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Who names a whale “Moby-Dick”?

But I digress.

Every researcher has a desiratum. That one whale tome, devoutly to be desired, that promises to provide the lynchpin to so many half-formulated arguments, the firm foundation laid for the great research to come. That one.

The one you can’t get your hands for love or money.

Union of Genius soup van

The ‘Union of Genius’ soup van parked on main campus. It makes me feel smug just walking past it. Yep, just catering to all the geniuses on campus. Like you do. Although since I haven’t read Marx, Kant or Kafka in the past month, I’m not sure they’d condescend to serve me. Maybe if I had a pipe and/or fabulous facial hair. Hmm… [strokes imaginary beard].

At least, not for the kind of money in a grad student’s research budget (read: $0). In civilised countries, that’s what inter-library loan is for. The libraries of the greater East sent a steady diet of obscure hardbacks into my research refrigerator to nourish my burgeoning undergraduate thesis in the hallowed halls of Chestnut Hill. I believe they drew the line at flying in books from Cambridge, England. That seemed fair. Cambridge, MA usually sufficed.

The ILL system around here, though, is a Sisyphean cycle of submitting pleas for books–author, title, and edition painstakingly entered by hand into a stark black-and-white form–waiting, and never hearing from the system again. Three months to go until your due date? Still not enough time. < infinity. I believe my success rate is one lonely book that came in after I had submitted a paper.

On the other hand, it let me work the word Sisyphean* into a sentence, which has never happened before.  While checking the spelling, I can across some gems. For example, the word Maundy, as in Maundy Thursday, refers to the mandate Jesus gives in the Book of John to wash each other’s feet (and love one another generally), and has also come to refer to the giving of alms to the poor that often accompanies the ritual washing of feet on the Thursday before Easter. **

Getting closer to the word itself…


Of or pertaining to Sisyphus; like (that of) Sisyphus; resembling the fruitless toil of Sisyphus; endless and ineffective.

1635   F. Quarles Emblemes iii. xv,   I barter sighs for tears, and tears for grones, Still vainly rolling Sisyphean stones…

1871   J. R. Lowell My Study Windows (1886) 41   The Sisyphean toil of rolling the clammy balls.

– (OED online: ‘Sisyphean’)

… Ew. I’m not sure I want that word near my ILL experience any more, never mind my career. I’ll be going back to my research now. Which is no less disconcerting, but that’s a topic for another post (or two, or three).
*Sisyphus is a figure in Greek mythology, condemned to eternally roll the same stone up a hill. Application of the metaphor to the wider view of one’s career is widely considered depressing and should be avoided, no matter how obvious the parallel.
** I would like to the source, but you can’t log in to the OED online without a subscription. I’m not going to lie, having a permanent and easy subscription to the OED and free access to libraries is one of the greatest perqs of being a lifetime academic. 
Finding the original attribution of a meme is pretty nearly impossible. I'll credit Disney for the art though.

Finding the original attribution of a meme is pretty nearly impossible. I’ll credit Disney for the art though.