These things are so difficult to quantify and measure that I suspect no one ever escapes bewilderment about them.
What actions and positions are to my advantage right now?
Am I making progress?
What is it to make progress?
Toward what am I making progress?
Toward what ought I to be making progress?
Am I successful?
What is it to be successful?
What definition of success is the right one for me?
Which one will make me feel most successful in the end…?
I don’t know. My entire academic life (and often my personal and profession lives as well) are marked by uneven progress and wild swings in confidence. One moment I am master of the universe; the next I am a third-rate apprentice. One moment I am sure I am the vanguard of a new generation of . The next moment I am sure that a new generation has already passed me by, and that I have waited too long to make my move.
Right now I am caught in bewilderment about the politics of my department. It’s all politics in the end, I suppose. I’m trying to remember my Weber and to see whether I can happily stop having these thoughts tonight by retreating to an adequate Weberian level of abstraction.
Everything is politics. Everything is political. There is no such thing as science, knowledge, economics, literature, birthdays. It’s all just politics.
Maybe it’s actually Darwin I’m hearing and smelling tonight.
At times I’m fairly positive there is almost no difference between a human and a single-celled animal. Yes, there’s a certain level of abstraction there… but for those of us that aren’t particularly impressed by individual idiosyncrasy, it certainly seems important to work at some minimal level of abstraction if anything is to mean anything at all, beyond its own identity.
That’s the late modern ideal, of course, the logical conclusion to the process of individualization. The ultimate meaning of everything is uniqueness, pure information, discretion, location. The “this” and an infinite universe of “this-ness.”
That’s the thermodynamic prediction, too, of course. And endless field of energyless, colorless, immobile individuals stretching forever and ever away in every dimension. All individuals.
Of course, at that point, the abstraction that means something is also the one that will depress the hell out of you… or would, if there were any you there at all.
Sometimes it seems as though there’s more to Ice Road Truckers and the state fair than there is to anything else. Maybe George Bush was right and we should never have invented sanitation or agriculture. Or if we go too far toward the “precognitive” man do we once again start to erase meaning?
Is meaning something that inheres in mediocrity rather than in achievement of extremes? Is meaning, to refer to a Hessian formulation, little more than the ultimate in bourgeois values?
I am supposed to be working right now. The answer to the question of the end toward which I am working… eludes me at the moment.