM on November 5, 2012

It sounds like you're just hitting a wall on music, these days. Which is fine. I've had years I couldn't watch movies anymore, because I felt like I'd basically seen all the movies and every new one was just a retread of something I'd already seen and liked better. Take a three month break from music.

While you do that, go check out other art forms. Go to local museums and galleries if you have access to them. Pick up that novel you've always wanted to read, whether it's Tolstoy (this seems like the moment to read Anna Karenina) or The Hunger Games. Movies are pretty easy to steep yourself in, because you can settle on a certain decade or movement or country, or really, the sky's the limit (every John Waters movie, every movie that gets nominated for Best Picture this year, everything on Andrew Sarris' Top Ten List in 1974, etc).

I also find that reading nonfiction can get me excited about some of this stuff. I got hugely into 60's and 70's film after reading Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, for example. There are also lots of books like this that go across disciplines and talk about different aspects of some random thing, for instance Salt (which is especially great if you're interested in food and history).
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 AM on November 5, 2012

For classic literature: I realized a couple things a few years ago that have given me inroads into this world. First was that the library has a shelf called, "Classics". You will recognize most of the titles there as the biggies of Western (and depending on the politics of your local librarians, international and contemporary) fiction. The other thing I discovered is that some of these classics are really hard to read, even for smart people who read a lot of philosophy in college! So I've been working through some stuff on tape. I did this in the car all the time until my car tape deck died, and I don't think I would have gotten far in say, Ulysses for example, if I'd tried to read it in bed at night instead of listening to it.
posted by latkes at 2:19 PM on November 5, 2012

There's a book I got as a teen called "An Incomplete Education" that was written just for this situation. For example, one article is "Twelve Characters From Great Literature You Would Invite to a Dinner Party" -- and the reasons for each will draw you into their stories. It isn't all concerned with your topics, but you may find the other sections equally thought-provoking.

You may also hit the library for "The Day I Became an Autodidact" for some inspiration.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:24 PM on November 5, 2012

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