Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 48.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 07:08:14 +0100
From: "P. T. Rourke" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Society for Non-Mainstream Theory and Practice
A couple of mild differences with Osher Doctorow:
> (and also by non-Mainstream scientists - see for example Isaac Asimov's
> works and his history of being dropped by his department for spending too
> much time on non-mainstream work) is an example.
I was under the impression that it was more a matter of mutual agreement
than being "dropped:" IA didn't really want to bother with being an academic
in a medical school any longer - it took too much time away from his
writing - and the university felt it would be better for them to spend his
salary on an everyday teacher. I believe that he was still listed on the
University's faculty as late as the 1980s, long after he had given up any
pretense of teaching.
> I may be accused of
> having Socrates on the brain, but it seems to me that this is in essence
> what Socrates was doing in his own fields.
Though I think that the metaphor below is a useful way of understanding
Socrates' methodology, I'd want to resist any comparison between Socrates'
activities and popularization: Socrates was anything but a popularizer. In
our culture, there is a polarity between specialization and popularization;
for fifth-century Athens, no such polarity existed, and so the breadth of
Socrates' inquiry (in contrast to the rhetoricians and scientists among the
sophists) doesn't imply popularization. Popularization also implies a kind
of evangelism: one is trying to "sell" one's field, and if Plato's account
is to be believed on this point, Socrates was not an evangelist, but more of
an intellectual oligarch (while most of his students and hangers-on were
political oligarchs - Xenophon Spartacized, Plato tried to make Dionysius a
philosopher-king, and as for Alcibiades and Critias . . .) It is peculiar
to think that in democratic Athens the "popularizers" tended to be those who
claimed to be specialists able to teach a specific *techne*, but ultimately
I think that those most comparable to the "mainstream" *would* be the
Sophists, and that *they* were the ones who made the most open gestures
The fact that the mainstream is in the ivory tower (now there's an ugly
mixed metaphor for you!) may be a peculiarity of our own culture, in which
the university is virtually the sole patron of intellectual inquiry.
> The only difficulty that I
> foresee is a human one: if we really boil things down to their foundations
> and meanings, we may find that a lot of them are rubbish and that the
> Mainstream with its Peer Reviewers is largely unsatisfactory. I might as
> well offer a tentative solution: a Society for Non-Mainstream Theory and
> Practice. If I may put a slightly humorous note on this, one requirement
> for a submitting paper might be that it has been submitted to a Mainstream
> Standard Peer Review journal and rejected, often by Contradictory Peer
> Reviews to which the Editors may have added: "I am in complete agreement
> with this rejection." See David Ruelle's Chance and Chaos for an amusing
> description of something similar that really happens.
The difficulty, of course, will be in making sure that it doesn't become the
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