Thursday, 5 February 2009

Less than zero sum

After day of tackling student emails and administrative tasks, I set about - with a disappointing Scottish post credit-crunch gin – re-uploading a resubmitted article to Psychopathology because they want to see some ‘track changes’.

To do that picked up on a task from last Sunday evening in front of the stove of changing the article in the light of three mixed reviews. That was a bit fiddly: judging what was the right degree of change to satisfy legitimate qualms without changing the paper so much that it required radical re-reviewing. Neither of these jobs was much fun. (Hardly to compare with coal mining, obviously!)

But neither – and this is just a personal and idiosyncratic reaction – is the original writing hugely pleasurable (though working at home on research is by far the best bit of an academic job). I first noticed this with my PhD thesis on the preconditions of judgement. Tracking Leslie Stevenson’s odd (typed in Courier!) book The Metaphysics of Experience, I needed a broadly transcendental argument to get from premises about judgement to a public world (without his 1970s assumptions). For a couple of months I reassured my supervisor Ross Harrison that I’d get one off the peg. But the knowledge that I had this need and didn’t know how to deal with it marked a pattern for all subsequent writing. To flee to the pub with an argumentative lacuna still in play is to have diminished pleasure in the face of all but the most robust pint of Old Thumper, or whatever. So the process of writing – for a journeyman philosopher like me – turns out to be not very pleasurable.

Of course, the obvious happy possibility is that the ‘debts’ incurred in the process are paid off in the final stages. A paper gets published. Yesterday, a (joint) applied philosophy paper came properly came out. But I can’t say it brought me much pleasure. (Perhaps only very good papers do; but even bad papers cost in the writing.)

So I now think that the real joy in the academic life is simply being a consumer. Forget the writing. The two new McDowell collections arrived this week and join both the (still very odd) Michael Thompson book and Daniele Moyal-Sharrock’s recentish anti-McDowellian book on On Certainty on my study shelves. The idea of simply toddling through these (on the train to Preston: no time for scholarship during the school day this year) brings me huge anticipatory pleasure.