A physicist loose among the liberal arts

A Narrow Escape from Theory

An interesting convergence of material in the Tolkien blogosphere lately.

Stephen Winter started us off with an excellent trio of posts about the scent of athelas in the Houses of Healing:
Tom Hillman collected these three posts with approbation.
Olga added a guest post at Stephen’s joint:

Shawn Marchese at “The Prancing Pony” ponders what elves must smell like
And last, my little squib , which is high enough to be visible only because all those other weightier essays were sitting on the other end of the see-saw, so my end rose. [1]

Because I have just survived a course on literary theory, I can see that the world has been spared from an outbreak of Newest Criticism by sheer luck. After all, the world has endured (says Wikipedia) historical and and biographical criticism, New Criticism, formalism, Russian formalism, structuralism, post-structuralism, Marxism, normal feminism and French feminism, post-colonialism, new historicism, deconstruction, reader-response criticism, and psychoanalytic criticism. To which our lecturers added performance theory, queer theory, native-american theory, and even oceanic theory.

None of us is (currently) a college professor, else we’d have beefed up our essays with citations, peer-reviewed each others’ work and approved it for publication, and now we’d be the founders of Olfactory Theory.

Works cited

[1] Nabokov, Vladimir. Bend Sinister, 1947. Idiosophers can pad reference lists as well as anyone.


RIP Harry Mathews




  1. Well, the sniffing is very important

  2. I really enjoyed reading this and feel highly complimented to be included in this reflection. I am happy to say that I will never be a college professor or a purveyor of literary theory.

  3. More often than not I think that not being a college professor is a real advantage 😀

  4. Joe

    I have been addressed as “Professor” before, usually by people who wanted to re-take an exam. These days, even “Doctor” is a warning signal that I should probably run and hide.

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