ACADEMIC OPENINGS.

No, not job openings (sorry, recent PhDs!) but opening paragraphs. A post at Crooked Timber admiringly quotes the first paragraph of Avner Offer’s The Challenge of Affluence:

Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines well-being. This is the core of my argument. For detail and evidence, go directly to the chapters; for implications, to the conclusion, which also has chapter summaries.

and asks “Other great academic first paragraphs?” At the moment there are 72 responses, of which I’m afraid I’m afraid eight are from me—I found it an irresistible opportunity to rummage through my shelves looking for treasure. (My all-time favorite is probably the start of Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era: “Toward the evening of a gone world, the light of its last summer pouring into a Chelsea street found and suffused the red waistcoat of Henry James, lord of decorum, en promenade, exposing his Boston niece to the tone of things.”) Feel free to leave your own candidates either here or there. A word of warning, though; as I said in the MetaFilter thread where I discovered it, “the whole point of this exercise is to find great openings to academic works. Orwell is a wonderful writer, but hardly an academic. I have the same problem in the Crooked Timber thread: people are quoting Nietzsche and The Communist Manifesto and George MacDonald Fraser (fer chrissake). If you don’t have to blow the dust off the volume before quoting it, it doesn’t count!”

Comments

  1. There can be no distinction without a motive, and there can be no motive unless contents are seen to differ in value.
    If a content is of a value, a name can be taken to indicate this value.
    Thus the calling of the name can be identified with the value of the content.

    George Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form, Dutton, 1979, p. L. (The book is an ambitious and eccentric development of formal logic).

  2. Is de Beauvoir too bland? (Pardon my poor translation from the Danish version):
    “Only after long time’s consideration have I endeavoured to write a book about Woman. The topic is sensitive, particularly to women, and trite as few others. The conflicts over women’s rights have already caused too much ink to flow, and since they are currently dying out, perhaps one ought to change the subject.”
    I like the subtle passive aggressiveness. The idea that the debate on women’s rights should have ended in 1949 astounded me when I first read “The Other [word redacted by spamfilter - 'Gender' just doesn't have the same ring to it]” not long ago.

  3. Strictly academic? How about:
    I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon, the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would elebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful. When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city; and at that instant Polemarchus, the son of Cephalus, chanced to catch sight of us from a distance as we were starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid us wait for him. The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said, Polemarchus desires you to wait.

  4. One that suggests what is to come:

    The first part of this book, as its title suggests, is concerned with geography: geography of a particular kind, with special emphasis on human factors. But it is more than this. It is also an attempt to convey a particular kind of history.

    Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (Reynolds translation).
    One that undersells:

    Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough? The scene,
    suffused with the golden glow of imagination in which the divine
    mind of Turner steeped and transfigured even the fairest natural
    landscape, is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of
    Nemi– “Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients. No one
    who has seen that calm water, lapped in a green hollow of the Alban
    hills, can ever forget it. The two characteristic Italian villages
    which slumber on its banks, and the equally Italian palace whose
    terraced gardens descend steeply to the lake, hardly break the
    stillness and even the solitariness of the scene. Diana herself
    might still linger by this lonely shore, still haunt these woodlands
    wild.

    Frazer, The Golden Bough.

  5. And not job Offers, either ;)

  6. Conway & Guy: “The Book of Numbers seems an obvious choice for our title, since its undoubted success can be followed by Deuteronomy, Joshua, and so on; indeed the only risk is that there may be a demand for the earlier books in the series.”
    And then, Dijkstra: “For a long time I have wanted to write a book somewhat along the lines of this one: on the one hand I knew that programs could have a compelling and deep logical beauty, on the other hand I was forced to admit that most programs are presented in a way fit for mechanical execution but, even if of any beauty at all, totally unfit for human appreciation.”

  7. What Camus said in over 90 words, Shakespeare said in six, and they were monosyllables too

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