Shortly after writing about the pedagogical conundrums that arise when students don’t do the reading, I encountered this passage in Tristram Shandy—which suggests that it’s all part of one big, ever-repeating cycle:
Thus—thus, my fellow-labourers and associates in this great harvest of our learning, now ripening before our eyes; thus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, aenigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of ’em ending as these do, in ical) have for these two last centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that Akme of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advances of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off.
When that happens, it is to be hoped, it will put an end to all kind of writings whatsoever;—the want of all kind of writing will put an end to all kind of reading;—and that in time, As war begets poverty; poverty peace,—must, in course, put an end to all kind of knowledge,—and then—we shall have all to begin over again; or, in other words, be exactly where we started.
—Happy! Thrice happy times!
Except that in our perhaps less happy times, the chain of causality is reversed, with the end of reading portending the end of writing–and, with that, the end of all kinds of knowledge–physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, enigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and if not, obstetrical, then many other branches of knowledge ending in ical.