The list is, perhaps, the most archaic and pervasive of genres
(Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion , p. 44)
A Modest Proposal for Preventing Poor Scholars from Being a Burden to Their Relatives or Countries, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Academy:
- Be slow, go to your favourite library on foot.
- Exercise memory ― Learn by heart.
- Hold no learning in contempt, for all learning is good (aka “What you do not know, maybe Ofellus knows”).
- Keep record of all your readings.
- After finishing a book, always prepare a short abstract of it.
- Always read the entire chapter of a book in which a reference you are looking for occurs, then read at least the first and last chapters.
- Always skim the entire volume of a scholarly journal in which you are seeking an article, then read the tables of contents for the entire run of the journal.
- After locating a particular volume on the shelves, always skim five volumes to the left and to the right of it.
- Always trace citations in a footnote back to their original sources.
- Do not discuss an author unless you have read the total corpus of their work as available to you.
- Aspire to thick descriptions and perspicuous representations.
- Think about your scholarship in terms of poetics instead of productivity.
- Nulla dies sine linea, but there may well be weeks.
- Strive to publish only what you yourself would love to read, and think about the time you will take away from better readings.
- It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
NOTE. Rule 1 is based on Werner Herzog’s memorable dictum, “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue” (from Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis – April 30, 1999). Rule 3 combines Hugh of Saint Victor, Didascalicon III, 13 (Engl. translation by J. Taylor, in The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts [New York: Columbia University Press, 1961], 95), with Horace’s Satires II, 2, 2. Rules 6–10 are taken from Jonathan Z. Smith, “When the Chips Are Down,” in Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1–60 at 37, n. 27. Rule 11 alludes, respectively, to Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 3–30; and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough, ed. R. Rhees (Doncaster: Brynmill Press, 1979), 8e–9c. Rule 13 derives from Walter Benjamin, “Post No Bills: The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Rules” (“Ankleben verboten! 13 Thesen über die Technik des Schriftstellers,” in Einbahnstrasse, 1928), Engl. transl. by E. Jephcott, in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 84–86 at 85. Rule 15 is a well-known sentence attributed to Rabbi Tarfon (m. ʾAbot 2, 16). Last updated: Nov. 11, 2020.