Friday, August 21, 2015


As Inaccessible as Akkadian

D.S. Carne-Ross (1921–2010), "Classics and the Intellectual Community," Arion 1.1 (Spring, 1973) 7-66 (at 14; ellipses in original):
And as for the masterpieces of the past....They presuppose an elaborate intellectual training that gave those lucky enough to receive it entry into the air and the ease of a family; gave them the ability to read, slowly and carefully and with sensual relish, language of contrived indirections and agreed rhetorical strategies. It taught its members the family's system of reference and allusion, to mythology and history and philosophy and earlier literature, all those cultural shorthands that make discourse possible. The names of Milton and Pope still appear in the syllabus. How many students can still really read them?
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny'd
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount...
The day is coming when we may have to admit that High Western is as inaccessible as Akkadian.
Id. (at 17):
And at a time when every thing is made easy; when the Great Books come packaged in up-to-the-moment translations and music is not something to play but something to listen to—the approved pieces in approved renderings at cut-rate prices; when the works of high culture are treated in the only way our society knows how to treat anything, as so many commodities served up for instant consumption: at such a time the real difficulty of Greek and Latin can come as a positive attraction, a consolation, a joy. An incurably fraudulent society breeds the forces that oppose it and there will always be a few people who do not want what is easy, who suspect that what they deeply want cannot be made easy.
Id. (at 31):
It is this strange passion that marks the genuine scholar who I would describe if not define as a man who knows a great deal more than he ever needs to know. He holds the particular question he is working on in a plenum of knowledge, much of which he may never directly use. Though his subject is, let us say, classical epigraphy, he proves to be very knowledgeable about Burgundian lute music or the private life of Stendhal. He may have forgotten why he acquired this lore; perhaps it simply stuck to him as he passed that way in search of something else. If he is a second-rate scholar, this knowledge will lie about his mind higgledy-piggledy, though others may put his bits and pieces to work. In the case of the great scholar, the erudition slowly and carefully amassed will gradually come together, "till meditation master all its parts," and compose a great luminous whole.
Id. (at 32):
There is little occasion to speak of scholarship: that austere word should be reserved for the few who have a right to it. Even less call to speak of "research," a type of activity that has a very modest place in humane studies. (Students should be taught, when they go to the library to check a couple of references, not to describe themselves as "doing research.")
Id. (at 61):
To watch a line of trees being cut down to make room for another stretch of highway; to drive later on that highway past the dead animals killed by people going nowhere in particular at high speeds; to return to the place where I was born and look for the hillside where I played as a child— having felt in those days some unspoken kinship with it (the minor of what Aeschylus' women felt for hilly Argos?), as though it were alive to my hands and feet—and find that this hill is no longer there, that it has been bulldozed away, cut off the face of the earth to give place to another "development"; even to be offered, in lieu of bread, cellophaned pulp that feels and tastes like cotton wool. It is experiences of this sort that arouse my sense of outrage.

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