Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tag Lines

 9 June 2010

I'm sometimes fascinated by the role of tag phrases in our lives. I grew up in a house where a new verse of scripture was to be memorized every day. Tag lines from that experience still crop up (e.g., be sure, your sins will find you out). Country and Western music, and perhaps popular music of all kinds, provide the "words we live by" (stand by your man, or all you need is love). Poetry and novels are full of lines we remember and apply apart from their original contexts (e.g., find out what that kid wants and give it to him or Do you love me? Do I WHAT?). These things have the force of clichés--which is to say we dismiss them as soon as we think of them.

Here are some tag lines that keep cropping up for me relative to textual studies:
1. Where did that come from? It is the basic question of the sceptical academic. In textual studies, the answer is always, ultimately, some document--not a picture of one; the actual document. When there are no further answers to, where did that document come from, you've reached the end of the trail, but not the end of the questions about it.
2. What goes without saying? Usually we say "it" goes without saying, and because it does go without saying, we don't say what "it" is. For written documents, our ability to know and apply what went without saying fades and gets reinvented in new forms in new readings or by new readers.
3. That is very good--but it isn't good enough. Not specific to textual studies, this line nevertheless seems very useful in acknowledging achievements while setting the bar high. It is the obverse, with the same effect as the next--
4. A pedant is one whose standard of accuracy is higher than your own. My father had an old joke that never failed to make him laugh. There were these two old Quaker men who had been friends all their lives (pun intended, I suppose). The one said to the other: Everyone is queer but me than thee--and sometimes I wonder about thee.