2nd Series: Reports from an Academy

With the previous post I began a new series, cognominated "Reports from an Academy." The reports are pure fiction. Imagine, if you would, a middle-aged professor of literature at an elite institution, call it Nevahwen University. Each month, worrying that it will all be over soon, a slipshod, unsystematic professor still in his good years, or so they tell him, pens a bulletin to the outside, without much hope anybody will receive it. Nevahwen is the school's name as well as its motto. Will the conflict between understanding the world and becoming successful in the world finally be decided in favor of understanding? This is the professor's eternal question. He asks: when? Wen? In a cynical mood, his answer is: Nevah. Nevahwen. Postcards from the front lines of a battle over the future—at the clash site of two generations, two or more economic classes, and in the midst of these conflicts, tiptoeing along a schism between the value of understanding and the value of success—postcards from the schism, these reports portray experiences that may be hard for those at home to fathom. Take them as proof the professor is still alive. Take them as recognitions of failure or declarations of hope. Take them as you will.

 

3 Quarks Daily

1st Series: Current Genres of Fate

In these monthly posts I will survey the landscape of “fateful thinking,” as we glimpse it on the moons orbiting old Europe today. The premise will be that in politics, culture, academia, medicine, economics, and private life, among other regions of experience, we—those in charge and those charged up and those under the thumb of others in this orbit—tend to express ourselves, on the most important matters, in fateful terms. “It has to be like this or that.” Whether we are correct or not when we say “it is” and mean “it must be,” “it has always been,” we regularly call on such statements to support our most critical decisions. Let us assume provisionally that, despite so much hurried change, with all our freedom of imagination and all our progress, we still tend to base our decisions on what must be the case, what could not be otherwise, what comes out of a finished past or certain future and determines the core of our being. In our times these sound like old fashioned, even ancient sentiments. For the purposes of this survey, I shall assume that “fateful thinking” is as at home in the new as it was in the old. Fate ideas operate equally in science and religion, although “fate” certainly takes distinct forms in each. What remains then is to describe and analyze those forms, the current genres of fate, in hopes of discovering by chance a way of living in which the idea of life has not already been settled in advance.