The paper “Excellence R Us: University Research and the Fetishisation of Excellence,” by Samuel Moore, Cameron Neylon, Martin Paul Eve, Daniel O’Donnell, and Damian Pattinson, is not about language as such, but it’s on an important topic I’ve been mulling over myself, so I’m shoehorning it into LH based on the discussion of what the word “excellence” means, as well as the paragraph about literature I quote from Joe Carmichael’s Inverse.com post about it:
In fiction, as well as many other fields, it’s impossible to quantify excellence. We can recognize excellent writing — somewhere halfway between our gut and our noggin, normally — but there’s no numerical value that explains a novel’s greatness. “Could you imagine if there were a bar that you had to cross as a fiction writer, where you had to show — you had to show — that you were measurably more excellent than Faulkner or Joyce?” O’Donnell asks. “How would you do that? There’s no way it would be good for fiction writing.” The fact that objective criticism is much harder in literature cushions writers from some of the blows scientists routinely take. Good experiments don’t always lead to world-changing results, and world-changing results are quantifiable. It’s possible to be a good scientist while remaining inconsequential.
I have been thinking about this because as I read my way through Russian literature I realize ever more strongly that it is ludicrous to restrict oneself only to the “greatest” works; I love War and Peace, but I also love The Sebastopol Sketches, and I understand the former better for having read the latter. One can love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony without having to look down on his mandolin music. Celebrate the good, and the excellent will take care of itself. (Via MetaFilter.)