From the Nature ― International Weekly Journal of Science

Published in Nature 459(7247), 739 (3 June 2009) | doi: 10.1038/nj7247-739a


New shores of literature 

Paul Smaglik

For good reading, look more deeply, says Paul Smaglik.



Summer, for me, means more than swapping teaching duties for camping, hiking and swimming; instead, I associate the sunny season with reading. For other instructors ― as well as for autodidacts ― the obvious question is, what to read? But perhaps a more important question is, how should we read it?

Two recent articles, one in The Chronicle of Higher Education ( and another in Times Higher Education (, suggest that the way we read ― as well as the ways in which we interact with other readers ― could influence higher education as well as our careers and those of our students.

In the Chronicle article, author Rachel Toor talks about the typical graduate seminar student's knee-jerk tendency, when reviewing books, to try to slaughter sacred cows. She warns other instructors not to simply ask their students what they think of a particular author or article. "That generally leads to posturing, self-aggrandizing put-downs, and useless bluster," Toor writes. Instead, she asks students what they have learned from a particular writer, how the work fits in with or goes against recent trends and whether they can adapt a writing style, structure or strategy for their own work.

Instructors using this approach could buck the notion that personal pedagogical style in Britain is being threatened by bigger class sizes and larger teaching loads, which Rebecca Attwood writes about in the Times Higher Education piece. Creating a summer reading list with and for graduate and undergraduate students is one step towards closing that pedagogical gap. Asking students to answer questions about style, structure and argument ― rather than about whether they agree or disagree with the writer ― improves education.

Applying this approach to our own reading can also improve our research and writing. Rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing with a journal article's argument, we can look for how the writer builds his or her case. Reading outside our discipline can also help our writing. Can we understand the thesis, even if we aren't familiar with the subject? Why, or why not?

Sometimes when we are too familiar with our areas of expertise, we assume all readers are on the same level. Writing a good journal article or grant application means spelling things out that the experts might know but that the larger audience we ultimately want to reach may not.

Finally, reading outside our discipline or speciality allows us to find connections that we might not make if we stay with more comfortable material. Adding a bit of literature or news to the mix can make summer reading less like work and more like a day at the beach.

Related links in npg

▶ Technology: The textbook of the future 

Related external links

 Chronicle of Higher Education

Times Higher Education 


SOURCE: Nature 459(7247), Issue of 4 June 2009, p. 739.  

New Shores of Literature 
Paul Smaglik's other interesting article in Nature 450(7166), Issue of 1 November 2007, pp. 130-131.
See Brain Storm 


(Image of Paul Smaglik)

Paul Smaglik, PhD Naturejob Editor

Dr. Paul Smaglik is a science journalist who's been covering biomedical research and policy for the past nine years. He's written and edited for Science News, The Scientist and, for the past six years, Nature. When the first human stem cells were isolated, he wrote that clinical applications remained years way, due to political and ethical concerns [The Scientist 12(23): 1 (23 November 1998)].

In 2001, he launched Naturejobs as an editorial section of the journal. Naturejobs covers the world of scientific careers and encompasses multiple sectors, disciplines and parts of the world. This year, the Naturejobs web site, which combines scientific career news with classified advertising, won a national award from Editor & Publisher.

As part of Naturejobs' mission, Smaglik has moderated numerous panels and career talks sponsored by Naturejobs, the New York Academy of Sciences, Euroscience, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. He has also published and presented his peer reviewed research on interactive health communication.

지금 2009. 06. 05. 금요일. 밤 8시 50분. 맑음 → 늦은 6시 30분 앞뒤로 20여 분 동안 소나기 세차게 내리다. → 갬.

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Articles by Alain Badiou, Régis Debray, Terry Eagleton, and Jacques Rancière 

Badiou, Alain (Jan.-Feb. 2008). The Communist HypothesisNew Left Review 49: 29-42.


Abstract: Why does the spectre of May 68 still haunt French discourse? Alain Badiou on the country's longue durée sequences of restoration and revolt, and the place of Sarkozy's presidency within them. Lessons in political courage from Plato and Corneille, and a call to reassert the Manifesto's founding wager.

The first paragraph of this paper:

There was a tangible sense of depression in the air in France in the aftermath of Sarkozy's victory. [1] It is often said that unexpected blows are the worst, but expected ones sometimes prove debilitating in a different way. It can be oddly dispiriting when an election is won by the candidate who has led in the opinion polls from the start, just as when the favourite horse wins the race; anyone with the slightest feeling for a wager, a risk, an exception or a rupture would rather see an outsider upset the odds. Yet it could hardly have been the bare fact of Nicolas Sarkozy as President that seemed to come as such a disorientating blow to the French left in the aftermath of May 2007. Something else was at stake―some complex of factors for which 'Sarkozy' is merely a name. How should it be understood?


