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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On "Moving On"

I really enjoyed, and was challenged by, Stanley Fish's recent "Opinionator" column, "Moving On."  I have a lot of books, at home and in the office, and (I confess!) I like having a lot of books . . . in piles, on shelves, across the desk, in one of those wheel-cart things.  I write in them (imagining ludicrously that I or someone else will someday be curious about my in-the-margins reactions) and just cannot buy the idea that Kindles and Audible.com are substitutes.  Yes, I know, this "like" of mine reveals both an insecurity and a less-than-commendable showoffyness.  Still, like the Facebook group that "judges you when you use bad grammar", I cannot pretend that I don't judge when I'm in a house with no books.  And, giving them away -- even ones I didn't like -- has always been kind of hard. 

Fish reports, though, that, after getting rid of a whole bunch of his own (heavily annotated, I assume!) books, he "felt nothing":

In the hours and days following the exodus of the books I monitored myself for a post-mortem (please excuse the hyperbole) reaction. Would I feel regret? Nostalgia? Panic? Relief? I felt nothing. What should have been a momentous event barely registered as I moved on to what seemed the more important task of choosing a new carpet. I was reminded of what a colleague who had left a university after 23 years replied when I asked him if it was difficult to do. He said, “It was like checking out of a motel.”

Really?  "Nothing"?  That's striking.  And, I think, impressive.   To be able to look at piles of notes, and annotated books and articles, and "to do" files, and shelves with banker-boxes labelled with various laughably-over-ambitious project-names, and "say," as Fish reports having said:

What I saw on the shelves was work to which I would never return, the writings of fellow critics whom I will no longer engage, interpretive dilemmas someone else will have to address. The conversations I had participated in for decades have now gone in another direction (indeed, in several other directions), and I have neither the time nor, if truth be told, the intellectual energy required to catch up. Farewell to all that. So long, it’s been good to know you. I’m sure you’ll do fine without me.

This strikes me as very . . . "healthy", and not just because Fish is, he says, moving toward retirement.  The fact that the "conversations" in which we are (or imagine we are, or aspire to be) participating were happening before us, and will go on after us, and are probably indifferent to (most of) us is a tough one for academics to confront, I think.  After all, we are required to assert confidently and often the novelty and importance of our interventions in these conversations.  And, it seems fair to say, Fish's actually have been pretty important.  He can still say, so long, it’s been good to know you. I’m sure you’ll do fine without me.  Again, impressive.

Posted by Rick Garnett on May 29, 2013 at 11:40 AM in Books, Rick Garnett | Permalink


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