Liberation Philology*

“The modern spirit, that is, rationalism, criticism, liberalism, was founded the same day philology was founded. The founders of the modern spirit are the philologists.

We must consider the revolution philology has wrought; we must examine what the human intellect was before the advent of philological culture, what it has become since it felt this influence of this culture… And it seems to me that… the most important revolutions of thought have been brought about by those men whom we should call littérateurs or philologists.”

– Ernest Renan, The Future of Science: Ideas of 1848 (1890; Eng. trans. Albert D. Vandam and C. B. Pitman, 1891).

* I heard this phrase in a talk by Sheldon Pollock, and was jealous. I’ll use it here as a catchall for quotations from the heroic period, when text-based disciplines ruled the earth, or seemed about to.