I have three classes, three months, three papers this semester. I’ve decided to do them sequentially, writing one a month. It has to be possible to do it that way rather than spread them out. After all, concentrated effort is required.
There are people who are big on starting with primary sources. I’m big on starting with secondary sources. So you get an idea of your person, his where and when, and then you read him to see if the secondary literature knows what it is saying. I find that if I start with the primary literature I don’t have a sufficient idea of what they’re talking about (I’ve done Origen, Plotinus, Eriugena, George MacDonald, Benjamin Whichcote and Ralph Cudworth—which are not always accessible personages; you cannot, for example, begin with the primary sources on Plotinus or Eriugena, unless you are better educated than I). Once I have digested some approaches to them, I’m ready to understand them.
And it is as this point that I figure out what I’m going after and I can zoom in. What happens to me now is that I reach a point where reading becomes useless, I know what I want to do, my attention is fixed and I’m like a dog hunting—no more reading whole books, my interests have narrowed too much for any reading outside of the scope, and I know where all the big pieces are.
That is the point: when you reach the moment when you know what needs to be done and that is all you can do. I’m doing Athanasius: Reason, Philosophy and the Doctrine of the Trinity for February. The point has been reached.