As the summer comes to an end, I do feel a lament over the things that I never got to read. I won’t offer a third rate Polysyllabic Spree, but I will say that I was lucky enough to get through Colson Whitehead’s fabulous John Henry Days, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Alan Weisman’s fun, peopleless thought experiment, The World Without Us, Harry Potter #7, and Don Quixote. Quite the mix. I was, however, fortunate enough to stay with my fabulous landlords in Madrid, on the street where Cervantes lived and wrote the latter book (a few blocks from the Prado), to add to the resonance of the experience. Interesting story: Cervantes lived on Calle de Lope De Vega, a street that was named for a famous contemporary of Cervantes. The two of them didn’t care for each other, and Cervantes apparently wrote in dozens of under-the-radar digs on the more upper crust De Vega (who was no slouch, writing 1,500 to 2,500 plays during his lifetime). The last laugh was on Cervantes, whose name now graces the street that De Vega lived on, whose house we toured. I just squeezed in two last books (yes, on Labor Day): Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian and F.M. Cornford’s 1908 Microcosmographica Academica (‘A Study of a Tiny Academic World’). The latter is a short screed on academic life. There are a few nice lines in it, and it’s pretty timeless. Here’s a line about academic posturing and jobs:
This most important branch of political activity is, of course, closely connected with Jobs. These fall into two classes, My Jobs and Your Jobs. My Jobs are public-spirited proposals, which happen (much to my regret) to involve the advancement of a personal friend, or (still more to my regret) of myself. Your Jobs are insidious intrigues for the advancement of yourself and your friends, speciously disguised as public-spirited proposals. The term Job is more commonly applied to the second class. When you and I have, each of us, a job on hand, we shall proceed to go on the Square.
I’ll just post that with only this comment: I find it depressing that Cornford saw this text as a guide to the young academic, and that by 35 one becomes too “complacent and, in turn, become the oppressor.” Alas, it’s almost too late before I’ve had a chance! You can read the entirety–which includes a few nice lines about ‘the principle of the wedge’ and discussions on academic bugbears here.