The Totally Esoteric Thread (and follow-up on ARC funding cuts)

Since the speech we have been discussing in this post, I have not seen a single one of Australia’s intellectual heavyweights come out swinging on the issue of funding cuts to non-medical research, and government interference in the processes of the Australian Research Council. Where are Eva Cox, David Marr, Anne Summers, Jonathan Holmes, and all those who don’t normally submit to playing the more-everyman-than-thou game in our media? Are there not even any Vice-Chancellors willing to defend vigorously the idea that we need to participate in the expansion of knowledge to be a civilised society? To be worthy of a place in the world? If anyone has seen an article in which a prominent figure actually makes the case that the kind of research being mocked by the sitting government of this nation has value, please link it below, because I’m desperate to read one.

In the meantime, while we sit around waiting for someone with some political muscle to actually weigh in on this issue, let us occupy ourselves in a positive way by opening up eilish’s suggested Totally Esoteric Thread.

Oxford English Dictionary definition:

Esoteric – intended for or understood by only a small number of people with specialised knowledge.

I know for a fact we have a lot of people who hang around here with a whole bunch of that, in a vast array of fields. So please take this opportunity to share with the rest of us which esoteric pocket you can be popped into, especially if you are generally a lurker, and let’s find out what we, collectively, know.

Library shelves with a banner saying "please read me" strung between them.

Categories: education, ethics & philosophy, work and family


35 replies

  1. To get the ball rolling, I know stuff about Shakespeare. Lots of stuff. Really, ask me anything. I’ll probably answer “yes and no”, which is a sure sign that a person knows about a topic. I also know a great deal about Gertrude Stein’s Dr Faustus Lights the Lights. Nothing else about Gertrude Stein, just that one play. Also the history of Theatre in Education in Australia, theatre history generally, and something vague that gets called “Dramaturgy”, which is the textual/wordy aspect of putting on a play.

  2. Classics student here. Worrying about the exact symbolic value of a Vestal Virgin’s virginity, and whether Faustina the Younger’s bad reputation was a literary construction or something more likely. What can I say, I live on the esoteric margins.
    Now that you say it, Orlando, I’m also puzzled by the lack of public intellectuals speaking out on this issue. And the lack of backlash altogether. Have six months of Abbot-led government already scared people with anything to say into silence, or are we still struck dumb by the thought?

  3. I know quite a bit about the Byzantine Empire, but not as much as I need to know. I probably know more about The Minutemen (band) than is healthy. Plus I’m very interested in the Enlightenment, and the way various strands of Enlightenment thought have played into the shipwreck we currently find ourselves in. I’m recovering from an obsession with Lydia Davis, and beginning to develop an obsession with forgotten stars of ealing comedies.
    I may be in a certain amount of trouble.

  4. I spent nearly thirty years reading everything I could find (in English; I don’t speak French) about Louis XIII.

  5. In contrast to the Humanities heroes above, I’ll de-lurk and step up as a mathematician and environmental scientist. I can reinterpret environmental management problems as mathematical equations and use them to develop tractable and efficient management plans (e.g. where do I look for this rare but troublesome plant in a massive national park? Of the huge number of potential threats to this native bird, which ones are actually having detrimental effects on the population’s survival?).
    We’re enormously dependent on the ARC to keep this kind of research going.

  6. I’m a Classics post-grad student (same department as Jo. Hi Jo!). My bit of esoteric knowledge is Livy, and his use of landscape as a literary device, especially in his books that cover the Second Punic War. I also cover Caesar and increasingly, Cicero and Sallust. And I love Ovid and (some) Horace, but I’m really an amateur at poetry.

  7. Oscar Wilde’s prose and poems.
    The novels of Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell. I am ready at any time for a discussion about how Victorian models of gender affected their characterisation.
    I was going to say poetry by Australian women, but have decided that’s intended for a huge audience and is incredibly widely known. Ditto Bruce Dawe. (I say it, therefore it is.)
    I’d like to claim knowledge of Virginia Woolf’s novels but I find they defy synopsis and I’ve only read three. Also, I still haven’t figured out what the hell was going on with everyone who isn’t Septimus in ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ so I think I’m disqualified from commenting. Or not smart enough. I’d love to read Simone de Beauvoir’s novels, but I suspect I’d have the same problem.

