Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Worlds of Wonder: Ivory Tower

This World of Wonder comes, after much delay, from a word-of-the-day sent to me by the lovely Carlea, and in honor of my very tentative plans to apply to graduate school.

The phrase Ivory Tower comes from the Song of Solomon (7:4), and doesn't have much to do with our current idea of it as that isolated world of intellectual pursuits completely detached from reality or practicality. To be part of the problem of the Ivory Tower, I'll tell you that the first use of the phrase as we now understand it was in Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve's poem "Pensées d’Août, à M. Villemain."

I know it's usually meant in a pejorative way, but given my affection for academia (though I'm not in school right now, I work with textbooks and spend a lot of time talking to professors and thinking about pedagogy) and the fact that my alma mater is once again the most expensive school in the country, clearly I have some love for the Ivory Tower.

In my mind, the Ivory Tower isn't about meaningless research and shelter from responsibility. Instead, it's about finding meaning in the preservation of something fleeting and undervalued, intellect. It's about settling into a beautiful room with a good book and not worrying about what else you have to do that day. It's about conversing with interesting and passionate people, sharing ideas and inspiration. It's about giving yourself the freedom to think on the level you want to think on, and not on the level everyone expects.

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