Thursday, 16 June 2005

Labyrinthine Libraries

Prepare yourself for a rant. Italy is a beautiful place to visit, but it is a difficult place to work. I am beginning to remember now just how extraordinarily difficult everything is here. Every simple, simple task is just extraordinarily complex. I used to think that nothing happened, but I know that that is not the case. The minions do everything for those who have reached powerful positions and take advantage of it at every single occasion. Here we refer to professors as barons. This terminology is fully alive to its feudal origins and that is how things work here. And you have to play the game, otherwise someone else will, and will get ahead.

I went to the library yesterday to look at a thesis I had seen cited somewhere and was promptly told that it would be impossible. They have to make a request to the author, who leaves a forwarding address on the thesis, and then you are permitted to see it. When it comes to very old theses (mine was from 1977), the President of the Faculty just might give you permission - though the helpful library said she had never heard of permission being granted. Can you imagine? While I was browsing through the card catalogue of theses I realized why one particular professor is such a huge expert in his particular field - all of his students have done the work! I'm talking about critical editions, transcriptions, manuscript descriptions, the kind of stuff that should be in print. Some of which is in print, under his name.

The class today, on Greek textual traditions, was basically a private conversation between the professor and one of his colleagues, who introduced him. They spoke about tiny MS variants and made gnomic references to each other's published works (without any bibliographical references, needless to say), to their respective polemical and pseudo-polemical positions and to those of other scholars located in arcane journals with titles that require Unicode to write. We were treated as if we had arrived uninvited to an after-dinner conversation and would be supported as the way years ago in Ireland a simpleton relation would be not quite disowned but not quite part of the family either. It is a great example of one of the worst aspects of the Italian education system. These professors are experts in their fields - they could teach you a lot, if they bothered to think that that was important. But classes are inconvenient obligations.

And this is a class of a PhD programme. The students became restless and there were several simultaneous conversations going on in the room, as well as several people leaving during the coffee break. I don't think that I'm going to come to class tomorrow, but will spend the day in the National Library instead, doing some of my own work.


hesitant hack said...

you poor thing. Don't worry, you just go after what you want to get from this time in Florence and don't get het up over fools like them. Work on your own stuff. It sounds like the classes may not be any good, so take advantage of being in such a beautiful place to do your work. Enjoy it!

Miglior acque said...

Oh of course you are right HH. I am actually interested in what they are talking about...but I wish they realized that. I don't care. I got some work (not much, but some) in the National Library this morning instead of wasting it in class. I should think that next week's classes will be better.


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