25 October 2009

They fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight

After a seminar the other day, I read the most extraordinary article from the new Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians. I think the general thrust of it is generally right, but at times it crosses the line into -- well -- into rather unacademic language, which is particularly odd given that its occasionally deployed against a colleague.

I'm baffled by what's intended a complement to one academic, who is described as having 'took up his shillelagh for the soundness of the tradition.' A shillelagh? In the hands of one of the most English people imaginable? Frankly, it was difficult getting past that, but I'm glad I did because it brought me to this, and I'm changing names for the sake of discretion:
'Jeff and Geoff, as proper classicists, were acutely alert to anachronism: they called for one ancient genre, history, to be colonized by other ancient genres, rhetoric and drama. So the adoption of their theories by this cynical crew must inspire in Jeff and Geoff the same strange mixture of horror and pride that a father might feel upon learning that his fourteen-year old son has got a classmate with child.'
Good, eh? It gets better. Its finale is as follows:
'Finally, when history is cast out of the Latin historians, discarded also are the robust intellectual habits of the modern historian, to be replaced, if the restraint of stern philology fails, with the weak and whimsical instruments of the contemporary literary critic. A sense of argument, of proof, of scale, of proportion -- even of logic and coherent language -- all depart. Scholarship becomes indistinguishable from its parody, and the subject of inquiry shifts from the geysering fascination of antiquity to the dull, trend-obsessed, and self-obsessed mind of the critic. The result is like the diary of a fat teenager: riveting only to its creator, repellent to others, and illuminating to none.'
That's telling them.

No comments: