The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Voltaire continued

I forgot to include this delicious bit concerning pedants. Micromegas (referred to as the Sirien in the passage) asks a bunch of philosophers about the soul. We read:

Un vieux péripatéticien dit tout haut avec confiance « L'âme est un entéléchie, et une raison par qui elle a la puissance d'être ce qu'elle est. C'est ce que déclare expressément Aristote, page 633 de l'édition du Louvre. [ENTELEXEIA ESTI] -- Je n'entends pas trop bien le grec, dit le géant. -- Ni moi non plus, dit la mite philosophique -- Pourquoi donc, reprit le Sirien, citez-vous un certain Aristote en grec ? -- C'est, répliqua le savant, qu'il faut bien citer ce qu'on ne comprend point du tout dans la langue qu'on entend le moins. »

An old peripatetic said loudly and confidently: "The sould is an entelechy, and the reason by which it has power to be what it is. This is what Aristotle declares in page 663 of the Louvre edition. [A Greek phrase]. I don't understand Greek very well, said the Micromegas. No, me niether, said the tiny philosopher. Why then, replied the Sirian, do you cite a certain Aristotle in Greek? Because, replied the sage, it is better to cite that which we don't understand at all in an language we understand less. (Ch. 7)

Funny and, I assume, true in Voltaire's day; it certainly is in ours, even though Greek pedants have virtually gone extinct. A quick look at an academic journal/book in the humanities published in recent years will surely prove my point. What do you do if your ideas aren't that impressive or don't make too much sense? Clothe it in language that not even the author will understand, thus obviating any subsequent critiques. I think a phrase of Voltaire's applies to these poseurs and Derrida wannabees, etc: barbares sédentaires!


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