Borrowed Paperweight

Apology altogether accepted, and wholly unnecessary. As we know, imitation is the most sincere form of copyright infringement. And to reiterate my claim from an earlier letter: you most certainly would make a great addition to this department. The ability to claim authorship for good ideas is the sine qua non of the successful aging academic. Especially if, in a true Lockean spirit, you mix it with some of your own labour to make it sound distinctly yours. Some vocabulary and context not yet available to the source person, perhaps, and you’re all set. If the source person is also a young person, the sense of recognition will usually blend with the sense that all he or she says, writes and thinks has been thought, written and said by you and everyone else in the field much earlier, and will be taken as a sign that he or she is only just now getting around to it. Still encouraged by being on the right track, he or she will not mind, and you’re safe. Indeed, he or she may even find that adding your name as a source of the idea will help him or her get her point across, borrowing your academic weight. If you are less skilled in all of this, conflicts ensue and that’s a very welcome addition to any department to. If all of this sounds too Machiavellian for you, it probably is, and I exaggerate for stylistic reasons.

Speaking of borrowed weight, I came across an old volume by dear Lady Dora Russell, nee Black, called “The right to be happy” the other day. Containing much of her manifesto-style writing on the subject of uncommon arrangements (“free love” and “open marriages”), it’s unbelievably funny that the name on the cover of this edition is “Mrs Bertrand Russell”.

Reading about their and others’ unsuccessful attempts in the excellent Katie Roiphe’s book “uncommon arrangements” got me thinking that the open marriage seem to play the same role for social relationships that alchemy played for the development of chemistry, and the so called “Hard problem” of consciousness does for the mind sciences. It seems impossible to solve, but it’s so incredibly interesting why it doesn’t seem to work that working it out promises to solve a whole lot of other problems and making things more clear. If the problem has something to do with “human nature”, it might still be a malleable feature of that phenomena, and revealing it would serve more uses than just making open marriages work.

Speaking of (yes, this is a lazy bridging technique, I know) unsolvable problems, I do like your idea of trying to explain just why “Parade’s end” is impossible to read. I’m just a bit afraid that the reason will turn out to imply that there is something wrong with us, rather than the writing. Because the writing, as you may have noticed, is very, very good.

Weighing it in my hand the other day, I started thinking of other penguins I’ve handled. We, me and my brother, used to get penguin paperbacks for birthdays and christmases from an old aunt. Aunt Arctica, we used to call her. Now, wasn’t that very witty of us?




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2 Responses to Borrowed Paperweight

  1. Mel u says:

    I wish you would have been along with us for the very productive Parade’s End read along I hosted on my blog a few months ago-I have links to numerous excellent posts -I am now following you on twitter

    • Thank you, Mel u! We wish we would have been, to. Judging by the current pace we probably would have slowed you down, though. Thanks for commenting, and for following us on twitter! I will now run off to that site to return the compliment!


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