Can you ever read too much?

I sit here, on Friday 20th January typing away at non-PhD work to rest my eyes from all the reading I’ve been doing of late. My working bibliography thus far comes to near on four full pages, and most of these aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘easy’ books (Agamben, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze etc.). Plus there are all the novels I’ve been re-reading ready to integrate with the philosophy.

Yet still I feel like I haven’t read enough.

Only this morning I was sitting in the library looking through Foucault’s Care of the Self (The History of Sexuality Vol 3), to find a section where he said something very similar to a concluding comment I made myself completely separately. Thankfully it turns out Foucault’s comment is in a slightly different context to my own, but there was a moment of pure panic as I wondered what the implications might have been if I’d missed it.

On the plus side, now I’ve had a chance to look over it properly and think about my own position, it’s not as bad as it seems, but the point still stands: I could very easily have missed this comment if I hadn’t been applying myself diligently to reading around my subject. And even then, that was only really because the library didn’t have the first volume, which was the one I actually wanted to look at.

This makes me wonder, how many academic texts are there out there built on arguments that have missed out on important lines of reasoning?

My bet is quite a few.

One thought on “Can you ever read too much?”

  1. Phillip Mendelsohn

    A very wise high-school English teacher of mine taught us to research until we “started to see things we already knew over and over again.” This might not be as helpful for a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy, but I have found it a good rule of thumb in researching many issues. I work in a field where solid research skills are absolutely imperative. You can’t always know everything, but at some point, you have to stop reading and get to your synthesis and writing.

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