By Jon Cogburn
Readers of David Lodge's Changing Places will remember the game 'Humiliation', where players list the most important literary work that they haven't read, the winner being the one most humiliated by the admission. In the novel the least pleasant antagonist is destroyed by the game. His major flaw is that he can't stand to show weakness or to lose at anything, but one can only win the Humiliation by showing weakness. When he finally blurts out (and this is at a party of English professors) that he hasn't read 'Hamlet' the scales are tipped against his tenure vote.
The games I am going to suggest, while slightly similar, are not nearly so fun, and (by way of compensation) will not ruin anyone. Here is Version 1. What are the most important works, judgeable by in print secondary sources, that are no longer themselves in print? For a while you couldn't get the non-abridged version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I see that Amazon does have it now. If I'm parsing amazon correctly, they only have abridged versions of Frazier's The Golden Bough, which would be a good contender. But I might be parsing it incorrectly.
Since you can get the kindle versions of Frazier (though I'm not sure that should count), I'd have to nominate works by Wilfrid Sellars. The growing number of secondary sources available suggest that it would be easy to get primary sources. But a fair number of them are only available used from third parties, including the redoubtable Science, Perception, and Reality. And note that Pure Pragmatics and Possible Worlds: Early Essays by Wilfrid Sellars is not only only available from third parties, but the cheapest new version costs $1,454.00!
Version II of the game would involve considering scholars who have fallen furthest from grace, people who used to be mandatory reading but who are barely recognized today. For academic philosophy I would adduce F.H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, Ernst Cassirer, R.G. Collingwood, Suzanne Langer, J.M.E. McTaggart, and Hans Vaihinger (Nelson Goodman may be well on his). This game would be more fun if the player had to also to defend why they should still be canonical. If enough people do so, then the philosopher in question actually becomes Collingwood paradoxical. Perhaps Eric Schliesser's (ed.) new Ten Neglected Classics of Philosophy is pushing things in the right direction here, at least to the point where we'd all be expected to play this game. The next step would be to get someone to put a question in the Bac Philo and Agrégation concerning a fictitious chapter 11 to Schliesser's book. It could then wend it's way over here as yearly session at SPEP, then perhaps at the Eastern APA, and then even a few departments like Berkeley, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh could even cotton on.
Version III of the game would involve works from the classicsl era that have been lost, such as Julius Caesar's In Reply to Cato and Claudius' histories. Perhaps you would have to give a speech about what the lost work contains (in the manner of the contributors to Lee Braver's edited anthology on the non-existent Division III of Heidegger's of Being and Time) or perhaps you'd have to try to recreate the text. I don't know.
Unfortunately, none of my games lend themselves to destroying fictional antagonists in academic novels. I am interested in how much-cited classics can fall out of print though. Is this how Rome ultimately fell? Not with savages from the North burning everything, but rather over a process of centuries with accumulated acts of forgetfulness? I can see many of our out of print books entering the cloud, but then over the centuries the cloud's operating system slowly changing so as to lose backwards compatibility, shedding little bits and flecks of books and authors until the remaining humans have very little ability to remember those things that people like us regarded as most important.