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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Inside Baseball

Scholarly inquiry is specialized by its very nature. The "inside baseball" nature of the questions we are considering often enters into conflict with the claims that what we are doing is vitally important to civilization. In other words, the specific debates seem trivial to an outside observer, the research questions rather insignificant.

Yet we can't just research vague things like "the human condition." There is nothing there to be had. Few scholars can bridge the gap between the triviality of the specific and the vagueness of the non-specific.If you can do that, even just a little, you can be very successful.

Where I see this conflict most acutely is in grant proposals. I reviewed one that ended up being successful, on some fairly obscure manuscripts of a major modernist poet from a Southern European country. The inverted pyramid that might justify the significance of this project might run from the importance of modernism as a literary movement, to the centrality of this particular poet, to the significance of these manuscripts in understanding the work of this poet.

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