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The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit,…

The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods

by A.G. Sertillanges

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516631,596 (4.38)2
"Fr. Sertillanges's teachings are as timeless as any truths which describe the genuine nature of things. . . . This book is highly recommended not only for intellectuals, but also for students and those discerning their vocation in life."--New Oxford Review "[This] is above all a practical book. It discusses with a wealth of illustration and insight such subjects as the organization of the intellectual worker's time, materials, and his life; the integration of knowledge and the relation of one's specialty to general knowledge; the choice and use of reading; the discipline of memory; the taking of notes, their classification and use; and the preparation and organization of the final production."--The Sign… (more)



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I have found it essential to have a flour sifter whose colour and brand status fits in with whatever mood I happen to find myself in. I have had a small outhouse and glass and wrought iron access walkway built to house the 87 sifters and 587 salt and pepper grinders without which civilised life would be utterly untenable. Different sifters for different types of ingredients. Too many flour sifters is the yeast of most people’s problems. We are more worried about having enough dough. No! I’m fine thanks I even gave up ironing (I bought one of those vertical ironing steamers) so me and my stuff are equally crinkled and cluttered. Imagine rolling up your pants and socks ffs! Seriously, better things to do in life than stand there all day pressing things that you are just going to crinkle again. Still some folk say it is deeply calming but who wants a calm pair of jeans! Every time you go out, ironers are silently judging your unkempt appearance, scoosh. Ah, anyone who has time to think about this old biddy's appearance possibly needs more to do - so glad they at least have ironing in their life. I judge them not.

A tidy mind is a vessel of sterility and intolerance. It is true, a mind which cannot accept or absorb extraneous information, which is seen as superfluous and unnecessary: the type which never remembers birthdays. Better yet - try to avoid accumulating so much junk in the first place. Instead of cheap souvenirs take a picture, for example. Step back from the gift shop. Find what clothes you look best in and throw away/donate the clothes you don't look good in and resolve to only buy new clothes that (a) fit your body as it is now and (b) coordinate nicely with what you own.

Discipline your acquisitions.
One pair of sunglasses?
Anyone that tidy needs to see a good psychiatrist.

Why would anyone need more than one pair of sunnies? Because they're always getting mislaid. Then the sun comes out, you can't see a thing, and you're running around trying to buy a new pair, only to find that the choice is between 100 Euros or a pair that looks like they should be accessorised with a white stick and a Labrador.

Sertillanges makes me feel guilty sometimes. This might be the umpteenth time I've read his "The Intellectual Life" one of all-time favourites and every time I find something that resonates differently. I'm a terrible chucker-outer. Mrs. Owl and the junior owls are always asking where stuff is and I have to fib and say I don't know, rather than 'fess up and say it's gone in the bin. I have to say I do feel a bit guilty when small Owl says, lip a-tremble, 'Mummy, where is the lovely pencil holder I made you from an egg-box?'

That depends what sort of person you are. If you are creative, a 'maker' or builder, you need what a (in my opinion) more boring person would dismiss as 'junk' or 'clutter'. I'm sick of seeing TV makeover shows that consign shelves full of books or drawing material to a skip, (presumably), to be replaced by something ecru, or parents who moan at their kids for spreading toys out on the floor or on open shelves.

I struggle to think of any artistic person I know of that doesn't have a cluttered house of some kind! There's a 4-year old arty type living here at the moment and the whole place is an obstacle course of paper, crafty bits, bags, cables, candles, condiments, ornaments, Lego pieces, and whatnot on the floor. Every so often we have a big 'blitz' where we sort the whole place out (usually when someone comes to visit, wouldn't be fair to subject others to our, ahem...'creative workspace') but more and more I feel that life is just too short to worry about tidying. In the 'after' "photo" I see on those TV show my wife likes to watch ("Extreme House Makeover" and such - I don't remember their names...), the bookshelves are practically empty. Why do you consider that 'good'? And "Clearing out the kitchen cupboards made space for the glasses my parents gave us as a housewarming gift"! What is she going to live on, microwave meals and tap water?

Spring cleaning was about delousing after winter, not becoming a monk.

I recommend working on the basis of two numbers which you should be able to estimate:

A how many books do you read per year?
B how many years do you expect to live?
A x B = the number of books you're going to have time for, excluding things like dictionaries, cookbooks and the like.

In my case that's 100 x 30 (optimistic the latter) so I've got time for another 3000 books before I die (I know I’m a bit Draconian in the terseness - but I think the approach still works for most novels and other books that only work as a cover-to-cover read. For me the real point is recognising that if you can only fit another 3000 such reads in before you go, they'd better be worth it, and so don't now feel the need to plough on through things that aren't working for me after the first 25% or so). Now think about the books you've got and how many of that number you want to take up with rereading any of them. Then give the ones that don't make the cut to charity and get on with re-reading the rest. And I am being very strict with myself about not buying books. It's a struggle, but I am coping. ;-) Yes it's hard isn't it ... I am having to operate a 'one in one out' policy' in our house and the 'are you really going to read this again before you die' test works for me as an incentive to pass it on before it even gets onto the shelves. As I'm in the middle of a load of books that have been hanging around for several decades, I will not be taking advice.

