Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: June 22, 2021, 5:59 a.m. Humanist 35.100 - what we write about

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 100.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-06-21 12:24:25+00:00
        From: maurizio lana <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.98: what we write about

terrific. thank you Jerome.

never found before a so pertinent, incisive description (insight) of
what we do when we start to study because we want to write (about)

when the first step is that you choose the subject matter because
you have a quite clear idea of what you want to write; and then, as
soon you start to put in place the details, you discover the
vastness of what you don't know and so of what you must study.

the vastness is such that you must recognize that you cannot be an
accomplished expert on everything you write about - you can only be
a honest and thoughtful explorer of a portion of a bigger territory.

but.  "before" (before the internet, the web, the digital resources)
the publishing production (despite what V. Bush wrote in 1945 in As
we may think: "publication has been extended far beyond our present
ability to make real use of the record") was quite limited and in
fact "before" was the time when bibliographic reviews flourished;
and "before" you didn't have this asymptotic idea that thanks to the
digital tools you could/should know everything.

but. every time thinks that its condition, compared to that of the
past, is a condition of information deluge - see e.g.  Blair, Ann.
2003. «Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca.
1550-1700». Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (1): 11.


Il 21/06/21 08:28, Mcgann, Jerome
<> ha scritto:

Willard’s comments put me in mind of Theodore Roethke’s poem “The Waking”, which
begins this way:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

It’s “a love poem” at ground zero but like many such, ramifies, like that line –
it’s a refrain -- “I learn by going where I have to go”.

“What do I want to know about?”  Yes, there’s nothing more fundamental than that
beacon when we’re dealing with what Wallace Stevens called “the Scholar’s Art”,
a version of what Ford Madox Ford called “the game that must be lost”.

You start out because you want to know about something you know you don’t know
about.  Then as you go along you begin to know more about that, about what you
don’t know.  Eventually you come to a point where you can honestly say that
you’ve learned something you didn’t know and so you write it up, perhaps even
write it up a lot.

But then may come the most unnerving discovery of alI, the one Leonard Cohen
sang about when he sang “There is a crack in everything – That’s how the light
gets in”. So you come finally to the place where the scholar has to go.  It’s
not a place, it’s an existential condition -- ”the “fate” of an impossible
quest, the exposure of  “the importance of its failure” (John Unsworth).  It
turns out that all along and from the start you were mistaken about what you had
imagined (dreamt) about that “What”.  You didn’t even know “what” you didn’t
know and “what” in fact couldn’t know – call it your premises, the “what” they
both license and prohibit.

So it’s all about “beginning again and again” (Gertrude Stein): “To strive, to
seek, to find, and not to yield”.  I judge that those notorious last three words
were Tennyson’s gloss on “to find”: don’t yield to it.


there is a Giulio Regeni graffiti in Mohammed Mahmoud
Street, Cairo
to understand its meaning:

Maurizio Lana
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Università del Piemonte Orientale
piazza Roma 36 - 13100 Vercelli
tel. +39 347 7370925

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