Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Work (Ch. 1)

Hall's positioning of Thomas Carlyle at the workaholic end of the spectrum put me in mind of Freud, who at the end of Civilization & Its Discontents suggests that creative & scientific work offer the best possible solution to our inevitable discontent with the human situation.* Freud is not saying that any sort of work will serve to give meaning to a human life, but work of a particular kind. Since Hall seems to be suggesting that academics are particularly well-equipped to manage the dynamics of a reflexive self, I'm surprised that he does not make Freud's distinction between mere work & creative work. I think most academics had an early realization regarding the differences between these modes of work & that many chose the academy over, say, business, because it offered the possibility of creative work. Or perhaps this is implicit in his argument. I'll say this, though, that hardly a day goes by that this kid from the working class does not thank the gods for the privilege of pursuing the life of the mind.

Another question: Where do we place ourselves on the spectrum between the dilettante Casaubon & the workaholic Thomas Carlyle?
*Having rejected drugs, booze & religion because of their obvious downsides.

Update: The spectrum between Casaubon & Carlyle that I proposed above does, as comments indicate, leave a lot out of the picture. What I was groping for was a sense of the way we as academics respond to the demands of our work. Ideally, I am with Carlyle, or, given my particular background, St. Paul: "Work, for the night is coming," a motto Dr. Johnson is supposed to have had inscribed on his watch dial. In practice, though, I am a list-maker & a procrastinator. Looking back on my career so far, I am amazed that I have managed to accomplish as much as I have. On the other hand, I often think of all that I might have accomplished had I been somehow better at my work.