Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern

Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern

by Seth Lerer


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How and why did the academic style of writing, with its emphasis on criticism and correctness, develop? Seth Lerer suggests that the answer lies in medieval and Renaissance philology and, more specifically, in mistakes. For Lerer, erring is not simply being wrong, but being errant, and this book illuminates the wanderings of exiles, émigrés, dissenters, and the socially estranged as they helped form the modern university disciplines of philology and rhetoric, literary criticism and literary theory.

Examining figures from Thomas More to Stephen Greenblatt, from George Hickes to Seamus Heaney, from George Eliot to Paul de Man, Error and the Academic Self argues that this critical abstraction from

society and retreat into ivory towers allowed estranged groups or individuals to gain both a sense of private worth and the public legitimacy of a professional identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231123723
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 03/17/2003
Pages: 388
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Seth Lerer is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University. He is the author of six previous books, including Chaucer and His Readers.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Pursuit of Error: Philology, Rhetoric, and the History of Scholarship;

1. Errata: Mistakes and Masters in the Early Modern Book;
2. Sublime Philology: An Elegy for Anglo-Saxon Studies;
3. My Casaubon: The Novel of Scholarship and Victorian Philology;
4. Ardent Etymologies: American Rhetorical Philology, from Adams to de Man;
5. Making Mimesis: Exile, Errancy, and Erich Auerbach;
Epilogue: Forbidden Planet and the Terrors of Philology;

What People are Saying About This

David Wallace

Lerer writes brilliantly on academic terror of error: on our present and inherited fears of making mistakes, and on associated anxieties of being caught out of place, or of making our way—as book-loving, would-be professionals—to somewhere new and strange. It is a passionate and absorbing book, self-reflective but not self-indulgent, to be read by all those who care about the long history and immediate future of literary scholarship.

Timothy Hampton

No scholar of the humanities will want to miss Error and the Academic Self, Seth Lerer's exuberant and learned meditation on the practice of reading. From the Renaissance to postmodernism, Lerer shows persuasively, the most powerful readers in the Western tradition have struggled and defined themselves through their relationship to error—to scholarly slipups, misquotations, and bungled references. Lerer offers both a powerful history of errancy and a provocative consideration of the nature of the scholarly enterprise.

James Simpson

This scintillating book investigates the romance of philology itself. With passion and learning Lerer thematises the narratives of a philology forever exiled from its subjects, inevitably wandering in the threatening yet alluring byways of error.

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