Saturday, August 16, 2008

More beating books...

Shortly after hanging up the post entitled “Beating books,” I received an e-mail from Edward Baugh. He said he had come across the post and seen my ‘ticking off of Eddie Baugh for his egregious error, in the "History of [West Indian] Poetry", re Rachel Manley's not being included in Jamaica Woman.’ Professor Baugh declared himself “buried in sackcloth and ashes”. He described the circumstances in which the error occurred and asked that I accept his apologies, saying, in conclusion, ‘The older I get the more I learn that you can never be too careful. The real sin was in not having read the "Preface".’ I said in response to his e-mail: “I’m of course happy to accept the apologies but they aren’t mostly due to me – or Mervyn [Morris, co-editor of Jamaica Woman] – since we know how in fact it did go. Is all de people dem out dere...” And I added, as a rider: “BTW, on page 281, the bib[liography] cites [my book of poetry] de man [: a performance poem] as having been published by Sandberry Press. It was in fact published by Sister Vision Press here in Toronto.” I don’t know what one does about all of this, except perhaps to believe half of what one sees, even in books. What happened in the case of Jamaica Woman is important because it is exemplary. (And, as I’ve said, I’ll adduce some more examples here from time to time.) It raises the question of how much confidence the reader can repose in the authority of the specialist writer. How expert is the expert? How scholarly, the scholar? Some may argue that there’s not much harm to be done in the humanities – a position I don’t hold. I do admit that the possibilities loom large for more immediate, more tangible, more readily quantifiable damage in the sciences. My late father, God bless his soul, a man who never went to university, nor apprenticed for lawyer – he wanted to be a dentist, but there was no money – was a great one for proverbs when we were growing up. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well!” he’d tell us, and “When you have done your best, the angels can do no better!” I’m not sure how often I’ve done my best, but I have had that as a benchmark all my life. I think what I’m really in a flap about is how close and how potentially devastating the dangers are when any of us fail to hold up our (little or big) end of the stick. Also, as Usain Bolt can testify, the feeling of exhilaration to be derived from doing even close to one’s best is matchless. All of us deserve to experience it, the more consistently, the better.

7 comments:

FSJL said...

We all make mistakes, and the best of us acknowledge them.

FSJL said...

On the subject of beating books, I was looking for a property owner in St Elizabeth in the 1960s, and came across this: http://books.google.com/books?id=l8YCAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+handbook+of+jamaica&ei=GD2oSLXSGp7SigGr9N3tBw

I'd say it was a historical document of some interest.

clarabella said...

Hi fsjl. I just wrote a long response to this, that I've decided to make into a post. Thanks. Please see, "Here's to three experts!"

FSJL said...

Thanks, Pam. I will when it posts.

clarabella said...

fsjl, I'm beginning to think you live up here!

FSJL said...

Not really. But Blogger allows comments to be sent to email, so that I see them when I check my email and can respond fairly quickly.

In the time since I first saw this post and replied, I've talked to one of my sons by phone, chatted online with another friend, and made a cup of tea.

FSJL said...

Talking of xenophobia: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/opinion/17dowd.html