August 08, 2005
In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin mentions the desire to go "away from libraries and other men's work" (pg. 75). Only away from what everyone else has written and thought can he begin to write what he thinks. I really should have started to get serious about studying for my prelims -- in one week! -- earlier than I did, that being a week ago. I dabbled in a little ancient gear before that, but that was not serious studying. Boiling down all of Aristotle in two hours on a Saturday afternoon does not count as serious work. But now I'm in the thick of it. I'm disturbed by Hobbes, thinking about William James in the shower (no, not like that) and having dreams involving Hume, Kant a bog and German beer. This happened during my second year of college and my second year at BC when I was studying for my MA comps. I can't sleep, and I'm restless and edgy. This comes from confining myself to other people's thoughts for extended periods of time with the goal of learning them and remembering them and being able to ape them for an exam. I've written a few essays about the dangers of relying too much on the philosophy texts that we already have -- and really pissed off at least one professor who called me "overly contentious" and was right to do so. Another professor pointed out that there is much to be said for mastering the literature, and he's also right. There are more reasons to actually master this stuff that I feel like writing about this morning, to be sure. But what do we do once we've mastered it? Write essays about it and present them to other boring people at conferences or in journals that only a dozen or so people will actually read? I'm not going to write a long post about what's wrong with academic philosophy. I could just paste an essay I already have and guarantee not to have any readers anymore except for the dozens a day who get here looking for Life Aquatic images (third on the list). That would be pointless and foolish and might get my bum kicked by some colleagues and rightly so. What I mean is that I'm not going to insult my fellow philosophers or myself. We all know what's wrong with philosophy in the academy. But it's really the only place to learn philosophy with other people, so we do what we can. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is tired of reading Locke or Kant, as if it's really going to change the way I think any more than it already has. I can't be alone in feeling like we are required to learn and spit back all this old stuff over and over again as an end in itself, like the "training" never stops. More folks than I must wish there could be more time and energy and encouragement to do some original thinking in academic philosophy: original as in from one's own reason or experience of the world. This is not starting from someone else's books as we are wont to do, though learning from said books can certainly be an advantage. Not that I'm in the habit of having any original thoughts. And the ones I have, I'm storing for my dissertation, whose prospectus I have to complete this fall, lest I contribute to the mold problem more than I have to in order to get a job. Fellow philosophers, please don't tar and feather me. Buy me some beer, since you alone know how soul-crushing it can be to bend one's will to ape Kant's ethics.