i will be finished when i am dead . . .

This may sound grim, but let me explain.  I found a link to this Notional Slurry post on the back end of the blog, where I sometimes  see how others arrive at this site.  I found its comparison between the perspectives of specialists and generalists compelling, since today’s the day when, ugh, I hand in another year-end review of my activities .  There’s a certain New Agey quality to this post, as with most of the stuff that comes out of the programmer/geeky side of the web, but I think its point about the gap between the “intellectual life” and one’s job description still holds true.  I also like this point about the way that “delay” is a product of others’ expectations about performance:

In what way am I delayed by paying attention to more, different, inarguably interesting stuff? Gratifying stuff?

[snip]

Am I delayed? Don’t be stupid. I’m busy. The only person experiencing “delay” was, if she existed, the customer wanting the thing I was doing at the workbench originally.

By this argument, the only real “delays” are experienced by the people who call them by that name. A delay is something that comes with an obligation to perform.

I find myself on both sides of this divide, because I appreciate the focus and high-level conversation of the specialist, but there are times when I feel that such concerns are not what I am interested in, but only what I am supposed to be interested in.  Sometimes distraction really is distraction, but I like NS’s idea of trying harder to find the common thread that strings together one’s “distractions,” to see where your real interests lie, and to pursue those interests more directly, with all the concentration one can manage.  If the book-form is not completely obsolete, it must represent a sustained record of thought reflecting (upon) one’s real interests, one’s real concerns, one’s real insights, offered in a way that will make them useful to others.  Life is too short otherwise.

DM

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2 responses to “i will be finished when i am dead . . .

  1. “If the book-form is not completely obsolete, it must represent a sustained record of thought reflecting (upon) one’s real interests, one’s real concerns, one’s real insights, offered in a way that will make them useful to others.”

    Probably this is crucial to what makes the good books stand out? Not to sound too flakey or Romantic, but there’s a unity to a really good academic book that somehow takes various ideas and turns them into a coherent entity. The last time I felt that way was reading Seth Lerer’s chapter on Beowulf, Tolkien, and Heaney’s translation in “Error and the Academic Self,” a book I picked up for pleasure. In fact, reading Lerer’s book ended up helping me find the focus for the essay I’m working on, which is bringing together a number of till-now unproductive digressions in my academic reading. So I’m definitely intrigued by the post you linked to, so much so that I’m going to swipe it and repost it in my own blog.

  2. Dave Mazella

    This seems true to me: the only books that one rereads are the ones that seem to deliver something powerful and integral at some level or other.

    It could be style, or it could be argument, but it’s definite enough to keep revisiting it to try to understand it all over again. I don’t have a long list of books like these, but I feel this way about Foucault’s essays in the Rabinow Reader, Empson’s Structure of Complex Words, Pocock’s Virtue, Commerce, and History, de Certeau, and so on.

    I think the really important books are like the really important bands, the ones that inspire people to write their own books or start their own bands.

    DM