I am finally home from a good but exhausting conference trip to a rather interesting place (to which I will, oddly enough, be returning in a month or so for a different conference altogether).
Assorted ruminations follow.
1) I had no idea that there was any such thing as the Avenue of the Saints (the highway stretch connecting Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN to St. Louis, MO (with an extended toddle through Iowa) until I drove on it this weekend. It’s a sort of development corridor idea, originally the brainchild (if the ol’ Wikipedia is to be trusted…) of a guy from Mount Pleasant, IA who thought it would be nfity to have a four-lane highway connecting St. Paul to St. Louis.
Four lanes, you understand, are the bare minimum one needs to cross the vast expanse of Iowa in between the Saints.
This is more or less what most of the Iowa bits of the trip look like.
2) The Moonrise Hotel in the Delmar Loop in St. Louis is the weirdest possible combination of schlocky excess and genuine charm. One is not always able to tell the difference. There’s no real pressure to do so, though. It really is a very pleasant place to stay (although people for whom sticker shock is a serious medical condition would be advised to confine themselves to staying at the local Super 8 and simply visiting the Moonrise’s lovely rooftop bar).
The moon at the top spins, and moon-themed music rocks the bar…
3) What the hell is up with all of the hookahs, people? I seem to have missed a trend. Every other freakin’ joint in the Loop featured something to please the hookah connoisseur. I nearly took up smoking just to fit in.
4) Not all vintage photographs are charming.
This is what greeted me every time I walked into my hotel room. I thought the kid was being hanged.
5) I love hanging out in the company of other philosophers, although (as one of the few people there working a teaching-oriented rather than a research-oriented job) I did often feel like I was speaking in the wrong dialect most of the time. It was good to see familiar faces and meet new people, anyway, and I did get to soak up some new(er) jargon, which is useful. Many of the papers, although they were in an area of inquiry in which I am not particularly interested (analytic epistemology and philosophy of language, mostly), were quite good, and left me with much to think about. To me, that last bit is what makes conference attendance worthwhile.
6) Related to (5), though, is this: the more I listen to conference papers lately, the more deeply I despise the way philosophers as a community have come to write and speak. Sometimes, I really hate our style, our jargon, our clumsy terms of art. We’ve become clever at the expense of depth, and clear only in the cheapest sense. Our voices have become dull with cautious detail-mongering. Our sentences are graceless, ungainly even at their most logically elegant.
We socialize our grad students and each other to write and speak in the most wretched, halting, ass-covering way possible.
It gives me hives.
Time for some reflection…
Don’t get me wrong — I understand why so many of us write this way, and I do get that our clumsy sentences in the service of epistemological investigation (for example) are constructed that way in order to get at something that might otherwise be difficult (or even impossible) to express clearly. I have no serious argument to make about the aesthetic value of philosophical language; I have no real notion that such an argument would be at all worthwhile. Just the same, it grates on the ear and wounds the reading eye to encounter much of what passes for good contemporary philosophical writing. Our style is…ugly, I think, and it makes me a little sad. It makes me even sadder when I remind myself that I am as great a sinner against the beauty of language as any of my peers.
I always find myself remembering my undergrad Ancient Greek language professor talking about the sheer beauty of the opening sentences of Republic when I hear or read a lot of contemporary stuff, and it makes me wonder whether future readers will find anything graceful in us. Perhaps they’ll think of us the way some of our undergraduate students now think of Kant: mercilessly unreadable in our quest for precision.
Of course, it is also possible that I am so rusty on some of the subject matter expressed in the foul language of contemporary philosophy that I simply cannot appreciate its beauty the way I should. I dare say that’s highly likely, in which case I’m just being cranky and need to suck it up and read some more damn epistemology already.
Back to grading and reading for this week’s classes…