Error and the Academic Self

Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern

SETH LERER
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 388
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/lere12372
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  • Book Info
    Error and the Academic Self
    Book Description:

    How and why did the academic style of writing, with its emphasis on criticism and correctness, develop? Seth Lerer suggests that the answer lies in medieval and Renaissance philology and, more specifically, in mistakes. For Lerer, erring is not simply being wrong, but being errant, and this book illuminates the wanderings of exiles, émigrés, dissenters, and the socially estranged as they helped form the modern university disciplines of philology and rhetoric, literary criticism, and literary theory. Examining a diverse group that includes Thomas More, Stephen Greenblatt, George Hickes, Seamus Heaney, George Eliot, and Paul de Man, Error and the Academic Self argues that this critical abstraction from society and retreat into ivory towers allowed estranged individuals to gain both a sense of private worth and the public legitimacy of a professional identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50747-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION THE PURSUIT OF ERROR: PHILOLOGY, RHETORIC, AND THE HISTORY OF SCHOLARSHIP
    (pp. 1-14)

    I do not think I have ever published anything that did not have an error in it. Typos have crept in and escaped proofreading. Miscitations and mistranslations have refused correction. Facts and judgments have, at times, seemed almost willfully in opposition to empirical evidence or received opinion. It is the duty of readers, so it seems, to catch such errors. Referees for publishers and, after them, book reviewers often begin well and well-meaningly. But praise soon shatters into pedantry, and reports and reviews will often end with catalogs of broken lines and phrases: errata uncaught by editor or author, blots...

  5. CHAPTER ONE ERRATA: MISTAKES AND MASTERS IN THE EARLY MODERN BOOK
    (pp. 15-54)

    Over twenty years ago, in a chapter of his Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Stephen Greenblatt addressed what he called “the word of God in an age of mechanical reproduction.”¹ Alluding to the title of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, Greenblatt argued that the printing press made possible a new debate on scripture and power in early Renaissance England.² William Tyndale’s New Testament in English had appeared in 1526, and his Old Testament in 1530.³ Together with the many polemics these publications spawned—the responses of Thomas More, the ripostes of Tyndale, and the myriad royal proclamations seeking to control the printing, reading, and...

  6. CHAPTER TWO SUBLIME PHILOLOGY: AN ELEGY FOR ANGLO-SAXON STUDIES
    (pp. 55-102)

    Perhaps more than any other modern literary discipline, Old English studies has the reputation as a field of right and wrong. Its institutional idiom remains rigorously philological, a legacy of both the nineteenth-century German positivists, who developed the techniques of historical linguistics and stemmatic textual criticism, and early-twentieth-century British dons, who assembled texts and sources, variants and manuscripts, into an edifice of accuracy for their students. When I began to work in Anglo-Saxon literature in the early 1980s, this idiom was still in place, and leaders of the field could aver, in an almost Victorian progressivist vein, that “We are...

  7. CHAPTER THREE MY CASAUBON: THE NOVEL OF SCHOLARSHIP AND VICTORIAN PHILOLOGY
    (pp. 103-174)

    After he died, I lost all interest in the novel. The picture of his pedantry–his self-absorption, self-importance, and self-pity–seemed to me the icon of the academic I had feared myself to be. Throughout the book’s first chapters, I found aphorisms of my calling that I could not leave alone. His first word in the novel, responding to Mr. Brooke’s question as to whether he knows Southey, is a simple “No,”¹ and, for all his claims for scholarship and inquiry, he appears throughout more a figure of negation than control. His bad eyes force him to defer the literary...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR ARDENT ETYMOLOGIES: AMERICAN RHETORICAL PHILOLOGY, FROM ADAMS TO DE MAN
    (pp. 175-220)

    “The American,” wrote H. L. Mencken, “from the beginning, has been the most ardent of recorded rhetoricians. His politics bristles with pungent epithets; his whole history has been bedizened with tall talk; his fundamental institutions rest far more upon brilliant phrases than upon logical ideas.”¹ Mencken’s rhetorical American remains, like most myths of the culture, an uneasy fixture in the popular and pedagogic landscape. In The American Language, he stands at the intersection of the many features Mencken sought to classify as the “hallmarks of American.” Mencken is first and foremost concerned with the growth of the American vocabulary: with...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE MAKING MIMESIS: EXILE, ERRANCY, AND ERICH AUERBACH
    (pp. 221-260)

    Readers of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis will remember the first of these epigraphs as a moment in which history and legend fuse to mark the making of his book.¹ The famous story of Odysseus’s scar has just been recollected, with its close attention to the detail of its characters and setting; and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac has been retold as a foil for the Homeric style, where the narratives of the Old Testament give us but little of the setting and the motivations of its actors. Auerbach, in his opening chapter, has been distinguishing between the legendary flavor...

  10. EPILOGUE FORBIDDEN PLANET AND THE TERRORS OF PHILOLOGY
    (pp. 261-276)

    The émigré experience took many forms. For some, positions in America lay waiting. The Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago, the New School for Social Research, and some other institutions seemed to have first pick of the Jewish intellectuals streaming out of Europe in the 1930s.¹ For others, the way out was harder. Istanbul had become a place of refuge, not just for Auerbach but (for a time) for Leo Spitzer, Herbert Dieckmann, Paul Hindemith, and many others.² Some scholars had to make their way through smaller schools in North America: the classicist Friedrich Solmsen...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 277-316)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 317-326)