  8. My field is ecocriticism, focusing on how environmental themes in fiction are related to the environmental issues of the time, and how environmental themes in fiction influence people’s attitude and behaviour regarding those issues. At the moment I’m specifically looking at Australian YA fiction.
    I can also tell you anything you’d ever want to know about Sailor Moon, or about Penelope from the Greek classics.

  9. I’m techy, in a networky kind of way. My specialty seems to have evolved into anything that nobody else will touch with a barge pole. I speak Average User, Expert User, and Telco Carrier fluently. Translation is what gets me most of my call backs. I also specialise in networks that don’t break – or more accurately in networks that still function from a user’s point of view when they do break. I’m a black belt, 10th dan in voice transmission. This is a dying art, without doubt. I seem to understand multicast as well as anyone else I’ve come across. None of this will raise even a passing interest in anyone not intimately involved in the field. I’m heaps of fun at parties.

  10. As a life-long sufferer of depression, and someone who has grown up in a family full of depressives, I can provide first-hand expert knowledge of what living with depression is like, and how family cultures evolve to deal with things and actually get shit done despite the depressives living within them.

  11. What a lot of humanities-academia and superspecialities. I know stuff about soapmaking, and medicine, and a bit about linguistics; and I’m learning as I go along about native gardening, and about chicken-wrangling, and about parenting. Nowhere near as esoteric as the rest of you, though.

    • Not an academic or a superspecialist in anything, but rather too many reams of eclectic esoterica cluttering my brain from various autodidact enthusiasms over the years.
      So, various esoteric stuff about gardening, classical Roman history (which once upon a time wasn’t that esoteric but is increasingly so), Plantagenet/Tudor/Stuart history (the parallels between political intrigues over the millennia are fascinating), rebuttals to biblical inerrantists and creationists, urban folklore, the comparative biomechanics of lower limb amputee prosthetics (OK, that was a uni thesis), the development of various legal systems, and not as much about Shakespeare as Orlando but more than most.

  12. I know about multilingualism and third culture and how we came to conflate language and nationality (and why it’s all BS). Creative writing, literature and grammar nerd here.

  13. I’ve done some study of queer and feminist (Christian) theologies, and I have encountered a whole lot of people (across the spectrum) who don’t believe that church-going queers like me can or should exist.

  14. I just might be able to identify the odd native grass for you. Maybe. I am also a dab hand at assisting in paving, book case building and assorted building projects.

  15. I don’t think of my work as esoteric, but I’m sure others would disagree! I am a historian of family life and emotion. I am in expert in how people create their sense of self in relationship with others, and how that impacts on power relationships in the family and society. I am interested in emotions as historical products that change over time and charting that change and its implications. I have also done a fair bit of work on the law and the press, particularly looking at how different models of masculinity shape ideas of justice. I have written on periods from the 17th to 20thC. More generally, I edit a women’s history journal so I have a very good expert knowledge of this much larger field, and I use a feminist methodology so I consider myself knowledgeable in this area.
    My entire academic career in Australia has been on ARC funded projects, so this is literally my livelihood.

  16. High density nucleon overlap here, with a side interest in neutron stars. I also know quite a lot about 15th century English and Italian cooking, and I’ve spent the last two years learning enough about machine learning to know that I’m far from an expert at it.

  17. Evolution and genetics here, I’ve learnt very esoteric things about a variety of genes, in humans and their relatives, or insects, or plants, or bacteria. I’m also proud of how many different knitting cast-on methods I know, and determining which one is right for any given project.

  18. I am the world expert on birth control clinics in Scotland in the early 20th century.

  19. I’m a Sexologist.
    Seriously. After finishing my Post Grad Dip Sexology mid last year, I am now doing my Masters in Sexology. My thesis is about polyamorous women’s experience of having simultaneous relationships with multiple male partners.
    I also have a Masters in Counselling. So technically I am a sex therapist.
    I did a bunch of majors in my other under grad and post grad studies but sex is my thing ; )

  20. On that note, BK, I might add that I myself am becoming an expert on not-sex. Or more formally, asexuality (in and out of academia) and all the sorts of weird relationship and identity type stuff that brings up. 😀

    • Hey Jo! I love your blog : ) Asexuality is very interesting to me and I really get a lot out of your posts about it. Thanks for raising the profile of asexuality as I think it is something most people don’t know about and it is vital to have this sort of information and experiential narrative available in the public domain.

