Thursday, July 16, 2015


An Exacting, Lonely Activity

Leo Spitzer (1887-1960), "The Formation of the American Humanist," PMLA 66.1 (February, 1951) 39-48 (at 40):
Indeed it is only the spirit of relative distantiation from daily life and its technical fight for self-assertion which will breed the humanistic scholar. For him the act of understanding (understanding types of man different from himself, understanding other nationalities, civilizations, or personalities) is all-important: but understanding requires undeflected attention and undivided loyalty, it is an exacting, lonely activity impossible of attainment for a person engulfed in the ocean of triviality that surrounds him in contemporary daily life. The humanist should live among his fellow-men and not lose contact with them because otherwise he would no longer be humane—but he should live somewhat removed from them.
Id. (at 45):
I believe indeed that the requirement of publications on the part of every college teacher—imagine as a parallel that all members of American orchestras were required to be composers!—does great harm to true scholarship....The artificial enforcement of such inflationary, hybrid productivity in small articles or miscellanea was, of course, encouraged by the positivistic belief, imported from the Germany of the 1870's, according to which any small stone of truth was thought to contribute to the vast building that would be erected in some utopian future—but this trend in itself has in practice not led to any vast construction, it has only disorganized and fragmentarized the humanities and reduced them to what the Germans themselves now call Anmerkungswissenschaft, footnote-scholarship.

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