Archive for the ‘soapbox’ Category

You know that old metaphor about whether scholars are hedgehogs or foxes? (See a great series on this topic over at Notorious Ph.D.’s blog.) Well, apparently grad students are all badgers. Any of this sound familiar?

    “I am writing a treatise just now,” said the badger, coughing diffidently to show that he was absolutely set on explaining it, “which is to point out why Man has become the master of the animals. Perhaps you would like to hear it?
“It’s for my doctor’s degree, you know,” he added hastily, before the Wart could protest. He got few chances of reading his treatises to anybody, so he could not bear to let the opportunity slip by.
“Thank you very much,” said the Wart.
“It will be good for you, dear boy. It is just the thing to top off an education. Study birds and fish and animals: then finish off with Man. How fortunate that you came! Now where the devil did I put that manuscript?”
The old gentleman scratched about with his great claws until he had turned up a dirty bundle of papers, one corner of which had been used for lighting something. Then he sat down in his leather armchair, which had a deep depression in the middle of it; put on his velvet smoking-cap with the tassel; and produced a pair of tarantula spectacles, which balanced on the end of his nose.
“Hem,” said the badger.
He immediately became paralyzed with shyness, and sat blushing at his papers, unable to begin.
“Go on,” said the Wart.
“It is not very good,” he explained coyly. “It is just a rough draft, you know. I shall alter a lot before I sent it in.”
“I am sure it must be interesting.”
“Oh not, it is not a bit interesting. It is just an odd thing I threw off in an odd half-hour, just to pass the time. But still, this is how it begins.
“Hem!” said the badger. Then he put on an impossibly high falsetto voice and began to read as fast as possible.

I’m rereading The Once and Future King by T. H. White for the first time since I was a kid. I had forgotten how delicious and wise and funny it is. Don’t we all need an audience like the Wart sometimes? Some of us even resort to writing blogs. And I just love that “‘It’s not very good,’ he explained coyly.”

The story which the badger tells from his treatise is quite wonderful also, and a great literary response to biological determinists on human warfare as “natural.”

(Aside: It depresses me how many of the initial hits for a simple Google search of “badger once and future king” are commercial reading summaries, presumably for students assigned The Once and Future King in a class. Not that book guides are inherently bad, but this looks like “I didn’t want to do the homework” material, and it’s disheartening that there are readers out there so overwhelmed or under-motivated that they would miss out on the delight of this book. Don’t even get me started on the “FREE OaFK Essays!” links.)


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Random Rant

(rant inspired by work during August research trip…though writing this post may, perhaps, not exactly qualify as dissertation progress)

Why do the French (and other Europeans) print their spine titles upside down?

I mean, certain minor differences between customs in the US and the rest of the world make sense to me (on their part): if the ground floor is 0, it makes it easier to know that you walk up one flight to the first floor, 5 flights to the 5th floor and so on.

seven with line through middle

Always crossing the middle of a “7” seems like a sensible plan for standardizing clear handwriting.

But while turning your head to the left vs. the right to look along a bookshelf maybe isn’t a big deal,* it is patently obvious when you place books flat on a table that their titles are upside down.  Do Europeans always lay their books on their stomachs?  (The books’ stomachs, that is, not the Europeans’.)

Fig. 1a, 1b

German & French books on their side with upside-down titles German books from the top

(click to embiggen and see the travesty more clearly)

Fig. 2a, 2b

American-published books from the side American books from the top

I’m (sort of) an historian of the book, but I have no idea where this split came from.  This doesn’t really shed any light.

Fig. 3

books together as if on shelf

(observe a graduate student in her natural habitat, i.e. actually working)

* Except when you have a mix of American- and European-published works jumbled together, which is just an extra dose of irritating.

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