“I can feel it in my bones / Gimme Sympathy” – Metric, “Gimme Sympathy”
My education to this point started in earnest in graduate school.
Before high school, the only two books I read with any seriousness were the Bible (no, I haven’t read all of it) and Robert Fulghum’s All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Both books caused a change in my mood whenever I picked them up and started reading; it felt like no matter what, I was going to get something that would be inspiring and could be put to use immediately.
I still had that feeling reading both books in high school, but there was so much more to go through – there was world history to be memorized, dates and battles and tactics; short stories that depicted a variety of people I couldn’t otherwise relate to; National Review, matters of policy and culture school didn’t address in a way school would never take seriously.
I left high school not being able to read a poem, and I didn’t realize what philosophy was in the least until my junior year of college. I didn’t think philosophy or poetry were important for anything – politics was about public service, and everything I had read exhorted me to service. Solomon’s wisdom built a great nation; what one learned in kindergarten were basic rules for dealing with people; world history meant I could win money on Jeopardy! should all else fail; short stories gave a clue as to who I should look out for; the right political positions solved all problems and there wasn’t really a need to know much more.
Undergrad wasn’t a wake-up call, but it helped plant seeds that something was wrong with this picture. Wilson Carey McWilliams lectured brilliantly on Aeschylus, taking the Oresteia and explaining that the city was born of this tension between pre-legal notions (avenging the death of a family member, etc.) and institutions divinely founded. William Dowling explained how to look at a poem, tease out the speaker and audience, and explain how they relate to each other.
Then I went and took a course on Wittgenstein and realized that there were any number of topics and issues that could very easily go over my head. How does one even describe the problem of how it is we understand that an arrow points?
My latter years in undergrad I started keeping a journal. Around 2003 I started blogging. The sort of posts you see sometimes fail, sometimes succeed, in this blog were never at this level of detail in the journal or the blog then. There was still one more upheaval of thought to occur – nothing had been put together yet.
A good example of how I used to think or work with ideas/situation/a text can be seen in a more developed, eloquent way in most punditry. Typically a pundit takes an aspect of a situation he doesn’t like and stays focused on that aspect. There may be allusions to other issues, but there’s no sense of the whole: no sense there’s an interconnected series of phenomena, each dependent on the other, that analysis tries to give you a sense of, a way to navigate around.
My first year of graduate school I met Peter Lund, whose ability to see critical issues in Greek drama and Plato is still the ability I trust uncritically: when Peter’s “wrong” about something, I have to check my reading, because I’m most likely not seeing the best question possible. Peter wasn’t officially a teacher of mine – he was/is a colleague. It didn’t take me long, after he had emphasized out some peculiarities of Xenophon’s line of argumentation, to start putting the full weight of the critical apparatus I had been honing unknowingly all these years into action. From then on, the major project has been building familiarity with more history, more philosophy, more poetry, more distinctions, more metaphor, more argumentation, more people in order to create one thing: a more honest world.
That’s what this blog is about. I cringe when I read old entries: many times I wonder “What the hell was I thinking” and can’t figure it out. I’m editing and I haven’t gotten to everything, may not get to everything. It’s not important anyway; there’s lots of stuff out there more finely crafted, by other authors who are masters of their art. Here we meet as equals, the one thing missing from my education up until graduate school.