This essay, by the editor of Common Knowledge, comprises the introduction to an issue of the journal dedicated to experiments in scholarly form and to discussion of them. He explains the choice of articles and other pieces in the issue on the basis of their contributions either as experiments themselves or as discussions of experimental principles. The introduction itself contributes to the latter by suggesting a distinction between “triumphalist” and “defeatist” calls for poets and fiction writers to do the work of scholars. In the latter variant, poets in general are challenged by dissident colleagues (for instance, Donald Davie in Purity of Diction in English Verse) to write exclusively didactic poetry, and to write it with the logical, linear clarity and straightforward syntax of rigorous yet easily followed argumentative prose. In the triumphalist variant, professors are challenged to write like poets — more specifically, like modern lyric poets: Jan Zwicky's essays on “lyric philosophy,” analyzed by several contributors in this and the immediately preceding issue of the journal, are cited as examples. What these experiments along the frontier between poetry and philosophy share is an aspiration toward what Friedrich Schlegel described as the “poeticizing philosopher” and the “philosophizing poet.” But, unlike other advocates of experimental mixtures (such as lyric philosophy and “creative criticism”), Schlegel was chiefly interested in historical discourse. He thought that history, like poetry, could be a means of addressing in a nontheoretical way what appear to be theoretical issues — and the present essay argues that attention to the line between fiction or poetry and philosophy is of trivial consequence compared with attention to that between fiction and historiography. The essay concludes with remarks about the state of history teaching in places, notably the Middle East, where historiography is presumed to be a simple study of who did what to whom — an approach to learning that instills in students an aspiration to “even the score.” Alternative approaches, whether empirical or pluralist, are considered, but the author directs his hope, instead, toward the as-yet-unachieved possibility of an experimental historiography that in equal measure is charitable, imaginative, and irenic.
Jeffrey M. Perl; In This Issue. Common Knowledge 1 April 2014; 20 (2): 197–203. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2422890
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