Wait Until They Ask You Who You Know

It tends to be fairly obvious what sort of people influence musicians or writers, or indeed many people involved in creative arts.  For one, many people involved in the creative arts are very willing to discuss those they draw influence from, and for another, often the signs of influence are easy to spot.  A researcher will cite someone else’s research approvingly, a self-published author will quote others in an attempt to bolster their own reputation, not least as someone who reads well, a musician will clearly borrow something from another artist.  Most of the time this acknowledgement is openly made, and one can therefore determine a sort of family tree of developments in many artistic fields [1], and we are all the better for being able to trace influence and give credit where it is due, so that we know where someone fits both in time as well as within the various schools and genres of art, and know someone’s legacy by creating that which others appreciate and find themselves moved and inspired by.

Sometimes, though, we notice such matters particularly visibly through their absence.  I recently read a book [2] and was struck by how non-transparent its influence was.  A British publisher sought to profit off of a great work of ancient Greek history through a translation that appeared to be in the public domain, and it was impossible to tell by looking at the text itself where the translation had come from.  There were no scholarly footnotes or end notes, no index, no bibliography, no textual apparatus of any kind except for a very short introductory statement that then flows seamlessly into the borrowed/stolen/appropriated text.  I was struck by how unusual it was to read a book that one knew had an intellectual history but whose history was entirely silent.  Now, not all readers of such a book are likely to be as focused on matters of intellectual history as I am as a reader, but one would think that people who read at all–and no one is likely to get through nearly 600 pages of a book without having been a somewhat dedicated reader–would see what was missing in a book and find the book somewhat lacking as a result, and be somewhat dissatisfied to be reading a book where the contemporary editor appears unwilling to acknowledge his debt to previous generations of scholars and translators by citing anything at all, even the maps on the page.

Why would someone deny this sort of intellectual history or intellectual debt?  Unlike most kinds of debt, intellectual debt is not something that tends to be disreputable or troublesome [3].  If we acknowledge a huge intellectual debt, no one calls our cell phone while we are at work or tries to hunt us down and garnish our wages.  Rather, it is widely known that if we are to know anything, we must have learned it from someone, and the quality of our knowledge depends in large part on the quality of the people we have learned from, the books we have read, the contributions we have by how seriously we have taken those who have come before us and those who walk alongside us.  Additionally, acknowledging intellectual debt does not cause us to lose anything.  On the contrary, it is all gain–we get credit for having learned well, having learned from those who had something to teach, and we become a part of various schools and disciplines and gain associates who share a large part of our knowledge and perspective.  Why someone would desire to reject that to pretend a knowledge of classical Greek and to deny to his readers the chance to read other great books that inspired him is a particularly selfish and short-sided act.

Most of the time in life it is not a bad thing for others to know who you know and where you’re coming from.  If people like the same books, come from the same part of the world, and share a basic worldview informed by certain texts, there is a strong possibility that they will be able to enjoy each other’s company and appreciate encouragement about mutual areas of knowledge and interest.  If people like the same sort of music or movies, they can make recommendations to each other and enjoy going to concerts or the movies together and build the time with each other shared in common activities that give one a sense of intimacy with others, a shared sense of inside jokes and common appreciation that make us think well of those we are around.  If we look at the common friends of others in social media, or the common like, we may find people we already know but have not connected with, or may find people we would like to get to know who already share a large part of our social circle even before we have ever become acquainted with each other.  In general, this is a good thing and something we appreciate.

When it is not good that people know you, most people will make themselves scarce.  If, to take an example not at random, strange secret police knock at your door or drop by trying to figure out who your friends are, you will not likely be seeing much of them.  These situations are mercifully rare in our lives, even for those us who live more adventuresome lives than most.  When admitting an association leads to scrutiny and unpleasant scenes, it is likely that such an association will not long last, since most people are not willing to suffer even occasional embarrassment or minor inconvenience or annoyance with the people that they wish to be around.  We want people who are good company, even if we are seldom patient enough to wait until people ask us who we know before we show it by some sort of reference that may be teased out.  It is a wonder people ever ask at all given how often we tend to tell on ourselves.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/book-review-a-search-for-truth/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/book-review-lessons-in-classical-painting/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/youll-be-sorry/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/here-they-come-again-to-jack-my-style/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/i-wont-back-down/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/book-review-so-you-wanna-be-a-rock-roll-star/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/mapping-the-history-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/non-book-review-war-in-ancient-greece/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/a-lannister-always-pays-his-debts/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/the-mutiny-of-norfolk-island/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/the-handwriting-of-requirements-that-was-against-us/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/ramen-life/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wait Until They Ask You Who You Know

  1. Pingback: Everyone Was Looking, But I Saw You First | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Concert Review: Finish Ticket – 11-3-2016 – Portland, OR (Hawthorne Theater) | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: The Temperature At Which Books Burn | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: A Summer Of Resistance | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s