1 de enero de 2012

So prolific a source of guilt feelings

A modo de New Year's wishes:
H. Northrop Frye (foto de A. Dawson)
I should also hope to see the end of the conception of "productive scholar", with its nineteenth-century industrial overtones, and "creative scholar" put in its place. In the future, perhaps, someone proposing a doctoral thesis, let us say on the Adonis myth in Milton or metaphors of nature in Milton or colour imagery in Tennyson, would look to see whether it had already been done, and discover that there were in existence 9,842 theses on precisely that topic, of which 7,235 were in Japanese. The department would nod its collective head and remark that any thesis that had been written as often as that must be an excellent one. The thesis would add nothing to knowledge, but nobody would read it anyway, and if there were something in it that could conceivably be used it could be made available by other means. So the crazy chain of thesis, thesis rewritten as book, book published, book bought by libraries, book added to an already groaning bibliography, would be broken. The computer would play only a minor role in reducing this academic counterpart of the national deficit, but its role would be crucial.

Such a reverie need not be taken with desperate seriousness, but it contains a genuine point, and the analogy of learning a language may help to explain what the point is. Despite the teaching machines, computers could help a great deal in the learning of language. But no machine will learn the language for us: we have to digest all those idioms and irregular verbs ourselves. In the learning process we are not contributing to any body of knowledge except our own; yet there is normally an advance in fluency and competence. I think of language partly because it is so prolific a source of guilt feelings among humanists: we never know enough languages, and the languages we do know we never know well enough.
---Northrop Frye, "Literary and Mechanical Models", The Eternal Act of Creation: Essays, 1979-1990, p. 16-7 (vía John Cowan). 

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