Litkicks Message Board Archive

That's a good point, actually

Posted to Poetry and Politics




I've been thinking about Chomsky recently. The guy's a linguistics professor who's written half a dosen books on linguistics and like a zillion political pamphlets. I very seriously tried to read and understand him, and yet, though he does make a good point once in a while, overall it's amazingly off base. You'd think a professor would do better, but then he's not a professor in that area... a very enigmatic individual.

And how does he manage to write that much? You look at his lists of citations: just to read all of this would take a lifetime, let alone write something new on the basis of it. And! -- this is all, as it were, extracurricular! Can you believe it?

I compared this with other known intellectually engaged figures, and I can't see anything similar. Ppl tend to give all they have to their craft and then there's very little they usually do outside of it -- and when they do, it's not that great! And they admit it (cuz they do not know much outside their area of expertise and they realize this very clearly.) Read something by Casals, or whoever... it's all about their craft, and once they venture outside of it, their opinions tend to be subdued. I remember reading a few general-interest, sorta thing, articles by this famous russian chess player whose name I forget at the moment: they're simply stupid. But then these guys apparently know they won't be remembered for their general-interest disquisitions and also probably they're interested much more in their primary field of knowledge to even have any wide-ranging ambitions... Can you imagine Gould writing more (by orders of magnitude) about politics than evolutionary theory? Or Feinman? Take Einstein: a couple of rather naive brochures -- maybe, that have had very little staying power. Jees, I dont' think most of them had ever written any political books -- and no wonder! Surely it takes enough effort to write about what they do know.

Apply this to Chomsky. It just doesn't connect, in my view. Do you still do any linguistics, he's asked. Sure, he goes, all the time. Huh? Look at bibliographies in his books alone, and you know this can't be true.