17 January 2009
Long ago in a galaxy far away called graduate school, I wrote a thesis. A long thesis. One of the books I had to read was a very short one with a very long title. “The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge,” by Ninian Smart. Little did I know it would explain my ignorance of Leonard Cohen, or actually a song of his I knew but did not know he wrote.
I’ll bet almost all of you not only know the song, “Hallelujah,” but that he wrote it. I knew it, chiefly as a moving backdrop to several TV drama moments. It was interesting enough for me to wonder about it. But if you google, “hallelujah,” you’ll get lots of things that aren’t that song. Not knowing who sang it, who wrote it, or even quite what the words were as I do not have a copy and was never close to a pen and pencil when it came on, I had no way to find out about it.
Then, thanks to the almighty power of the NYTimes, and my astute choice to subscribe to it, and my scanning the arts pages last week, I saw that Leonard Cohen (whom I knew about but not much about) was making his first appearance in the US in seventeen years. The headline for the small squib was “Hallelujahs heard in New York.” I took a chance the title was significant and after a few clicks presto, Youtube filled up with versions of it.
How is this about the sociology of knowledge? Well, the theory is that knowledge flows unevenly, along curvy paths, gets caught in eddies, and otherwise meanders. We make connections between facts the same way as when you find someone who had the same teacher you did, or run into an old friend thousands of miles from where you expect them. (These both happened to me) We can know part of something and not all and not know we know only part of it.
I guess what I am trying to say is that even when we know stuff, we don’t know as much as we think and the more we learn the more we should realize there is always more out of our sight. Learning makes a soul more humble if you do it right.
To prove it, I know something about that some of you don't. Yes it was written by Leonard Cohen, but do you know he stole the story from someone else? Two points for the first person who tells me.