Enthusiasm and astronomers.

When I was in high school, I remember reading the poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman. Even then, reading it made me mad. Observe:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Now perhaps I am being uncharitable to this poem; perhaps it is just the record of an emotion, the expression of a particular experience. To me at the time it symbolised the idea, to which I was constantly exposed, that you can’t appreciate the beauty of something if you study it or know a lot about it — that analysis and beauty, or analysis and art, are opposed. If you’re reading this, I expect you disagree with that too.
Anyway, I was reminded of that while I was reading a book I’m doing a review of. It’s Werewolf Histories, and I am really looking forward to finishing it up and seeing my review come out:

As it happens, I know one of the contributors to this volume and I happen to know for a certain fact that he is not only the man to deliver an in-depth analysis of shape-changing and animal identities in medieval north-western Europe, but also a dude who just likes werewolves. Like, enjoys a good werewolf movie, digs on werewolf games, just likes monsters. And I don’t want to speak for him, but I know that I wouldn’t have wound up studying the things I studied if I weren’t excited about them, if I didn’t appreciate and enjoy them on a fundamental level.
And for a certain type of person — perhaps not everyone — when you really like something, one way you can express that enjoyment is by studying it. And knowing a lot about doesn’t affect how much you enjoy it — in fact, to me it usually enhances it, unless it turns out that the thing is fundamentally boring.
There are people who struggle to communicate that joy when they talk about the thing they love, but that can also just be because they’re explaining advanced material. That doesn’t mean they’ve taken all the fun out of the thing — sometimes it just means you need to get on their level.
Advertisements
Enthusiasm and astronomers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s