  21. Thanks, BK! I’m just glad to be contributing. It’s also really cool to see people like you (i.e. sexologists and sexuality researchers and psychologists) show an interest in sexuality, often a lot of ace people get the impression that ‘experts’ are just going to pathologise them or not take them seriously. 🙂

  22. Well, I’m just loving how this has turned out. My flabber is entirely gasted at all the things people know, and I’m wanting to ask everyone a stack of questions. Maybe we need a virtual cocktail party to talk about it all. It would probably be a bit like this.

  23. Sailor Moon and Christian feminist theology and oh my!!
    I know a lot about guinea pigs and the history, construction, theory, and intercutting formulations of whiteness. I also know a lot about premodern Chinese Muslims and lesbians, but sadly cannot find material on premodern Chinese lesbian Muslims, whyyyyyyy (probably because my language skills are not the world’s best).

  24. My postgraduate studies were in computational linguistics. This has left me well equipped to tell you about the large gaps in my knowledge around lexical semantics, linguistics in general, experimental design, statistics and machine learning. Nothing like these somewhat cross-disciplinary fields to make you incompetent in all the esoterica!
    I know a surprising amount about a few Australian crimes of the last twenty years or so, because I wrote their Wikipedia articles. (Typical process is “I wonder what happened regards X news story?” and finding Wikipedia doesn’t know either.)
    When I was younger, I had a big store of knowledge about Tolkien’s fictional mythology, and the lives of the Bronte children. I don’t have either on tap any more.

  25. @Orlando – I’ve certainly had a few ‘well it’s not really rocket science but I guess you’d know that haw haw haw’ conversations in my life.

  26. I know how to do tablet weaving, though I am no expert, but it is pretty obscure outside of reenactment circles, and I am the absolute expert in putting my kids back together when they fall apart.

  27. tigtog, I’d love to read your thesis! My previous work interest is in biomechanics (especially of the upper limb) – one of my favourite explanations for my students is why House walks with a cane in the _correct_ side for his particular disability, unlike the explanation given by the producer of the show – and I will be looking after more amputees in my new job next year.
    I have the problem of being renaissance woman – I wouldn’t classify my knowledge as being expert _in comparison to my peers in that field_, which is why I want to go back to my PhD so that I can have esoterica.

    • Hildy, it sounds like you and I might have an entertaining argument about House and his cane, because my inner lapsed physio winces every time I see him walking like that, and I totally agree with the PT he barks at every now and then when she nags him about using the cane wrongly. Lost the thesis years ago sadly (it was only an undergrad literature review thesis, and not a particularly good one, but I was very thorough on my background reading which is why a lot of it still sticks).

  28. Fascinating! Do you still do spine work? I am a big believer in sending back pain patients to physios and telling them to avoid chiropractors like the plague.
    As for House:
    [snipped – getting deeper into this on Orlando’s thread would be a derail – take it to the Open thread if you like? ~ tt]

  29. I know about Procurement (purchasing), know how to wrangle geeks (most of the time), can cook all the food, know a fair amount of the Immigration Regs inside out (previous job), can quote far too much Spaceballs, grow vegetables and edible plants, and otherwise Jill of all trades all sorts of stuff.
    Oh yes, and then there is the bisexuality and polyamory activism… that’s rather esoteric from time to time.

  30. I’m an academic – in the humanities. I’m not going to be specific about my discipline, but let’s just say that the area I work in is fairly and squarely in the government’s sights. Which is highly ironic given that they have been banging on about the need to privilege teaching the ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition in the national curriculum (which to my mind is just code for ‘don’t teach any of that ‘ethnic’ stuff).
    Why has there not been an outcry from the universities and public intellectuals? Well, I don’t think the timing of the ARC funding legislation was any coincidence – I forwarded the info to my academic supervisor just before we both collapsed in well-deserved heaps. Stand by for some protest as we get to the end of January – if it can be managed before the annual panic of new enrollments.

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