Long Words Go Rattling By

Yesterday, I spoke to a student of philosophy who, after proving her ability to reveal gaps in philosophical argument, abandonned philosophy because to her mind, Western philosophy had taken a wrong turn and she didn't want to spend one more year of her life having to read books that weren't fulfilling. As someone halfway into academia, I often wonder about the delicate dance between the hour upon hour of mechanical chain gang work on the calcified body of work that constitutes context, and the freedom of one's own exploration: intuitive, personal, hopefully serendipitous.
Of course, it is far less risky to ignore the latter and partake of the chain gang, permanently. But Matthew Arnold has written that the machine is not humanity at its best but laziest. That said, there is a reason why academic work is slow and plodding; it's like filial piety. One is to first read the work of one's predecessors before having one's say. Also, how foolish one is to discover the Americas, post-Columbus.
It is a delicate dance. But since the canon consists of books that are far from being read for the first time, there are parts that may be skimmed, for much of the material is the apology that had been necessary in the historical period when they were written; necessary as a way to 'hold open the ground' for their new contribution.
It is my opinion that there is far more jargon in academic work than there need be. G.K. Chesterton writes: "Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too indolent to walk and think for themselves." I defer to the previous paragraph: it is easier to take a phrase from a thinker and parrot it than to break it down into its definition and applications. Simplicity, Chesterton writes, requires thinking.
Thus we may compare The Book of Tea with Heidegger. Though Heidegger, as my philosopher-interlocutor of yesterday points out, is more of a poet, with discursive flight that is at once serious but freeing. Still, Kakuzō's prose is like minimalist, essential furniture for the mind, it leaves plenty of empty space. The reader is invited into that reflective silence and speak their own thoughts. There is not as much room in Western philosophy.
I would illustrate this with the massive-scale gold mining practices of today. The earth is exploded and several massive truck loads are sifted but for milligrams of gold. There is something disproportionate about that work.
"The swiftest things are the softest things," Chesterton writes, and "seriousness is not a virtue". It is the freedom to make such remarks that, to my mind, make up the beauty of narrative. But narrative can only be rich if it reaches into other academic domains, and this is where the difficulty of the dance begins, for me.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License