Tampering with scholarly form

Jeffrey M. Perl

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This editorial note introduces the second of three issues of Common Knowledge dedicated to experiments in scholarly form. The first appeared in Winter 1996 and was introduced by a dialogue between two editorial board members, Greil Marcus and Hugh Kenner, who differed over whether tampering with set scholarly forms should be regarded as a serious business (Marcus) or as a matter of fun (Kenner). Philosophically, this note explains, the journal takes exception to distinctions of the form-versus-content variety-a resistance that stems from desire for peaceful transactions in intellectual life. But though the desire for peace, like any other, can be uncompromising, this one recoils from its own strength and requires indirect expression. One way, it is argued, to achieve indirection is to tamper with forms in which a strong position finds natural expression. Tampering, for instance, with the distinction between narrative history and fiction, or between discursive philosophy and poetry, is a time-honored maneuver. Hence the appearance in this special issue of three pieces (by historians Natalie Zemon Davis, Sir Keith Thomas, and Colin Richmond) on microhistory, along with the first installment of a two-part symposium on "lyric philosophy" and a "pseudepigraphon" premised on its author's conviction that not-for-credit truths are credible only if they appear to be fabrications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-3
Number of pages3
JournalCommon Knowledge
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2014


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