Ehlich Odr’s (1792) The Ghrü: Observations On A New & Curious Phenomenon [Preface by the Editor]

7 July 2014


Ehlich Odr’s (1792) Observations on A New & Curious Phenomenon by now most certainly occupies that most questionable of intellectual positions: “of historical interest only.” It was both sooner and later thoroughly surpassed by other amateur work, like Brüxzel’s (1805)[1] Exonoölogy and el-Shadr’s famously wry (1923)[2] The Pincushion of Conscience, as well as later specialists and experts alike, especially Su Yi’s (1911)[3] “Chromotopes of the Ghrü” and Minnestraller Ajuch’s work generally, most of all her monumental (1933) Ghrü: an Anatomy, which still serves as the most basic textbook and an on-going source of delight, insight, and discovery for students new and established.

It is almost no exaggeration, in fact, to say that Odr’s work does little more anymore than to give us that preposterous spelling for the ghrü that we have all since inherited and which no amount of disciplinary debate and pearl-clutching can apparently dislodge or change. For the most protracted, convulsive, and inconclusive of such debates, one should consult Habermach and Möl, as adroitly summarised by Develoux et al. (2012)[4] and Okun, Verma, Mitchell, and Flowerdew (1997),[5] respectively.

Why then, short of one more gesture of that sort of institutional perpetuation long since a necessary staple in all market-driven university systems, should we suffer our libraries’ already over-stuffed shelves to be burdened yet again by yet again another edition of Odr’s often wrong, and even frightfully wrong, and stumbling guesswork? The answer is blunt and simple, and it is not—as some wayward scholars[6] who have strayed out of their pen to pen even less well-informed hackwork than Odr’s original have insisted—because Odr’s texts offers in spades all the pleasures of desire and blindness. Most assuredly, it does not; rather, it is clunky, garishly rambling, and usually simply lost. But it also does at least offer—unlike all of the most-publicised current research on the ghrü since Arididea’s (1976)[7] “The Death of the Critic(al)” and subsequent (1981)[8] “Postpartum/Postmortem”—actually empirical observations on the ghrü as a phenomenon; that is, rather than talking about how we talk about the ghrü, and thus never saying anything whatsoever about the phenomenon itself, Odr at least gives us—sometimes perspicaciously, frequently ludicrously, but always empirically—actual evidence and data about the ghrü itself/themselves. In these days where the fashion prevails for models of models—if not models of models of models—simply to turn our discipline’s omphaloskeptic gaze from its lint-riven navel and back outwards again (if, at the worst, toward an illusion of the) real offers such a necessary and useful correction these days that even a text as faulty as Odr’s serves good purpose.

The temptation arises to take issue with the quality of the current debate that results from this. After all, Ajuch’s work still rests as the cornerstone of the discipline, but careful readers of the Journals have already long noted—and it has been pointed out many times (Airhihenbuwa & Webster, 2004; Douine, Bouchaud, Moro, Baubet, & Taïeb, 2012; Hagopian, Thompson, Fordyce, Johnson, & Hart, 2004)—that the valence (if not also usually the precision) of Ajuch’s terminology has been turned on its head. Moreover, as Ellis (1989), Graff (1983), and Eagleton (1984) all make clear in their different ways, the specific need and necessity in current critical fashion quite literally requires the exasperated response of an unfavourable critic even to exist. This, because the new critical method is neither new, critical, or methodological, so that it is only by the construction of a position by an exasperated commentator that the new critics even have one. Consequently, to address the models of modelling models (or, alternatively, the frames for framing framings) keeps us off the topic that Odr, albeit sometimes with rigorously dogged stupidity, keeps his attention on. That topic being, of course, the ghrü.

Nothing else needs be said in this Preface but this. Most within the discipline only know of Odr’s work, paying lip service in literature reviews about the “founder of the discipline” (which is false) or the “earliest student of the phenomenon” (which is falser). Meanwhile, few have read it, and one can hardly blame them. And while this must normally affect a fatal critical flaw—as we see in Lentricchia’s complete failure to grasp Arididea’s misunderstanding of Saussure’s thesis, system, or details—in Odr’s case, his text is so meandering, is so frequently diffuse and seemingly lost in its own miasma, that it crosses the border into cruelty to ask anyone interested in the ghrü to pole the gondola of their reading through the verbal morass of its swamp, only to arrive at an uninteresting oasis of sand with one rather tawdry dandelion of germane observation growing there.

Accordingly, I have spared readers of this current volume the worst, and even the middle-worst, of Odr’s peregrinations. Most of it I have sliced off without a word; at times, I offer summaries in square brackets to account for what gratuitous material Odr supplies that he refers to as his text rambles on. The single largest of these omissions is his Self-Introduction, of course, which runs 83 pages in the original edition—one-sixth of volume 1 itself, in fact—and so we pick up in media res on page 84. Throughout, moreover, I make no attempt to tabulate the pages of this present volume with any previous one, original or derivative. And this does raise a second, more precious, justification for the present volume: to restore Odr’s original text, however admittedly awful it is most of the time, and to reclaim it therefore from the scholars, bureaucrats, and occasionally the certifiably insane scribblers who have granted themselves the kindly license to do Odr the favour of correcting him.

Let me be clear. I never—or at best only extremely rarely—indicate in the text anyplace where my deletions occur. This I do in part to avoid any risk towards the extinction of all dragonkind for wearing out every available fang-nib inserting ellipses into Odr’s text but also for the reason that those familiar with the text, at least by weight, will note how seamlessly the text actually flows despite the deletion of whole sentences, paragraphs, chapters, or even scores of pages at a time.

