Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Value Of Useless Knowledge

A sentiment enthusiastically endorsed by this blog!  From Laudator Temporis Acti [Official THC Motto: "Prowling The Internet So You Don't Have To"]:

William S. Heckscher, "Erwin Panofsky: A Curriculum Vitae," Reprinted by the Department of Art and Archaeology from the Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, volume XXVIII, number 1, 1969, p. 8:

If in retrospect we try to assess the influences, academic and personal, that shaped Erwin Panofsky's mind, I think we must beware of seeing him as a man nurtured by the "great books" or by the works of the "great masters" only. On the contrary, it was the curriculum-shunned texts, often written in a language either intentionally obscure or outright abstruse, that he taught us to appreciate as true supports of our humanistic studies. "Who has read Hisperica famina?" he might ask members of his privatissimum. "Are you familiar with Lycophron's Alexandra? Do you understand the significance of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus? Of Hiob Ludolph's Assyrian studies? Of Kepler's Somnium?" And when we shook our heads, he might add, "Gentlemen, you have yet to discover the value of useless knowledge."
And now THC will lay some useless knowledge on you.

Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968), whom I'd never heard of before running across the reference above, was a German art historian who spent most of his academic career in the U.S. after the Nazis terminated his appointment at the University of Hamburg when they came to power in 1933.

In 1935 he was invited to join the faculty of the new Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton where he became friends with physicists Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli (see, "Is this really my lot, Wolfgang Pauli I'm not" by The Cambodian Brothers (1978)).
Panofsky's most important work was Studies in Iconology: Humanist Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (1939).

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