“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, May 20, 2007

the sage enters, wearing a scholar's mask...

“I knew in my time one of many arts, a Grecian, a Latinist, a mathematician, a philosopher, a physician, a man master of them all, and sixty years of age, who, laying by all the rest, perplexed and tormented himself for above twenty years in the study of grammar, fully reckoning himself a prince if he might but live so long till he could certainly determine how the eight parts of speech were to be distinguished, which none of the Greeks or Latins had yet fully
cleared: as if it were a matter to be decided by the sword if a man made an adverb of a conjunction.” – Erasmus, In praise of folly.

LI has always wanted to be that man – a man who took the smallest matters of wordplay as a duelist takes a challenge to his honor. Literature at swordpoint. Not that LI can really manipulate a sword, but we do have a ready steady tongue.

At the same time, we realize that the grammarian who throws himself into the vast matter of the eight parts of speech, the man who searches for the key to the mythologies, the woman who uncovers the false analogies strewn among the no longer read economists of the 19th century, the whole bag and baggage of the scholarly mindset seems pretty absurd. Folly speaks in Erasmus from a point of view that is very close to common sense. The commonest sense, in fact.

David Nuttall, the literary scholar who died this January, wrote a book, Dead from the Waist Down, about the emblematic transformation of the scholar, from the humanistic heretic of the seventeenth century to the dry as dust pedant of the nineteenth century. He uses Isaac Casaubon as a touchstone – first, the real Casaubon from the seventeenth century, then the fictional Casaubon, the scholar as a Fisher King who lacks even a knack for minnow catching in Middlemarch, then Casaubon’s biographer, a nineteenth century scholar named Pattison who George Eliot might have known, whose wife (o those suffering wives of the Victorian sages! married in perpetuity to a toothache!) certainly saw herself reflected in Dorothea.

All of which is of interest to me in my multiply interrupted, omni-directional quest to understand the gradual fading of the sage as a possible mask, to use Yeats’ term. More later.

5 comments:

northanger said...

did you drink too much last night?

roger said...

North, no fair using your mind reading powers! I refuse to testify under the 19.2 amendment to the constitution ("All American citizens shall have the right to wear little aluminum foil helmets to prevent mental telepaths from reading their secret thoughts").
Let's just say I have a mild (hic!) headache.

roger said...

And I'm still proud of Street Sense. I actually saw the race on the tv at my friend's house. My horsey did his damnedest. I knew Curlin was a strong horse. When he was able to break out of the pack, though, that was all she wrote. I admit Curlin was a thrilling sight.

northanger said...

Roger, there's mind reading & then there's common sense. texan plus party is pretty easy to compute. plop plop fizz fizz.

it was a great race! if i remember correctly, you didn't like Curlin much. Curlin's first loss was the kentucky derby, btw.

roger said...

I merely reported the rumor that Curlin was stealing the other horseys' milk money. Like the paper of record - The News of the World - my reporting is only as good as my sources.

Hard Spun, though, for some reason, is the horse I don't like. Although I wouldn't be surprised if he takes the Belmont.