Sunday, December 01, 2019


The Scholarly Life

Gilbert Highet (1906-1978), "The Scholarly Life," The American Scholar 41.4 (Autumn, 1972) 522-524, 526-529 (at 522):
It is a curious life we lead, the life of scholarship. Difficult and demanding, most certainly; frustrating, far too often for comfort; poorly rewarded in material terms; and calling for a great deal of spiritual stamina. Sometimes I ask myself how many of my colleagues, given an opportunity to change their careers and take up some quite different vocation, would accept, and abandon the world of scholarship.
Id. (at 523):
Consider first the life of learning. It is based on certain principles which people outside the academic field seldom fully understand or appreciate.

The first of these is devotion: devotion and diligence. The Germans pithily call it Sitzfleisch, "flesh to sit on," because they admire the willpower that keeps a man at his desk or laboratory table hour after hour, while he penetrates inch by inch to the heart of a problem. But many of us now find that Sitzfleisch is not so important as what newspapermen call "legwork" — the patient, unremitting pursuit of a set of facts from book to book, from one library to another, sometimes even from one country to another, until they are caught and nailed down.
Id. (at 528-529):
Love of one's subject is best shown through constant intellectual renewal. The young are narrow-minded. The young are shortsighted. They cannot, without an exceptional effort, conceive how large and complex an important intellectual discipline is, what a wealth of material and multiplicity of problems it embodies; the teaching they get in high school tends to make them superficial, and to suggest to them that arduous long-term thinking and research are not necessary for higher mental achievement; they are bombarded by the outer world with trivial novelties in news, fashions, and entertainment; their inner life is distorted by the temptations of sex and drugs; and they tend to believe that we, their teachers, are "sot in our ways" and go on placidly doing the same sort of nothing year after year.

It is our duty therefore, indeed it is one of our chief functions as teachers, to show them that the world of the intellect is in constant flux, that our own minds are always meeting and grappling with new challenges, and that the most important part of our work is discovery and reinterpretation.

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