Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Social Physics

One of my most memorable professors in college, Gregory C. Huger, S.J., recommended to budding scholars that we extract eight quotes from every valuable book and file them on index cards with labels of our own choosing. Father Huger taught upper-level history. The presumption was that the tiny handfuls attending his lectures would pursue scholarly careers. He expected to see those cards on books that he’d assigned; consequently I still have a metal box with a score or so of such quotes. But I wasn’t bound on a scholarly career, and hence my note-keeping soon took a more chaotic and meandering turn. Rewriting is good, and if we could rewrite our lives mine would be splendid. I would then have kept better notes retrospectively. One quote I wish I had recorded was the statement I read somewhere that, in seventeenth century France, any person observed in conversation with Louis XIV had as good as made his fortune. The fact would be widely published by word-of-mouth, and the person would become a focus of interest. The statement left an immediate impression. It contains within it a kind of law of social physics. Many years later I once found myself, quite by accident, part of a group of people who’d gathered for the sole purpose of “networking” with one another—and as I watched this process, a most amazing and curious one, each personality attempting, as it were, to display itself to others, using bits of background information, but the information having no purpose whatsoever beyond self-display, I was reminded of that comment about Louis’ times again—much as I had been reminded of it, many times earlier, observing the Age of TV unfolding and creating minor and major celebrities, often out of virtual nothing except a circumstance that caught the eye of our era’s Ultimate Sovereign.

Footnote. To me he was then, and has remained, “Father Huger.” Today I used another handy note-keeping facility to discover my much admired professor’s full name, namely a search using Google, which rapidly produced the full particulars.

2 comments:

  1. Arsen,
    I enjoyed very much your reflection on your memorable teacher "Father Huger" whom I know and revere as "Uncle Gregory"

    Gregory F. Huger
    Senior Civilian
    Regional Command East
    Bagram Air Base
    Afghanistan

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  2. Gregory:

    I'm so happy you commented. Your comment, in a way, completes a circle--and tells me that the Hugers, true to form, are still soldiering on...

    Arsen

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