Friday, March 20, 2015


This Barbaric Age

Robert Graves (1895-1985), The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, 4th ed. (1997; rpt. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 218:
[N]o scholar dares to set himself up as an authority on more than one narrow subject for fear of incurring the dislike and suspicion of his colleagues. To know only one thing well is to have a barbaric mind: civilization implies the graceful relation of all varieties of experience to a central humane system of thought. The present age is peculiarly barbaric: introduce, say, a Hebrew scholar to an ichthyologist or an authority on Danish place names and the pair of them would have no single topic in common but the weather or the war (if there happened to be a war in progress, which is usual in this barbaric age). But that so many scholars are barbarians does not much matter so long as a few of them are ready to help with their specialized knowledge the few independent thinkers, that is to say the poets, who try to keep civilization alive. The scholar is a quarryman, not a builder, and all that is required of him is that he should quarry cleanly.

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