11.0297 impermanence (sub specie aeternitatis)

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 25 Sep 1997 23:31:13 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 297.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Thu, 25 Sep 1997 09:32:39 -0400
From: Ted Parkinson <parkinsn@mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca>
Subject: Re: 11.0289 impermanence (sub specie aeternitatis)

> Date: Tue, 23 Sep 97 15:47:14 EDT
> From: Norm Holland <NNH@nervm.nerdc.ufl.edu>
> When I entered the profession in the mid-50s, we held scholarly
> ideals like those of Pat's monks and indeed Pat herself, who
> seeks to write "sub specie aeternitas" and feels she has fallen
> short if she doesn't. Back in the '50s, we thought we were
> making permanent "contributions to knowledge," as our
> dissertation instructions asked us to do. Increasingly, I think
> we are no longer concerned with the long term but with the now,
> the new, the immediate, recognizing that what we do will be here
> today and gone tomorrow and feeling no discomfort about that.
> What counts today is the size of the splash one can make, the
> amount of publicity, the number of people who hear about what you
> do. I'd say we are witnessing a shift from permanence to
> broadcasting.

Of course there is a great deal of solid scholarship from the 50s and 60s
and I won't bore anyone with a list. But _thinking_ that one is making
"permanent `contributions to knowledge'" does not "make it so" (to quote
from a transient television character from a now cancelled series). There
are lots of turgid, impressionistic and generally wrong-headed articles and
dissertations out there dating from the present all the way back to the
20's and earlier, and it's a mistake to think that scholarship was somehow

> In my own lifetime as a critic, I have the witnessed the
> following "waves" of scholarly orthodoxy: philology;
> intellectual and literary history; the New Criticism; theory;
> critical studies (politics). That's a lot, surely, for forty
> years. Do they reflect real changes in ideas or simply a
> need to do something new, more "visible"?

Well, good scholars make good use of the richest ideas presented in these
various critical practices. With the necessity of publishing and the
increasing number of journals, there is no doubt more superficial drake out
there. It couldn't be otherwise. But there are also plenty of
interesting, well-written and researched books and articles out there as
well. There is more freedom now to use different methodologies which is
pretty positive.

In your post, you've idealized the concept of "scholarship" and ignored the
fact that it is produced by graduate schools (probably accepting too many
students), the professionalization of the academy and the extraordinarily
tough competition for the diminishing number of jobs.

Ted Parkinson, English, McMaster, Hamilton, ON, Canada

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