Saturday, August 27, 2005

Trip home

I had to be in Raleigh yesterday morning, so I spent a short afternoon doing laundry in my ancestral estate. In Chapel Hill, I keep my intellectual interests pretty focused: mainstream analytic philosophy and analytic history of philosophy, math, and whatever my humanities course du jour is giving me (Barthes and Benjamin this semester, yay!). But my old room is the repository of each and every temporary interest of my high school years as far out as the Tao Te Ching. A few books have been decisively abandoned (Eastern mysticism, yes), but most of them are just waiting. Sometimes, as with Derrida, I expect that I'll confidently write them off, but it takes time to be sure of that.

And so, on top of the more ordinary melancholy that my room inspires, there's another source of unease, because if I ever knew how it all fits together, I don't anymore. The work that I'm doing in analytic philosophy is what most interests me now. What's more, I'm confident that I can make some contribution to the field, if not with my honors thesis now, with my doctoral dissertation or my work after I have a teaching position, or once I'm tenured...

Yet I don't see how it relates to everything else I'm interested in. It should. I think about the nature of belief ascription, the nature of rationality, the nature of representation itself. Surely those things can't be irrelevant to all my other intellectual concerns? Nevertheless, there's every reason to think that my work would remain irrelevant to everyone outside the ghetto of analytic philosophy, except perhaps a linguist or cognitive scientist. Don't be confused about what I'm saying--I'm not worrying that I'll be a second rate philosopher, a hack who doesn't matter to his colleagues because he doesn't have any ideas worth mentioning. I'll worry about that tomorrow. It's not even literally a question of who else reads my work. The problem is that I would write my work as a philosopher and then forget about it in every other context.

Nor am I precisely worried that the demands of professorial life will prevent me from studying culture in general. You can be a professional philosopher and comment on politics in front of a large audience (another: more tendentiously a philosopher, but with a bigger audience). Right now, I don't feel like that's enough. Those two men essentially do politics on the side, and their politics doesn't have much to do with their work (1). I think the same thing would be true even if I went into political philosophy or applied ethics. Besides, my concern isn't really about political relevance.

(I find myself rambling, even more so if I try and continue, so I'm going to stop and leave this here as a draft of sorts).

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