Came down from my
    ivory tower
And found no world.

-Jack Kerouac

Apparently the term originates from the French "tour d'ivoire" coined by the French literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve in 1837 to characterise the poet Alfred Victor de Vigny. Apparently Vigny led a very isolated life, which explains part of the isolationistic connections to the phrase "ivory tower". The term entered the English language towards the end of the 19th century.

Interesting comment: There seems to have been some initial misunderstanging for "tower" as the word as it is used in French at the time had certain phallic and sexual connotations, whereas the white of the ivory connotes purity. It has been speculated that this contradiction had a lot to do with the popularity of the term.

Herman Hesse's book "The Glass Bead Game" [1943] provides a brilliant commentary on the Ivory Tower concept.

Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins [1987]
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable [1981]

That afternoon, I did everything in double time. Nothing was going to make me late for our 6:30 reservation on the one hundred and seventh floor. There were calls to make, trades to close, quotes to watch over… but all I could think of was dinner for two, dinner for two, maybe get laid, dinner for two.

When the five o’clock rush had ended, I sorted everything into my bag and headed upstairs. This place was her favorite, and she liked to go there for the same reasons all the tourists did: it was gorgeous. On a clear evening like this one, you could see planes flashing their way into LaGuardia and the last smokestacks out in Jersey shutting down for the night, and it made you realize how real this city was.

She drank her wine facing southwest, so she could watch the sun go down. I looked out at midtown, wondering what would possess someone to design something as functionless as the Empire State Building. Then I sloshed around some of the wine, calculating how many shares of Microsoft I could have bought for this kind of money. “What’s wrong?” she said.

“Nothing,” I said. “I have to pee.” As I stood, she looked beyond me again, at the Jersey sunset.

There were so many movers and shakers about tonight… there was Bloomberg, enjoying champagne with some Asian investor types, and there was Trump, hobnobbing as usual. I wondered why I wasn’t in their league. Maybe it was because, while they were investing their money in high-speed networking and grand casinos, I was investing my money in personal networking and grand dinners for two, mostly to make my hormones happy.

The urinal made me feel a bit better. I adjusted my tie, trying to make it look a bit neater. As I let my eyes withdraw a bit, and examined the entire figure in the mirror, I started to like what I saw. With a wardrobe like this, I should be taking on the world, I thought. I imagined holding my own shareholder meetings, having a corner office in midtown, seven-course breakfasts and helicopters and vacations to islands nobody had ever heard of, and that thought carried me all the way out the door and smack into that blonde girl I had broken up with the month before.

“Well,” she said, “small town.” No emotion registered.

“I guess so.”

“Are you still having fun in the wonderful world of creative finance?”

“Yeah,” I said. “What are you up to?”

“I quit. Now I’ve got a place in Brooklyn, a job at a little law firm there… you should get out of downtown while your soul’s still intact.”

I chuckled. “You and your soul. I’m not leaving here anytime soon. This is where the action is.”

She shrugged. “Okay, cowboy. I hope the action isn’t too much for you. Keep chasing that ivory tower.”

Ivory tower, I thought. I’m going to catch that ivory tower, and prove that dumb bitch wrong. Nothing’s gonna stop me… not even love. In fact, I’ll start tomorrow. I pulled out my Palm Pilot and watched the calendar flicker on, as the lights of New York twinkled away, more beautiful and real than ever. Tomorrow. September 11… the beginning of the rest of my life.
fiction. at least, I think it is.

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