I’m coining a new term: The Golub Horizon. It’s the amount you have to read in order to realize that the ideas in a book aren’t new. It’s not a measure of quality, just a measure of the erudition and historical consciousness, the amount of learning required of the reader to recognize the fact that one piece of writing is, at some level, old wine in new bottles or a reinvention of the wheel. For instance, Anna Tsing’s Friction is a fine book, but it also has a very low GH: Anyone who remembers historical anthropology of the 1980 and 90s will recognize the idea that ideas move unpredictably from context to context, or that working misunderstandings collaborate cross-cultural interaction. Mario Blaser’s 2009 “The Threat of Yrmo” also has a low GH, in that it just reminds us that different people see the world differently because of their culture, and this matters in political contests. It’s also an excellent article, I don’t mean to rubbish it by any means. I just think its message is something people need to hear in every generation… and have!
Gender of the Gift is very high GH. It’s a genre-defying masterpiece. At some level all books are ultimately a meditation on the human condition, since at some level the GH is inescapable. I think of Islands of History has high GH, but of course philosophers and poets have long mused on the fact that everything sort of changes but also sort of stays the same.
As a middle aged professor, I know many people (including myself!) who at time get angry or frustrated when low-GH work becomes popular. Why take Friction seriously when you could read Islands of History? What is the point of using the term ‘ontology’ if it literally just means ‘cosmology’? But we are wrong to experience the popularity of these works as a narcissistic wound. We need to get over ourselves. In fact, people are agreeing with our understanding of the world by embracing these works. If they use slightly different language to do so, then that shouldn’t really bother us. In fact, it means with just a few simple find and replace operations on our work, we can ensure our continuing relevance by submitting our ‘new’ pieces on the political ontology of global friction to journals again… for the very first time!