The Ominous Creak of Closing Minds

[Letter excerpt, July 23, 1949]

My wisdom in expecting nothing from my brief but useful efforts became apparent the other day when I learned by the grape-vine that the only real enemy I ever had was on the committee. I am reading all of the Tha’labi now. He baffles me more and more: one can only explain his incredible knowledge of folklore and legend and the familiarity with which he handles themes ordinarily relegated to the regions of darkest arcana by assuming the existence in the East of libraries comparable to the great Hellenistic collections in size and scope but dealing largely with wholly different and now lost materials. The reconstructions of these should be the Hauptaufgabe of Islamic stooges; which means that it will perhaps never be done. I am surer than ever that we are missing the jungle for the trees: we are in the position of the wise men of late antiquity who, as we now know, came within an ace of discovering so many wonderful things that had to wait another 2,000 years. So we now stand within hailing distance of a world of things whose discovery is reserved for another dispensation. One who flips through the publications or inhales the pipe smoke of seminar rooms and studies can almost hear the ominous creak of closing minds in our day. Three-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Scaliger looked forward to the day when every scholar would know Arabic and Persian as in his day they knew Latin and Greek. Yet instead of his being the first man to possess the equipment of a discoverer (as he fondly hoped) he was almost the last. The Gelehrten have been given more means and more time than they ever deserved and now the time is running short. Soon we shall hear them demanding or pleading for an extension of the long indulgence that they have so shamelessly wasted. Their trump card is identify their own interests with civilization so that an attack on one is a threat to the other; in such a way the lowly barnacle identifies its own salvation with that of the noble hulk to which it clingeth, not without a show of reason; yet however closely attached to the ship the barnacle may be by tradition, sentiment and time, the ship owes it nothing and might be better off without it. All this is a reminder that I had better stop bitching and get to work.

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About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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