How and why did the academic style of writing, with its emphasis on criticism and correctness, develop? Seth Lerer suggests that the answer lies in medieval and Renaissance philology and, more specifically, in mistakes. For Lerer, erring is not simply being wrong, but being errant, and this book illuminates the wanderings of exiles, emigres, dissenters, and the socially estranged as they helped form the modern university disciplines of philology and rhetoric, literary criticism, and literary theory. Examining a diverse group that includes Thomas More, Stephen Greenblatt, George Hickes, Seamus Heaney, George Eliot, and Paul de Man, Error and the Academic Self argues that this critical abstraction from society and retreat into ivory towers allowed estranged individuals to gain both a sense of private worth and the public legitimacy of a professional identity.
Seth Lerer is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University. He is the author of six previous books, including Chaucer and His Readers.
Introduction: The Pursuit of Error: Philology, Rhetoric, and the History of Scholarship 1. Errata: Mistakes and Masters in the Early Modern Book 2. Sublime Philology: An Elegy for Anglo-Saxon Studies 3. My Casaubon: The Novel of Scholarship and Victorian Philology 4. Ardent Etymologies: American Rhetorical Philology, from Adams to de Man 5. Making Mimesis: Exile, Errancy, and Erich Auerbach Epilogue: Forbidden Planet and the Terrors of Philology