I've just ditched my TV (again) well... access to TV stations that is. It sucks up time: one show turns into five and that’s your evening gone. On what? Finding out what happens in a rubbish TV you're only watching because it’s on? No ta! I used to have some really good "Decluttering the Mind" and "Tidy-up Your Mind" books with some great tips, but for the life of me can't lay my hands on them now. The only the remains is my faithful Sertillanges.

"The Intellectual Life" by Sertillanges, "How to Read Books" by Mortimer Adler and "The Educated Imagination" by Northrop Frye are the ones I keep re-reading over and over again. ( )
  antao | Dec 14, 2019 |
This is a beautiful book. If your motivation the pursuit of truth, this is a guide and a call to live that vocation.

I had this book on my "to read" list for a while, and when I heard it recommended again recently, I checked it out from my local library. 30 pages in, I ordered my own copy, and when it arrived, started over, from the front, highlighter in hand.

If truth--not merely facts--drives your intellectual life Sertillanges is an encourager and aid to regain focus. He challenges our tendency to self-distraction, which unfortunately is encouraged at every turn by many forces in our culture. He reminds us that to create anything worthwhile takes time and focus.

This is not your typical productivity book. He freely admits that a life dedicated to pursuing truth will probably not bring you fame and fortune. He admits that many of us can't even make it our day job. This is not a book about how to out-pace the competition. It is a exhortation to be true to the call to pursue truth.

Some of his advice may seem quant--notecards for taking notes and organizing them. But his principles are timeless. (And to be fair, index cards don't crash or get corrupted by an update!)

This will be a book that I will re-read, not so much for his bits of practical advice, though they are good reminders to keep me on track, but more so to rekindle my love of truth from his very contagious love for it. ( )
  Moellering | Aug 27, 2019 |
Several chapters relate directly to Work
  holycrossabbey | May 6, 2019 |
Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a French Dominican brother whose scholarly specialty was the moral theory of Thomas Aquinas. The book assumes a reader who is Catholic, open to Thomism, and sympathetic to the Catholic mystical tradition. In sum, I would characterize this book as a Catholic mystic's take on the intellectual life: its objectives, its methods, its benefits.

This approach to the subject provides some valuable insight and wisdom into the intellectual life: that it cannot be divorced from the total person; that it requires the virtues of solitude, humility, and commitment; that its essence is not reading and writing, but thinking and contemplating truth; that it cannot be fruitful apart from the soul's connection with God. He interestingly suggests that one can read too much: only a few books are worthy of our time. He encourages selectivity in choosing what we read and study. Reading is not the end but the beginning of our labor; reflection is the desired state.

I confess that I am not moved or motivated by mysticism. It seems to me to be no more than an unhealthy focus on one's emotional response to the contemplation of Truth, Beauty and God. It's not that the emotional response is bad, but the focus on it as the end of our being. And I apply that criticism to Sertillanges here. I also found his practical suggestions to be either understandably obsolete (the first edition of the book was written in 1920) or simply expressed in terms of emotion which does not translate well into praxis. In addition, I found his recommendations to be very general and difficult to apply to my specific situation. It is for all these reasons that I give this book three stars, instead of four or five as others have done.

Nevertheless, I strongly recommend reading this book. It will make you rethink your values and principles as a thinker and scholar. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
first encountered Sertillanges' 1921 book of pithy advice in 2009, when reading it inspired me and changed my entire approach to the intellectual vocation. So while on my meditation retreat, I decided this would be a good re-read before starting university. I enjoyed it so much that I have ordered a copy in the original language for a friend studying French.

Rather than a summary, I composed a prayer for use before and after study, made up of instructions in this book I found most pithy and memorable. Of course this is only a draft which will evolve as I use it.

Prayer to Truth.

As I begin my study, remind me to always be a conscientious workman.
May I only be satisfied by the depths of the truth, not by little gems and shallow understanding.
May I find the perseverance to dive into one field, but never lose an eye to the unity of Truth in you.
May I have a heart afire for your son Jesus Christ, not a crammed head for my ego.

Purify me morally so I may be open to your truth in love and charity.
Cleanse my mind so that it focuses on you in solitude and silence, but not in rejection of all your sons and daughters.
Remind me of my ignorance, that I am always a child to you and to the Truth beyond all human understanding.
Fill me with a love and respect for my study, a building-up for your Kingdom rather than a cutting criticism for my ego.
Show me when I am losing humility, when I gaze at my ideas too impressed by my ingenuity to tear them down and see truth afresh.
Never let me forget the depth of the universe, of children, of nature, of all things in Your glorious creation.

In waking and sleeping, study and socializing, in my mind and body, in my thoughts and actions,
May I be a thinker at all times, as I strive to be a Christian at all times.
May I work before the Cross, as I live before the Cross.
May my mind only serve to make me a broad and loving person.
Guide my work with vision at the outset, with perseverance in the middle, and with dedication to your people at the end.
Blessed be you, O Lord, in all the ways you shine in the world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Amen. ( )
2 vote JDHomrighausen | Aug 16, 2012 |
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"Father Sertillanges' book provides a stirring yet discriminating account of the nature and dignity of the vocation to the intellectual life. It is above all a practical book. It discusses with a wealth of illustration and insight such subjects as the organization of the intellectual worker's time, materials, and his life; the integration of knowledge and relation of one's specialty to general knowledge; the choice and use of reading; the discipline of memory; the taking of notes, their classification and use; and the preparation and organization of the final production."

--The Sign
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