A measure of the departure of an orbit from perfect circularity. A circular orbit has an eccentricity of e = 0, an elliptic orbit an eccentricity of 0 < e < 1, a parabolic orbit an eccentricity of e = 1, and a hyperbolic orbit an eccentricity of e > 1.
It begins to dawn on me (more than begins really, but now it’s a fully conscious thought) that I cannot be both creative and scholarly at the same time.
This is not my shortcoming. It is rather a shortcoming of everyone else.
In the telluric depths and the volatile outer reaches I am suspect because of my social-scientific aspirations. These make me a stoic, a modernist, a colonialist, a male chauvinist, a shallow and unreflective empiricist, colorless, odorless, an impostor, a cynic. The rational mind in me—the coder, the statistician, the analyst—undermines any veneer of the essential or the transcendental, of the luminous aura of the sort that is meant to pour forth from the gaping pores of the inevitably slightly mentally ill creative genius. (Nevermind that K&R C has always seemed transcendental to me, Lambda calculus and its semiotic relationship to Newton’s calculus doubly so; the others don’t see it this way.)
Meanwhile, in the white halls of the secular and the profane, precisely the opposite is true. For me to make pronouncements about murderous peaces, cannibals and drunken stupors, balloons and bitches and weight-loss transylvision wonderlands, innuendo and crescenuendo, bodily fluids and the battle between good and evil is—to say the least—a non-starter. Whatever they think of the speaker of such words as a quantity (and it is not, to say the least, a body of edifying thoughts that they have), they are even more perturbed by the effects of these, by association, on their veneer of rationalist infallibility and The Waxing Seriousness Of The Only Tribe Of Instrumental Wisdom, as well as the on the dreary wads of cash that they hope to bring into the fold in the pockets of starry-eyed adepts and astute and self-congratulating policymakers.
This tension has not, for me, been a positive one.
What was once a natural juxtaposition—creative writing and code writing, literary analysis and social analysis, ecstatic reflection and reflective extraction—has become an uncrossable gulf. As I have tried to straddle it, I have increasingly lost my footing on both sides.
All you have to do to get along is get along. So you keep on getting along. And somewhere along the way, you begin to realize, you got a little too far along, and now there is no going back.
In short, I sometimes worry that the essence of a self that I rather liked is either dying or being ruthlessly dulled; I certainly don’t feel either as wildly creative or as easily and inherently cogent as I was as a young person, and the work that I do now, in juxtaposition, often appears to pale in comparison, on both fronts, despite clearly involving effort and labor several orders of magnitude more intense.
What has changed is that I have been forced to grow up. I feel all around me the pulling from both directions—the demand to choose. One can be successful as a Serious Rationalist only if one gives no hint of being one of the Adherents of Critical Lunacy and Freakish Ur-Concession. And vice-versa.
You can either be Antonin Artaud or Talcott Parsons, but you can’t be both because neither industry will tolerate your being both. Is it culture? Political economy? Pollution? Oppression? In any case, if you’re a person for whom such abilities depend each in turn on the exercise of the other, it becomes increasingly unclear to you just what is to become of your once comfortable eccentricity, not to mention your productive capacity.
As an aside, just in time for 2010 the 2010 blog may be going away very soon, to be integrated (in the most self-imposed of totalitarianisms) with academic work and social networking data into a single, all-encompassing Drupal-based system that I began by calling the “academic life aggregator” but that I increasingly want simply to call my “life aggregator.”
We’ll see if this new and wondrous tool can do something about restoring an imposed and synthetic unity on what has become a rough series of fragments indeed.