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Monday, 12 May 2008

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JPool

Wouldn't the correct version be:

Max Weber asks*, "Who -- aside from certain big children who are indeed found in the natural sciences—still believes that the findings of astronomy, biology, physics, or chemistry could teach us anything about the meaning of the world?"

I understand that it would be alarming to resume a quotation only to be confronted with an em-dash, but is it really acceptable to begin a quotation and then start it over again? Do square brackets help in this regard? Also, I assume that there is or should be a footnote somewhere in regards to the mysterious deletion of emphasis from the original.


*As a historian, my disciplinary pedant would say that they correct form would always be "Max Weber asked ... ." Max is dead, and if any asking is being done it's by us the living.

SEK

First:

I assume that there is or should be a footnote somewhere in regards to the mysterious deletion of emphasis from the original.

My fault.

Second:

I understand that it would be alarming to resume a quotation only to be confronted with an em-dash, but is it really acceptable to begin a quotation and then start it over again?

It's a tad literary, I admit, but it effectively emphasizes Weber's incredulity. Granted, the "big children" aside already does this work, but I don't mind Levine's indulgence here.

Do square brackets help in this regard?

Well, they indicate a change has been made from the original document, a fact lost by the silent insertion of the lower-cased "who."

As a historian, my disciplinary pedant would say that they correct form would always be "Max Weber asked ... ." Max is dead, and if any asking is being done it's by us the living.

I think this is a disciplinary thing. I was always taught to talk about people's lives in the past tense, their works and arguments in the present. As it was explained to me, when you read the book, Weber is still arguing. Because even if he was still alive, he probably wasn't currently defending his argument.

tomemos

Yeah, literary present tense is an English (as in the discipline) thing. I like it.

I just wanted to point out that Levine doesn't imagine Weber saying "Who who—aside from…" but rather, "Who, who—aside from…"; it's emphasis, y'see. Which at least reads like actual, if bad, prose.

Margaret Soltan

SOS is amused. She thanks you for the phrase Inner Soltan. It's neat.

JPool

I know it's a disciplinary thing. It's just that we're right.
To clarify, the death versus living thing was a bit of dramtic licence on my part. Living authors still "wrote", "thought" and "argued" back when they were writing the thing. Though, now that I think about it (right now; yes, still thinking ...), we do reviews of recent books in the present tense. Perhaps this is to obscure the fact that they are probably three or four years old by the time folk get around to reviewing them.

John  Emerson

Tarski and Quine could make mincemeat of that cornball Weber.

"Meaning of the world"? Peals of derisive laughter.

tomemos

Well, JPool, what do you think about fictional characters? "Huck told Jim that he was dreaming about the fog, but Jim told Huck…" It sounds like lunchroom gossip, not literary discussion. I can see it either way when describing what real people, philosophers and critics, write or say, but with literature the past tense doesn't work because the characters never spoke, and they're still speaking.

JPool

Tomemos,

Yeah, I can see that, it just seems a strange act of translation to me, given that literary fiction is almost entirely written in the past tense. It mostly avoids sounding like lunchroom gossip despite that, and I would think that this has as much to do with phrasing as anything else. Compelling prose is a struggle in any form of writing.

I'm at least half joking about the whole "we're right" thing. Academic prose is an artificial beast and with tense choice, as with any convention, the effect is largely a matter of what you're expecting to see. The present tense always feels a bit to me like stage direction, but that's because I'm expecting past tense narration. The past tense feels important to me in the example that Scott gave, because it takes note of the fact that Weber was writing "Science as Vocation" in 1918/19 and looking back on a time when folks naively thought that science could either become one with or replace philosophy and theology. Also, as Scott notes in another thread, the uses that we put to these texts changes over time. Our understanding and uses of Weber are different now from what they were in the 1970s when my advisor wrote her Weberian influenced dissertation, which in turn was quite different from the use of Weber in 1950s modernization theory and from the intial reception of his works in the 1920s. One can of course maintain the convention of using present tense for one's discussion of the works themselves and switch into the past tense when contextualizsing their consturction or reception, it just feels foreign to me.

To answer your initial question, I'm not sure what I do or ought to do when describing the represented actions of fictional characters, but I suspect that I follow your conventions and switch into present tense when describing particular scenes. I also suspect that I'm far less consistent in my practices that I should be.

John  Emerson

It's the great cycle of life. SEK's dissertation is finished, and Kotsko's begins. Sort of like the Laura Nyro song "And when I die".

I guess that our helpful pestering activities should be shifted over The Weblog (TM). Scott can come along, otherwise it's post-partum depression for him. Like the Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is?"

Also, Stevie Nicks "Never Break the Chain" and Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk's "You Gotta Be One With the All".

John  Emerson

See, the blogosphere isn't just a bunch of isolated fucked-up individuals. It's a fucked-up mystic unity.

John  Emerson

Actually, it's "You gotta be one with the one and all" in the song "Close to it all".

Hank Roberts

Nitpicking -- one of the great social bonds among primates.
Gotta love it.

Rohan Maitzen

Hey, a precedent:

“What greater thing,” she muses, while Adam and Dinah stand with clasped hands, and satisfied hearts, “what greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life, to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting.” It's in an 1872 review essay on George Eliot, and no, in Adam Bede, she does not say "What greater thing what greater thing."

This example serves no larger purpose! I just noticed it because your post had made me wonder what the limits are, exactly, on our own rhetorical flourishing with other people's words.

Happy dissertating.

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