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Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography
Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography
Miles Hollingworth
Oxford University Press, 2013
336 pp., $33.95

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Sarah Ruden


Missing the Point

On Augustine and the peculiarities of academic publishing.

I must have been only six or seven when my parents put me to work clearing the garden of potato beetles at five cents each. There weren't terribly many beetles—I remember devoting an hour or so to finding four or five—nor were they particularly destructive. But at that piecework rate I could supplement my tiny allowance and indulge in fluorescent, fruit-flavored bubble gum (for which I had an unseemly passion). My parents mainly wanted to keep me out of trouble and teach me a lesson in useful, justly compensated work at the same time.

Looking at academic publication now, and thinking about general discussions of "productivity" in the US, I speculate about how my parents could have gone wrong in their terms for my work. Had they paid a quarter each for the insects, I would have come out with an absurd sense of my efforts' importance.

At a penny apiece, on the other hand, our bugs wouldn't have financed a single worthwhile candy run the whole season. I might have shown up at neighbors' front doors as free pest control, turned in those bugs to my parents, and (in my small way) skewed the local chore economy; or, feeling shamed and cheated by a handful of pennies in exchange for my sweat and sunburn, I might simply have become even more disaffected and annoying than before.

My parents made a pretty good arrangement through thinking, as they habitually did, about human beings with a continuing stake in each other—themselves, me, the neighborhood, my future associates—and not potato plants in isolation. (And no, there couldn't be any perfect, libertarian marketplace for bug-gathering, or for anything else, unless the human minds that effect pricing were perfect.)

Nowhere does the opposite kind of thinking—a wanton numerical reductivism—show up more embarrassingly than in academic publication. In the humanities, at least, the quality of the experience for everybody should be the main thing. The formulaic ...

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