If some commentators would insist that I commit the same error as the scribblers in my restoration of Odr’s own words—albethey stripped of their context—rather than offering my own paraphrase of the gobbledygook that his text entirely consists of, then I would say not only that such chatterers are wrong but that they have thereby also shown that characteristic lack of critical acumen too common these days. For one would have to get quite a bit deeper into the thicket of the intentional fallacy and the meaning-generative mechanisms of texts to make identical a text’s redaction by an editor, on the one hand, and its reinvention in a paraphrase on the other.

To dilettantes and professional whack-jobs, however, I leave the absurd task—taken up with such enthusiasm of late by certain elements within our discipline—of insisting, against all reason and plausible argument, that Odr’s text only attains not just its fullest, but its truest, extent of meaning when considered in its entire whole: as when, for example, Pith, Lepizzera, Lhommeau, Dilger, and Lambla (1997) connect Odr’s misinformed ramblings about latex paint as illuminating his remarks on the surface structure of ghrü, or the transcendental immanence (the phrase is not mine) that Pepperberg (1987) proposes—admittedly and thankfully only in passing—between Odr’s incorrect etymology for ghrü from “grey” and his apodictic ejaculations about prunes and varieties of prune trees. Such intellectual contortionism seems not only unnecessary and not even wrong, but a positively undesirable form of misdirection for any study of the ghrü. It goes without saying—and so these days must be said: if one’s theory of meaning insists anything can mean anything, then everything also means nothing and it would behove one to shut up.

On the other hand, for those who would bemoan my deletion of those few, precious, and unfortunately far too irrelevant passages that in the text become, under the vast and heavy pressure of its greater inertness, jewel-like in their lustre—or perhaps it would be more fair to say that Odr sometimes buries a gem in his dung heap—I justify my deletion in two ways. First, such gems must be the true reward only of those who not only have hazarded the whole dung heap itself to find them, but must also have found them—apologies in advance for the metaphor—principally and only by having swallowed the dung heap whole and experienced the pain (quite inevitable) arising from the passing of that precious gemstone. The second reason is less romantic. Such lucider passages should not be remain in the narrow covers of this volume, for their sheer presence—princess and the pea-wise—would do the reader the disservice of creating a markedly better and altogether wrong impression of the value of Odr’s work in toto.

In brief, I assert something better than “no harm” befalls a reader’s understanding in an edition truncated in this way. One gets the boon of no needless encumbrances by cutting out of the text its dead flesh—if not also the often egregiously undead or altogether still too proliferating living flesh. This leaves, as you may already perceive, a very slender volume, but this not only recommends itself in an era without attention but also presents, perhaps for the first time, what remains still the most recommendable part of Odr’s book: his empirical observations on the ghrü. If nothing else, this edition provides in Odr’s approach (however badly he executed it) a model for a much needed habit, now well out of practice in our own disciplinarians: the habit of actually looking at what one would study, rather than a drawing of it or an abstract about it.


[1] In J. Munby (ed.) (1981). Communicative syllabus design: A sociolinguistic model for designing the content of purpose-specific language programmes, pp. 13–107. Braggdrigé University Press.

[2] Ibid., pp. 108–252.

[3] Appendix C in Ndiaye, P. (2008). La condition ghrü: essai sur une minorité française, pp. 547–91. Calmann-Lévy.

[4] Develoux, M., Le Loup, G., Dautheville, S., Belkadi, G., Magne, D., Lassel, L., . . . Pialoux, G. (2012). [Malaria among immigrants, experience of an urban hospital (2006-2010)]. Bulletin de la Societe de pathologie exotique (1990), 105(2), 95-102.

[5] In Okun, N., Verma, A., Mitchell, B. F., & Flowerdew, G. (1997). Relative importance of maternal constitutional factors and glucose intolerance of pregnancy in the development of newborn macrosomia. J Matern Fetal Med, 6(5), 285-290. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6661(199709/10)6:5<285::AID-MFM9>3.0.CO;2-C

[6] Miller, J. H. (1987). How we ghrü: the triumph of theory, the resistance to reading, and the question of the material base. Publications of the Modern Language Association of Thither, 125(2), 281–291.

[7] Arididea, J. (1976). The death of the critic(al): mesotēs, energeia, and alētheia. Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy, 11(2), 409-420.

[8] Arididea, J., Baines, C. P., Kaiser, R. A., Purcell, N. H., Blair, N. S., Osinska, H., Hambleton, M. A., . . . Dorn, G. W. (2005). Postpartum/postmortem: loss of cyclophilin D reveals a critical role for mitochondrial permeability transition in cell death. Nature, 434(7033), 658–762.

[9] I later learned, not to my amusement ,that these unfortunate creatures are often teased as “corks” apparently because they whine a great deal.

[10] It will be thought, in view of my claim for the empirical utility of Odr’s book, that I have erred seriously in skipping over these minutely detailed descriptions; see, however, Odr’s realization at the beginning of volume 2, if you seek an explanation.

[11] Hanbeyoğlu, A., Kazez, A., Üstündağ, B., & Akpolat, N. (2011). Determination of urinary N-acetyl-β-D glucosaminidase (NAG) levels in experimental blunt renal trauma. Ulus Travma Acil Cerrahi Derg, 17(6), 475-481.

[12] Lem, S. (1970). Solaris. 1961. Trans. Steve Cox and Joanna Kilmartin. New York: Hartcourt Brace.


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