20 August 2005

That One Thing

The common joke is that academics only ever have one good idea in their lifetime; they only really write one book, but then they continue to rewrite it over and over again. If it's a really good book, a really great idea, then the rewrites are tolerable and the later books sell. Of course, in order to write the later books, the academic in question must be willing to continue saying the same thing for 30, 40, or 50 years. Some academics have a mediocre first idea, so the later books aren't worth writing. Some academics have a great first idea, but aren't willing to slog through the rewriting. Thus, if an academic has only one book, it means that they are either quite average or really smart.

I got my one idea in 1993. In spring of that year I read (but didn't understand) some Derrida, and I read (and mostly understood) some Bill Connolly. Then, in the fall I read Heidegger, particularly his later writings on language.

So what was the one idea? Language is not a tool for use by humans; rather, language is that upon which human existence depends and that in which it flourishes. This idea is not intuituitive (nor is it all that earth-shattering), so I spent some time trying to explain it and trying to figure out what it implications are for how we think about history, temporality, and politics.

Then, I thought I'd buck the trend and study queer theory, cultural studies, film theory, and the politics of television - in other words, try to come up with a second idea. I've now written enough in those areas to know that I'm still saying the same thing. (But perhaps??? in interesting ways.)

But none of that narcisstic bio nonsense was the point of this blog entry. The point was to say that my "one idea" is perhaps more clearly expressed over at TheOddsAreOne in these three posts - here, then here, and finally here. Paul isn't tallking about Heidegger or language, but what he's saying about human beings and their relationship to the universe, to history, to time, is really all I've ever tried to explain about language/politics. Sad it took me so much more time and so many more words...

Oh, and along the way, I think I finally get what evolution is all about. Funny how it has almost nothing to do with "survival of the fittest."

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