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Tristram Shandy asks…

“Shall we be destined to the days of eternity, on holy days as well as working days, to be shewing the relicks of learning, as monks do the relicks of their saints, without working one, one single miracle with them?”

I found that question in the Commonplace Book of E. M. Forster today, and this is how I hear it:

We treat the fossilized learning handed down to us as though it were miraculous and we rarely find a way to make it so. We possess only the bones of the old learning–the life has been drained out–yet we still worship there instead of finding something alive that will much better serve us.

Something like that, anyway. We are entitled to demand that the relics work, but we don’t demand it, and the rituals around them continue. The guardians of the rituals all continue to be paid.

Something about the alienated nature of the learning. How many of us would struggle to recall that feeling from our school days, anyway? And some of our jobs? And phases of our political scene?

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