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Auch Kleine Dinge: In Memoriam Michael Goulder

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Crosstalk Cc: Synoptic, GPG, WSW On: Auch Kleine Dinge: In Memoriam Michael Goulder Date: 25 July 2010 Time: A little past midnight From: Bruce In my
    Message 1 of 6 , Jul 24, 2010
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      To: Crosstalk
      Cc: Synoptic, GPG, WSW
      On: Auch Kleine Dinge: In Memoriam Michael Goulder
      Date: 25 July 2010
      Time: A little past midnight
      From: Bruce

      In my latitude, 25 July has just begun; formerly St Christopher's Day,
      now the day appointed for the recollection of the person and notable
      achievements of Michael Goulder, at one time Rector of St
      Christopher's, Withington.

      What form of recollection would be most suitable, for a scholarly
      discoverer of the first magnitude? As I have elsewhere said of the
      Sinologist George Kennedy, perhaps the most suitable way to honor a
      discoverer is to keep on discovering. I would thus take this memorial
      day as a time for reminding ourselves of our obligation to improve and
      extend, and not merely to appreciate, what has been given to us by
      previous scholarly achievement.

      This does not mean writing another five books on the Psalms, or
      another two volumes on Luke, to match Michael in shelf inches. The
      point is not to match, but to continue, and for most of us, unsituated
      as we are for continuous scholarly investigation, the continuity must
      necessarily be in small modules. But the small modules should do more
      than talk to themselves. How then shall they get into the continuing
      stream of scholarly discourse?

      One traditional method is not the book, but the chapter: the small
      contribution bundled with others to make a larger contribution. The
      academic Festschrift is a not wholly functional example of this mode.
      I have before me an interesting variation. It is W K Lowther Clarke's
      book New Testament Problems (Macmillan 1929), written before 7 July
      1937 and thus while philology was still more or less alive. It was
      dedicated to Clarke's teacher Foakes-Jackson, in lieu of the 70th
      birthday Festschrift which never happened. Clarke himself had no time
      to be a scholar; as he says in his dedicatory epistle, by getting him
      an editorial position in the field, "You prevented me from writing the
      theological books I had planned." Clarke was the Editorial Secretary
      of SPCK, a reviewer of other people's stuff, reading, as he says,
      about 1000 books a year, and with no time to do anything but distil
      his impressions of them and pass selected impressions on to the
      qualified general reader. His book is a further selection of those
      impressions, developed as topical essays originally printed in such
      church magazines as Church Quarterly Review, Expository Times, and
      Review of the Churches. There are 23 essays in 217 pages, or about 9
      pages each. They show him acting on what he has read, not merely
      taking it in. They show a commendable balance of mind and concision of
      style. I recommend them.

      Still more do I recommend this medium: the short piece shown to others
      as a contribution to the general flow of collective knowledge of the
      subject. Books these days run to the hundreds of pages, and they
      increasingly retail in the hundreds of dollars. That is a path of
      self-extinction, and I need say no more of it, save that the typical
      book is also overdeveloped to the point of self-refutation, in its
      push (while the author is typically in his twenties, and green behind
      the ears) to be "definitive." The shorter note, by contrast, is more
      often content to be suggestive; to leave something for others to
      develop. The attempt (of which the tragic figure of Einstein should be
      a sufficiently minatory example) to finish the work, to do more than,
      under present conditions of knowledge, can be well done, is to spoil
      the work.

      The journal is maybe a little better. True, articles in journals (such
      is the page-count pressure of the obsolete yet persistent tenure
      system) tend to be ever longer: monographs in all but binding. The day
      when a half-page note was regularly seen in the Journal of the
      American Oriental Society is long gone. But there are other journals
      (the one I am currently launching has a median length of 4 pages, and
      we routinely refuse articles which reach the lower threshold of
      alternate journals, namely 20 pages). And the tendency to gigantism
      and to gigantistic pricing can also be resisted by societies or other
      journal proprietors who decline to sell out to Cambridge and Company,
      simply by declining. Forbearance is among the cardinal scholarly
      virtues; the seed and mother of the other virtues. I recommend that too.

      A more recent possibility is the electronic forum. These die more
      rapidly than journals, they silt up with nonlookers, they turn trivial
      or fall silent. But again, in the nature of things, this need not be
      the case. It is merely (it seems to me) that the art of managing such
      a conversation is still in its infancy, whereas the editorship of
      paper media has a more developed tradition of procedure to rely on. We
      might thus withhold a judgement of perdition on the attempts, so far,
      to get something of the sort going on the airwaves.

      As I have elsewhere observed of the Warring States (classical Chinese)
      texts, things like this need institutional continuity in order to
      survive and maintain ongoing vitality. They can't be too individual or
      too circumstantial; or if they start so, they need to be able to
      outgrow themselves and get onto a longer track. They need to enter,
      and then to survive, their adolescence.

      Probably no focus of intellectual exchange has ever been more
      productive, per pint consumed, than the coffeehouses of London, in
      which the Royal Society would continue its meetings, and the merchants
      would get together to balance risks, and Richard Steele would edit the
      Guardian, and the gamblers would summon de Moivre from his chess game
      to calculate odds for them, thus creating (together with the work of
      Bernoulli in Switzerland) the science of statistics.

      So another thing we could perhaps use in the current century is a
      counterpart to Slaughter's Coffee House. At what commercial but
      welcoming venue could the heirs and assigns of Goulder conveniently
      meet, this afternoon, to exchange individual observations and develop
      collective hypotheses?

      Papa Gino, anyone?


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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