Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Job

From the diary of a six year old boy at the American school in Tangier Morocco: “I get up at 8:30. I eat my breakfast. Then I go to the job.” When I asked what he meant by the job he said, “School of course”. William Burroughs, The Job.

I have an image of how academic writing ought to go. Having won some time to devote oneself to it, one should write unhurriedly, carefully and with the real possibility of discarding things that don't work. There should, on this picture, be no sense of an outcome other than charting, accurately, some region of the space of reasons.

But for me it is never like that. I have today got a draft article back (“Bootstrapping conceptual normativity?”) after a lengthy period of a year or more of review with a 'revise and resubmit' instruction that really just amounts to the injunction to do it all rather better. With a rare moment of insight I realised that I had to do the bulk of it straight away, today even, if it were not to become another weight of tedious and tricky work to do dragging my mood down later. (Oh pesky not quite finished encyclopaedia article on McDowell! How I hate that job.) And so I have, slowing the argument and adding mass to the key moves. It isn't quite done but after 13 hours in front of my screen I am done for the moment.

Pulling my eyes away from my computer screen  just now, I cannot quite believe that the day has just gone like that. With a kind of neutrality. Engaging, absorbing but will-sapping work. Sucking the life, the other possibilities, out of the day at a crazy speed. I will never do anything better or further with April 2nd 2015. 

I have a glass of modest cognac and am playing a maximally distracting acoustic CD (Neutral Milk Hotel) to try to change my mental state from rules and normativity. Writing isn't like teaching. There is no energy burn. And it isn't anything at all like coal mining or military service in Iraq. But it doesn't feel good for the soul in quite the way I might have imagined when I was 20.