4.0562 Counting Texts (1/43)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 3 Oct 90 22:58:45 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0562. Wednesday, 3 Oct 1990.

Date: Fri, 28 Sep 90 18:10 PDT
Subject: Re: 4.0535 Musings: Disciplines, Universities & Education

Of course my remark about the limited number of texts is
incomprehensible...if one counts bibliographies of secondary texts,
which have proliferated in our time beyond the scale of an enormity.
But if one teaches secondary texts, then one is making a fundamental
excursion away from the primary concern. Not all texts are to be
equally enumerated. The manufacture of texts for the purposes of th e
academic machine...well. When Thoreau went to Harvard about 165 years ago
there were I seem to recall its having been mentioned (by Matthieson,
in AMERICAN RENAISSANCE, I think), that there were (after 200 years of
Harvard's history) about 55,000 books, of which perhaps 54,000+ were
collected sermons. As for the making of sociological texts, well,that
material will grow and has grown, as if composted with yeast. Not a
value judgment at all. UCLA alone counts I think it was 5 million
volumes at last assessment, when it was voted #2 in academic libraries,
after Harvard's #1? What to do, clap hands and sing? and sing all the
louder for every text in its immortal dress, so to say? Is one to tell
one's graduate students to master the secondary literature, too? Take
the Victorian novel, for instance...no, never mind those 3-deckers. I
always have kept in mind a charming essay I read about 20 years ago,
written by a fine scholar of English Literature. He was retiring; he
was 65+; he was moving west to, say Arizona; he was faced with the
question: what to keep from library, after the house had been sold and
the movers were coming to carry his chattels off into the sunset years.
His essay describes the winnowing, from thousands of essential works
collected over a lifetime to...fewer than can be counted on the fingers
one hand! Well it made good sense, and I heard his admonition then
and had it in mind now when I asked how many texts were necessary to be
counted. Of course, there is the busyness of scholarship and
investigation, and of the making of books there is no end, as we have
heard it said more than two millenia ago, far more. So the matter is
worth our contemplation, when it comes to evaluating books. The
primary texts do not grow in number, not if they are texts from before
the 19th century. Works about them grow, of course. I was looking
backward, perhaps, to Diogenes, who dispensed with everything, as a
measure at one end. Had not Alexandria's library burned, perhaps it
would be somewhat different. But I am surprised that this odd
observation was to some incomprehensible. Perhaps I am quite out of
bounds? I hope not; not too far. I realize that to disregard secondary
texts is to strike fear into every one of ourselves, our contemporary
makers of books, as suggesting that our efforts to produce books are
inconsequential, ap art from the fact that this is what we do, which is
of course our essentiality to our selves, if not to the past or the
future. Kessler.