Humanist Archives: Sept. 16, 2021, 6:32 a.m. Humanist 35.242 - consequences, or how we work
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 242.
Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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Date: 2021-09-16 05:22:36+00:00
From: Willard McCarty
In the latest London Review of Books, Anthony Grafton writes on indexing
in "Fake it til you make it". As both author and, at one time,
indexer, this is my cup of tea. I empathise and wince as I consider both
sides of the relation. But to the point: Grafton tells two stories he heard
from Paul Oskar Kristeller:
> that he had learned to speak Latin properly in Werner Jaeger’s
> seminar in Berlin, and still admired Jaeger’s beautiful Latin; and
> that his teachers had trained him never to cite a book he hadn’t read
> from end to end.
I quote these for the second of them to pose a question I have been
pondering -- what we might sloppily (from the perspective of an
historian of science) call a thought experiment: what if we were to stop
working the way we do (I confess...) and suddenly start obeying
Kristeller's teachers' injunction, NEVER to cite a book one hadn't read
from end to end?
The clever among us (all of us, yes?) will realise quickly that for
obedience to make sense, MANY of the books that have come into print
in the last decades would have to disappear because they are simply
not worth reading in toto. Panning for gold rather than digging for
diamonds is what we do, yes? So much dirt and so many stones back
into the stream!
Historian Rosenzweig (may his name be blessed) wrote about "the problem
of abundance". Does not much of the problem go away if one considers the
ratio of dirt and stones to gold nuggets? Or -- here's a difficult thought --
has the whole nature of the marketplace in valuable minerals changed?
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews; Humanist
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