Insanabile Scribendi Cacoethes

Merton’s On the Shoulders of Giants “supplies a veritable nosography and materia medica of closely identified ailments endemic among scholars and scientists: denigrating adumbrationism (or the practice of finding seeming anticipations in times long past of ideas or findings newly discovered in the present); the correlative anatopic or palimpsestic syndrome (the covering over of earlier versions of an idea by ascribing it to a comparatively recent author in whose work the idea was first encountered); an honest cryptomnesia (‘submerged or subliminal memory of events forgotten by the supraliminal self’ as in forgetting the source of an idea one takes to be newly one’s own); the obscurantist grimgribber (the art of gobbledegook); insanabile scribendi cacoethes (the excruciating itch to publish, an ailment remedied only by scratching words down on paper); the humbling Parvus-complex or nanism (diminishing the scholarly merits of one’s own work by ambitiously contrasting it to the towering work achieved by giants of science and learning); the parochial peregrinosis (the subliminal fear of foreign learning); and, to extend this prefatory list no further, the defensive tu quoque (thou also), first generally identified in the seventeenth century and specified here as meeting a charge of plagiarism by retorting that the accuser has himself plagiarized.”

Robert K. Merton, On The Shoulders of Giants, pp. xiii-xiv.

In the back cover of the first edition of OTSOG:

“There is a genuine excitement in following the range of learned reference. The pleasure I took in the reading was lively and unremitting. The Aphorism comes to have an enchanted and enchanting life of its own.” —Lionel Trilling

“A comfort and delight… I marveled at the maintenance of Form under the appearances of improvisation and discursiveness: that puts Merton in Sterne’s class.” —Jacques Barzun


%d bloggers like this: