Archive for December, 2005

On Wandering pt. II

So the etymology of “erratus” in the blog’s title suggests that wandering is a form of error, and vice-versa:  error is wandering, it is deviation from the acceptable path, a mistake.  From an etymological perspective, then, a wandering scholar is a scholar who is in error, who is outside of the acceptable paradigm.  Without the corrective influence of the Academy and its requirements for publication in peer-edited journals, a scholar outside of the academy will wander, will stray from proper scholarship. 

You can’t go far along this “path,” along this “line of thinking,” without thinking of the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy:  “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,/ché la diritta via era smarrita”:  “Half-way down the path of our life,” Dante starts, “I found myself in a darkened wood,/where the true path had been obscured.”  This suggests a moral dimension:  the wandering scholar has fallen away from the true path.  Like the Old English poem “The Wanderer,” he has been banished from his community and sent out into the cold, cruel world to fend for himself.

In other words, you shouldn’t listen to a word I say. . . .


31 December 2005 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

On Wandering pt. I

I love discovering the meanings of words that are hidden in etymologies.  This is essentially the deconstructive impulse, as I learned it from Derrida translator John Leavey way back in grad school:  identify the metaphor underlying a word and then undermine it or turn it against itself. . . . This is where deconstruction gets its bad reputation:  critics like to say that deconstructionists are “nihilists” because they deny any possibility of meaning, but it’s more that they point out the inherent difficulty of making meaning with language–they identify how slippery language can be:  our intended meanings get away from us.  Bill Clinton and his definition of “is”:  a quintessential moment of populist deconstruction!!

I’ve always thought that there needs to be a new school of philosophy (if there isn’t one already!) called “Reconstructionism.”  It would involve the creative work that is done after a word has been “deconstructed.”   I’ve always thought that the work of Gregory Ulmer, my dissertation director, is essentially a form of “reconstructionism.”  The best example comes from his mock-generic textbook titled Text Book:  An Introduction to Literary Language (2nd edition), in which he quotes from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphorical Concepts on “argument is war” and invites us in the commentary afterward to think of argument in terms of dance.  So then the question becomes this:  how does changing the metaphor underlying the concept “reconstruct” the concept itself?  This is basically what Ulmer does in his groundbreaking book Applied Grammatology:  he shows how Derrida has deconstructed the metaphorical concept “seeing is understanding” and reconstructed it as “smelling is understanding.”  This simple shift in metaphorical concepts explains the epistemological shift that deconstruction ushers in.

I started this blog intending to comment on the etymology of “erratus” which means “to wander,” but I’ve managed to “do what I said. . . ” So because there is much more to be said about this concept/metaphor/etymology, I will return to it in part 2. . . .

30 December 2005 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

On Leisure

One thing you need to be a scholar–whether wandering or not–is leisure time.  In fact, that was one of the things that surprised me about learning the Latin root for “schola”:  “leisure.”  But it makes immediate sense if you think about it:  a scholar needs leisure time to sit around, read books, have brain storms (or, in my experience, brain TORNADOES), and write.  This is why college professors don’t have to do much “work” according to lay people:  they only teach two or three classes a semester, they have summers off, they have all of that vacation time, etc.  The more accomplished among academics have “endowed chairs” which require them to teach only one course per semester, giving them more leisure time. . . . 

What the outside world (i.e the world outside Academia) doesn’t realize is that scholars and teachers are, ultimately, students (which, in Latin, suggests that they are eager for learning, they have zeal and engage in the pursuit of knowledge) and that being a student is HARD WORK.  But it’s fun work.  Yes–it’s possible to enjoy your work.  Look at me:  I don’t even have to DO the work of a scholar, yet I’m still at it–reading books and taking notes as if I have a paper to publish so I can achieve tenure or full professorship.

But the problem is that, when you’re wandering outside of the Ivory Tower, you have to do other work for a living.  I was about to say “actually have to work for a living,” but that would be engaging the very prejudice I’m trying to undermine. . . However, the point is that my work does not include the built-in leisure time requisite for being a scholar.  Luckily (?) I have a long, 3 1/2 hour commute every day into Boston which gives me time to get a lot of reading done. 

So the big question you, my audience, has is how do I spend my leisure time?  What do I choose to read?  What do I take notes on?  I can sense your eagerness, your desire to know. . . I’m only afraid that I won’t be able to sustain this blog at the rate at which you desire to consume it.  In fact, I’m writing this post at 7am on a vacation day, before I dash off to the dentist for a 7:30am appointment.  After that the family is dashing off to a kennel to see some “Swissies” (i.e. Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs) before the 2pm show of the Blue Man Group after which we’ll be taking my older sons to get a bone density scan at Boston Children’s Hospital.  This is one of my busy vacation days.  One of those days all of the books and magazines continue to sit and wait patiently for me to get to them. . . .

29 December 2005 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

Hello world!

But what do we mean exactly by “world” here?  Certainly not the “whole world”–that is, the world as a whole, the planet earth and all of its inhabitants.  This would assume that everyone has access to the internet, and we all know that’s NOT the case:  there are the HAVES and there are the HAVE-NOTS (the so-called “digital divide”).  So then “world” must mean whoever happens to read this:  the potential audience:  you, who are reading this–right now.

According to philosopher James P. Carse, in his Finite and Infinite Games, “World exists in the form of audience. . . . No one determines who an audience will be.  No exercise of power can make a world.  A world must be its own spontaneous source.  ‘A world worlds’ (Heidegger).  Who must be a world cannot be a world” (#64).

27 December 2005 at 2:07 pm Leave a comment

December 2005
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