Saturday, October 12, 2013

Joseph Wood Krutch on specialists and amateurs, Pt. 2

More from Joseph Wood Krutch on specialists and amateurs.  He's found a kindred soul among the specialists.

"The late William Morton Wheeler, one of the the most competent of specialists in a highly specialized field, spoke closer to my own condition when he wrote, not only sympathetically but even enviously, of those who like me have assumed no responsibility:

Our intellects will never be equal to exhausting biological reality.  Why animals and plants are as they are, we shall never know; of how they have come to be what they are, our knowledge will always be extremely fragmentary, because we are dealing only with the recent phases of an immense and complicated history, most of the records of which are lost beyond all chance of recovery; but that organisms are as they are, that apart from the members of our own species, they are our only companions in an infinite and unsympathetic waste of electrons, planets, nebulae and suns, is a perennial joy and consolation.  We shall all be happier if we were less completely obsessed by problems and somewhat more accessible to the aesthetic and emotional appeal of our materials, and it is doubtful whether, in the end, the growth of biological science would be appreciably retarded.  It quite saddens me to think that when I cross the Styx, I may find myself among so many professional biologists, condemned to keep on trying to solve problems, and that Pluto, or whoever is in charge down there now, may condemn me to sit forever trying to identify specimens from my own specific and generic diagnoses, while the amateur entomologists, who have not been damned professors, are permitted to roam at will among the fragrant asphodels of the Elysian meadows, netting gorgeous, ghostly butterflies until the end of time. 

I felt the same way when I was teaching various introductory literature courses.  While the prescribed works were excellent and noteworthy, I felt that I was missing out on be able to read other works not included in the curriculum.   Now, having retired, I am frustrated because I can read only one book at a time.   Happiness is good health, a bad memory, and a long TBR list. 

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