Reading Guide for Altick Chapters 2, 3, 8:
Altick, Chapter 2: The Spirit of Scholarship
The writers emphasize the “spirit of vigilance and skepticism that presides over every good scholar’s desk” (26). What sorts of “misinformation […] lurks in the data we receive from our predecessors”? What are some of the errors a new researcher is likely to make? Note: “the oftener an error is repeated, furthermore, the more persuasive it becomes, and the more hospitably it extends its protective coloration over the additional mistakes that come to be associated with it” (26).
Altick reinforces the lesson we learned in the first part of class: “one necessary consequence of this advice [from an eighteenth-century review journal] is that researchers must be careful to use only the most dependable text of a literary work or a private or public document” (31).
Little nugget: “It is axiomatic in the profession that no edition of letters published before the 1920s, at the earliest, can be relied upon”(32). Why is this so? What are you to make of these little nuggets of academic truth interspersed throughout the pages of this text? Share, when you find one of particular insight or knowledge.
What manuscript collections does our library or others in the Cal State university system house? What might be done with these? Or, put another way, what original research might you be able to contribute based on archival work in these manuscripts?
In part 2, Examining the Evidence, the authors suggest, “so back to the sources it is, then, if scholars wish to erase the mistakes that are all too likely to have occurred in the process of historical transmission” (38). Why so?
The power of the anecdote: we are drawn to stories and to stories with illustrative power. But we need to be wary of the historical relevance of the anecdote. Examine a real or imagined anecdote for evidence. What questions need to be asked? Where can you find answers to these questions? (45)
Part three “Two Applications of the Critical
Spirit: Fixing Dates and Testing Authenticity” (54 and on) emphasizes
the importance of chronology and historical factuality. How can these
tools aid the literary researcher?
Altick Chapter 3: Some Scholarly Occupations
The first section on “Textual Study” anticipates some of the material we will in Greetham.
Altick interprets Greg’s theory on page 76, emphasizing the goal of recapturing authorial intention. How do you understand the meaning of intention? What are the benefits and problems with this concept? Consider how its meaning has changed with the influence of postmodern theories (through page 81).
What are the possibilities for research discussed in Problems of Authorship?
Discuss some of the dangers in studies of source and intertextuality (see pp 108-9).
Determining influence or popularity is an important task of the literary critic, and it is especially important for those of you interested in doing a textual history. How does one determine a text’s popularity and influence? What are some of the pitfalls to be avoided and how can you avoid them? (124-125)
“While the strictly literary attributes of a work may determine the various ways it has been and is now regarded – the esthetic factor – its reputation is also a social product, as much subject to changes in the social and cultural climate as is our interpretation and evaluation of the work itself. What is more, the received image of the author as a person is often reshaped by the prevailing forces of taste, ideology, and psychological theory. ‘All reputations each age revises’, observed Emerson in his journal in 1839” (127). What are the implications of this for major authors? Minor authors? Newly recovered authors?
Questions to ascertain: “Is there enough solid evidence to permit us to convert our supposition of influence into a probability? If so, by what means such as general diffusion or transmission through a series of identifiable intermediaries, was it carried down, and how widely was it felt? Finally, and most pertinent for the intentions of criticism, what was the precise nature of that influence as revealed by the literary works where it can be detected?” Wise words. How can you apply these to your own research?
In Cultivating a Sense of the Past, our authors offer guidelines for the literary student to become an effective historian. The crossover of disciplines has been a bugbear in the industry of literary criticism for some time; nothing excuses poor historical work on the part of the literary critic. Examine this section for particularly helpful resources, insights, and warnings.
How would you define the difference between intellectual history and social history (141-44)?
On pp 151-3, our authors present an outline of common fallacies in literary history and safeguards against them. After reviewing these, consider examples from your own experience (as reader, as writer).
Altick, Chapter 8
With this final chapter we return to Altick’s subject of scholarship as a vocation. What is your reaction to the statement: “we live in the truest democracy of all, the democracy of the intellect” (250).
“Like all professions, ours has its code of manners and ethics, the heart of which is the proposition that we are working together for the benefit of society, not for private aggrandizement” (251). Why is this important? What principles of scholarly communication derive from this?
How would you describe the standard of manners in scholarly exchange?
In the end of this chapter, Altick raises an important consideration: “Yet if we are unappreciated and undervalued, the fault is partly ours. We gladly learn, but outside the classroom many of us are curiously uninterested in teaching” (254). To what extent is the “ivory tower” syndrome prevalent among scholars? To what extent does anti-intellectualism in our culture reinforce the barriers of the ivory tower? Should this situation be altered and if so, how?