The actual experience of being an “academic”, as opposed to the naive image I held to in my 20s, has very nearly extinguished my desire to write. I still have the ability to put words on the screen, occasionally even on paper, which is vital to keeping myself profitably employed–which is, in turn, vital to maintaining the quite comfortable middle-class life all my impractical philosophical education has secured me. But now the compulsion mostly comes from outside, demanding forms and standards that mean little to me, insisting on productivity, impact, efficiency that neutralises inspiration’s precipitate, courting audiences whose expectations I often find baffling and inessential. Yet, I’ve done little to nurture my desire, still less to protect my time and energy–the guilt for my lingering malaise is my own.
So, this quiet, personal “blog” (an old word that once felt so new) is a modest space to collect kindling, throw off sparks, perhaps enjoy some warmth, alone or in amiable company.
I like to muse, would like to muse more. I also like to think about the origins and sources of words, without too much scholarly rigour, letting associations rattle and hum in the mind.
muse2 | mjuːz | verb [no object] be absorbed in thought: he was musing on the problems he faced. • say to oneself in a thoughtful manner: ‘I think I’ve seen him somewhere before,’ mused Rachel. • (muse on) gaze thoughtfully at: he sat on the edge of the bank, legs dangling, eyes musing on the water.
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French muser ‘meditate, waste time’, perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.
I like to be absorbed in thought. I presume many who pursue academic careers enjoy this feeling, but I suspect it is both a more common enjoyment and a more specific activity than “research” or “inquiry” or “arguing”. Musing, for me, suggests both depth and looseness–thinking deeply but allowing that thinking to wander, to flow in the deepest currents of a steam of thought.
Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept goingBruce Springsteen, “Hungry Heart”
I want to think at a humane speed and scale. The rush and clamour of the digital commons, once an enticement to think and write, now feels like an angry, wild storm pushing my thoughts back across the threshold, forcing me to abandon my pen (or keyboard).
I want to write in a humane voice. The competition and expertise of accepted academic form, once a challenge that inspired me to battle for space and sharpen my tools, too often feels like a scramble for status, a burnishing of credentials.
These things are not impossible in the digital medium, or the academic genre, as such–but they are impossible to me, at the moment. Instead, I’m musing, slowly, without clear purpose, lingering over ideas and words. Flowing where the great black rivers flow.
New Jersey Turnpike riding on a wet night
‘Neath the refinery’s glow out where the great black rivers flow
License, registration, I ain’t got none
But I got a clear conscience ’bout the things that I done
Mister state trooper, please don’t stop meBruce Springsteen, “Mr State Trooper”
I’m drawn back to the “perhaps from medieval Latin musum ‘muzzle’.”
Further exploration leads to:
Old French muser (12c.) “to ponder, dream, wonder; loiter, waste time,” which is of uncertain origin; the explanation in Diez and Skeat is literally “to stand with one’s nose in the air” (or, possibly, “to sniff about” like a dog who has lost the scent), from muse “muzzle,” from Gallo-Roman *musa “snout,” itself a word of unknown origin.
To ponder and dream and wonder, to let valuable time slip away across the surface of the day, to smile at the indulgence.
I want to stand, no, loiter with my nose in the air, tracing the scents of the world around me, to put my snout to the ground, between the rocks and leaves, to take in the world.