Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Thought Police (more Bernal)

So, while putting together the previous post (which took a while, since I decided to re-read Bernal's CADMEAN LETTERS first), I came across an impassioned denunciation of myself for having at one point cited Bernal:


--The "volume of Tolkien scholarship" to which she refers, by the way, is not THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT (although I do indeed refer to Bernal at one point in there*) but the Blackwelder festschrift. In one of my endnotes to my essay therein ("'And All the Days of Her Life Are Forgotten'," Nt 52 p. 96) I mention in passing that Bernal's book contains a good description of the relationship between IndoEuropean and AfroAsiatic. Since reading "Midgard's" indignant denunciation, I've gone back and re-read those seven pages by Bernal, and I can't see what she was objecting to: it's a straightforward, clear account of these two major language families, with particular focus on the individual languages from both groups that came into close proximity.

I admit I'm a bit taken back by the declaration that I'm not "allowed" to cite scholars of whose work the poster disapproves. Especially when the person making the objection seems not to have actually read the work she is denouncing.

My favorite part? Finding myself criticized essentially for making one of my footnotes was too short. The note in question is attached to a paragraph in which I discuss the quest to recover lost languages, such as Gothic and IndoEuropean (or more properly IndoHittite), and included mention of this project taken to its logical extreme in the work of some scholars to try to find ever more remote ancestral languages (like 'Nostratic'), with the ultimate goal of recovering a few words of "Proto World", the original human language. Personally, I think this is a fascinating concept but a vain effort, and cite McWhorter to that effect.

Barfield, by the way, was v. skeptical about IndoEuropean for much the same reasons as McWhorter about ProtoWorld -- not the methodology the philologists had used, but doubt that that the resultant collection of roots actually bore much resemblance to the living language that had once existed; he thought they tended to treat their hypotheses as having a real existence rather than a speculative one. Whereas a living language is full of quirks and anomalies deriving from happenstance, unrecoverable by any methodology.

Anyway, it takes a good deal out of the sting of an online attack to come across it three or four months after it's been posted; harder to get worked up over, in the circumstances. Though I hope that 'Midgard' didn't just stop at BLACK ATHENA REVISITED (a collection of attacks on Bernal) but presses onward to read BLACK ATHENA WRITES BACK, his rejoinders, as well.

--John R.
current reading: AMARNA AND ITS PEOPLE (Kemp), HERESY IN THE UNIVERSITY (Berlinerblau)

*H.o.H. vol. II p. 193, where I mention in passing Bernal's support for Plato's claim that the Atlantis myth has an Egyptian origin.

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