Thursday, February 06, 2014

monstre sacré

His work had been called “peculiar,” his thoughts “tiresome,” and his writing “turgid” and “ambiguous.” Nothing could have pleased him more.
This was not the last time that this bilious, foul-mouthed, poker-playing English historian and fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, would publicly give thanks for a negative review. Cowling delighted in academic brawling. He was a proponent of what he called “reactionary bloodiness” who encouraged his students to be “vile” towards their intellectual opponents and his intellectual allies to employ “irony, geniality, and malice as solvents of enthusiasm, virtue, and elevation.”
He insisted that the only people who understood his work were those who not only disagreed with but were offended by it, and he was always disappointed when criticism, whether of himself or his confederates, fell short of this bizarre standard.
And again:
Here, in his filthy rooms, amid empty whiskey bottles and yesterday’s plates, Mills & Boon erotica, and pages torn from obscure volumes of ecclesiastical history, he would meet his students for tutorials, often while wearing an ancient green dressing gown over his suit. Although it has been said that if he found an essay particularly unsatisfactory he would throw it off the roof with a shout of “BALLS!”, he appears to have been a kind, sympathetic teacher more interested in spurring on minds than cloning young-fogey Francoists. In fact, the only thing he really seems to have discouraged tutees from doing was joining the Cambridge University Conservative Association.
I'd never heard of Maurice Cowling before I read this. "Now when the Reverend Mr. Playfair, good man that he is, comes down, I want ya's all to cheer like Protestants," pretty much covers my reaction.

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