25 April 2007

"All Knowledge is Specific"

I went to see The History Boys two weeks ago in the West End and having enjoyed the film (and not just because of the delectable Dominic Cooper), I found it much more suited to the stage (as one might expect given that it was based on the Alan Bennett play of the same name) and, of course, it is always more fun and engaging to feel a part of the production, even if in a largely passive way.

The script is similar for the film and the play and it is just brimming with pithy quotations (or should I say gobbets?) to recycle ad infinitum. One in particular remains prominent in my mind and it is spoken by Hector, the old, traditional teacher who believes in learning for learning's sake rather than for entrance exams:

"There is no such thing as general studies. All knowledge is specific."

This has probably stuck in my mind as I have participated in several pub quizzes recently - all, in theory, general knowledge based and yet each individual question requires the knowledge of a very specific and particular fact. Gems that I have contributed over the past three quizzes include:

  • What is the metal extracted from bauxite? Aluminium
  • Which former soap star had a hit with the song All I Wanna Do? Dannii Minogue
  • What is a mistral? A wind (in Provence)
At least, they are (mostly) indisputable facts, though. Other things are much more ambiguous and that is where the trouble begins... Here's a tougher question: was Karl Marx correct when he said that history tends to repeat itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, and if so, who is laughing right now?
Of course, these facts all cover a wide range of topics - a general range of topics - and yet are, in themselves, still specific.

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