Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scared Scite-less

I have been reading a whole lot in medieval studies the past few weeks. I've looked at the work I had been doing. I've collected articles wherever and whenever possible. I have connected with blogs and discipline sites.

And I've been thoroughly humbled by what I have seen. From Michael Drout's many projects to the In the Middle bloggers and everywhere in between, a lot of really bright people are doing a lot of really great and interesting work.

So I'm feeling a little like Prufrock right now.

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

I will press on and the feeling will pass, surely. I can't help but wonder what work I might be doing now had I stayed in academia. It's not a very good question, and I will not ask again. I have some consolation, however, from Borges my hero.

“In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?”

I thought a moment and replied, “The word chess.”

“Precisely,” said Albert. “The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite cause prohibits its mention. To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it. That is the tortuous method preferred, in each of the meanderings of his indefatigable novel, by the oblique Ts’ui Pên. I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors that the negligence of the copyists has introduced, I have guessed the plan of this chaos, I have re-established—I believe I have re-established—the primordial organization, I have translated the entire work: it is clear to me that not once does he employ the word ‘time.’ The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts’ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost.”

“In every one,” I pronounced, not without a tremble to my voice, “I am grateful to you and revere you for your re-creation of the garden of Ts’ui Pên.”

“Not in all,” he murmured with a smile. “Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy.”

In some other world and some other life, I am an academic. In another, I have succeeded greatly. In this world, things are pretty decent.

What is it that Beckett says? "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

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