Wikipedia entry on Alain Badiou: 

Debray, Jules Régis (July-August 2007). Socialism: A Life-Cycle. New Left Review 46: 5-28.


Abstract: The ecosystem of socialism, seen through the material forms in which its principles were transmitted―books, newspapers, manifestos―and the parties, movements, schools and men who were its bearers. From Babeuf to Marx to Mao, the passage of printed ideas, and their inundation by images in the age of the spectacle.

The first paragraph of this paper:

Impossible to grasp the nature of conscious collective life in any epoch without an understanding of the material forms and processes through which its ideas were transmitted―the communication networks that enable thought to have a social existence. Indeed, the successive stages of development of these means and relations of transmission―whose ensemble we might term the mediasphere―suggest a new periodization for the history of ideas. [1] First, what we may call the logosphere: that long period stretching from the invention of writing (and of clay tablets, papyrus, parchment scrolls) to the coming of the printing press. The age of the logos, but also that of theology, in which writing is, first and foremost, the inscription of the word of God, the 'sacred carving' of the hieroglyph. God dictates, man transcribes―in the Bible or the Koran―and dictates in his turn. Reading is done aloud, in company; man's task is not to invent but to transmit received truths.


Wikipedia entry on Régis Debray: 


Eagleton, Terry (Mar.-Apr. 2002). Capitalism and Form. New Left Review 14: 119-131.


Abstract: If bourgeois society requires both ceaseless economic dynamism and permanent ethical stability―disorder of invention and desire, order of labour and justification―what figures of the imagination offer a synthesis of these contradictory demands? The intertwining of routines and romances, virtues and villainies, in Scott and Goethe, Dickens and Balzac, Zola and Mann.

The first paragraph of this paper:

Many a ruling class has sought to erase from historical memory the blood and squalor in which it was born. As Blaise Pascal admonishes with arresting candour in his Pensées, 'The truth about the [original] usurpation must not be made apparent; it came about originally without reason and has become reasonable. We must see that it is regarded as authentic and eternal, and its origins must be hidden if we do not want it soon to end.' [1] Kant, too, was wary of speculation on the origins of political power, which he thought a menace to the state. [2] It is not just that these are bloody and arbitrary; it is also the sheer scandal of an origin as such, for what was born can also die. It is certain, Hume writes in his Treatise of Human Nature, that at the origin of every nation we will find rebellion and usurpation; it is time alone which 'reconciles men to an authority, and makes it seem just and reasonable'. [3] Political legitimacy, in short, is founded on fading memory and blunted sensibility, as crimes come to grow on us like old cronies. So it is that in Britain, France, Ireland and elsewhere, historiographical revisionism in the late bourgeois epoch comes to rewrite the heroics of revolution as the pragmatics of power, in a ceremony of self-oblivion which is not without its neurotic symptomatology.


Terry Eagleton's Bibliography:

Wikipedia entry on Terry Eagleton: 



Abstract: Schiller's conception of play, foundation at once of the art of the beautiful and the art of living, as the original scene of Western aesthetics, generating a set of recurrent emplotments of the relations between life and art, from the Juno Ludovisi to Jeff Koons.

The first paragraph of this paper:

At the end of the fifteenth of his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind Schiller states a paradox and makes a promise. He declares that 'Man is only completely human when he plays', and assures us that this paradox is capable 'of bearing the whole edifice of the art of the beautiful and of the still more difficult art of living'. We could reformulate this thought as follows: there exists a specific sensory experience―the aesthetic―that holds the promise of both a new world of Art and a new life for individuals and the community. There are different ways of coming to terms with this statement and this promise. You can say that they virtually define the 'aesthetic illusion' as a device which merely serves to mask the reality that aesthetic judgement is structured by class domination. In my view that is not the most productive approach. You can say, conversely, that the statement and the promise were only too true, and that we have experienced the reality of that 'art of living' and of that 'play', as much in totalitarian attempts at making the community into a work of art as in the everyday aestheticized life of a liberal society and its commercial entertainment. Caricatural as it may appear, I believe this attitude is more pertinent. The point is that neither the statement nor the promise were ineffectual. At stake here is not the 'influence' of a thinker, but the efficacy of a plot―one that reframes the division of the forms of our experience.


Wikipedia entry on Jacques Rancière: 


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