Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A study in comparisons: scholarship is a war

It's been a while since I last posted one of these. I'm sorry my blog/life is so dull, but here it is:
Then we again enter the market place of the learned, and behold there were quarrels, strife, scuffles, tumult among them. Rarely was there one who had not a squabble with another, for not only the young ones (with whom it could be imputed to the insolence of undeveloped youth), but even the old men plundered one another. For the wiser one considered himself or was by others held to be, the more he began to quarrel with those around him--fought and hacked threw and shot at them till it was fearful to behold, and he founded his honour and glory on this. And I said, "But in the name of dear God, what is this? I had thought and this was it promised me by you that this was the most peaceful career...But I see wounds and blood and wrath and murderous hate of the one against the other. Not even among the class of traders have I witnessed anything similar." 
"No doubt," he said, "for the arts of such men are but handicrafts and are slavish while those of the others are free. Therefore what is not allowed and would not be permitted to them the others have full liberty to do." 
"But how this can be called order," I said, "I know not." It is true that apparently their arms seemed by no means terrible. For the spears swords and daggers with which they hacked and stabbed one another were of leather, and they held them not in the hand but in the mouth. Their artillery consisted of reeds and quills, which they loaded with powder that had been dissolved in water, and they then threw paper bullets at each other. Nothing of this say I viewed superficially appeared terrible, was easy for me to understand that this was not jesting but veritable warfare...And I beheld here cruelty unusual elsewhere, for they spared neither the wounded nor the dead--indeed they hacked and struck all the more unmercifully at him who could no longer defend himself, mostly endeavouring to show their valour in this fashion...
--John Comenius, The Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart, 1631

But this is a business—and I don’t think we show students enough of this—but this is a business that lives by high noons. It’s shoot-’em-ups and rewards. Your job, in part, is to take somebody down. Their reputation shouldn’t be a big deal, but obviously it is.
--J.Z. Smith, Chicago Maroon interview, 2008


Anonymous said...

I thought it was Kissinger, but Wikipedia says it was Sayre:

"Sayre's law states, in a formulation quoted by Charles Philip Issawi: "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake." By way of corollary, it adds: "That is why academic politics are so bitter." Sayre's law is named after Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905-1972), U.S. political scientist and professor at Columbia University."

Miss Self-Important said...

But neither Comenius nor Smith thinks the issues are petty, just that the mode resembles war.