The Christmas holidays are usually the occasion to enjoy family, food and festivities. However, it may also allow you time to read in a more leisurely fashion, and I have a few essays that are worth the time.
In the Irish Times, Orin Hargreaves tackles the difference between cliche and idiom. “A problem that arises immediately for the student of cliché is the want of agreement about which expressions are clichés, and which are not. The hallmarks of cliché that I noted above – unoriginality, overuse, and ineffectiveness – are not objectively measurable; they arise as a judgment that draws partly on the context in which an expression is used, and so it is in its implementation, rather than in any inherent quality, that an expression is likely to be derided as a cliché.”
Aeon has a fascinating piece by Stephen Cave about the value (or otherwise) of immortality through fame and celebrity. “The idea that fame is a kind of immortality is an ancient one that shows no sign of losing its attraction. But why? What good does it do the dead to be famous?”
In Democracy, Rich Yeselson takes a long look at how New Left History affected the craft of history writing. I know I was deeply affected by E.P. Thompson, for example. Yeselson has a reasonable description of the basics of New Left History: “Class as a lived reality constructed by workers through collective actions rather than as a static category imposed upon them by intellectuals became the guiding tenet of American left social history for a generation and more. To this was added the mantra of “thick description” taken from the anthropologist Clifford Geertz: the close analysis of culturally embedded group behaviors.”
Finally, in American Scholar, Anthony Grafton and James Grossman, talk extensively about the value of research and on the positive effect learning to research has on the minds of young scholars. “Every time history has been renewed—by the great French social and cultural historians of the Annales school, by the British social historians of the 1960s and later, by historians of slavery and of women, of colonialism and of war—the renewal has come in new ways of doing research and writing about it.”
All goodf stuff, and well worth the time to make a cup of tea, find a comfortable sofa, and settle down to a decent read.