Thursday, March 9, 2017

Memories and their Meaning

In which I am uncomfortably emotional (for a British person). I have recently accepted a (deferred) position at the London School of Economics -- I will be a professor there starting in August of 2018. This is the kind of thing that gives people moment to reflect on Where They Are, and, millennial that I am, I have decided to do at least some of that publicly on the interwebosphere.

Two things primarily come to mind. First, I miss my mother. Very cliché! But true for that. From a working class immigrant family, she is the first person in my family (well I only know with any degree of confidence: that I am descended from) to go to university; at Oxford no less, where she studied English literature. She died when I was 14, before I was really the person I am now. If all goes to plan, I will be the first person in my family to get a PhD, also in a humanities field, and with this job offer also the first to work as a professional-intellectual. I think I have grown into someone who has more in common with her than I did when she was alive. I cannot regret not being this person back then -- I was young and immature and could only have been so; I needed to go through what I did to become who I am. But, if not regret, as I reflect on my life now I find that there is still a feeling in the region that I am struggling to capture. One day, one hopes and is taught by faith, we will be reunited, in some sense, in some way. In the mean time, though, I shall carry this with me, and hope that I at least will honour her memory.

Second, I am thinking about the life I have chosen. I said above that I shall be the first professional-intellectual in my family; but what an odd thing to be! A ``professional-intellectual''; it even sounds ridiculous, though I think it is quite accurate as a description of my future role as a professor of philosophy. Why have I made this odd decision to be something I think absurd when said out loud?

I have recently been watching the films of Makoto Shinkai. He tells and retells the same story, stated at the right level of abstraction. The story is of two people who share an intensely emotional experience together, the natural fulfillment or culmination of what they shared would be a romantic relationship -- but circumstances intervene, they are unable to develop that relationship, and instead they must find some other way to live a life in fidelity to that experience and what it meant. (This is not spoilers; it is usually very obvious from the get-go that this this is what is happening, and in any case by this point he is a big enough name in the market he is aiming at that he writes films with the expectation that his audience will know this is the deal before they go in.) I think that what draws me to these films at this moment, in addition to their beautiful animation and touching portrayals of every day lives, is that at one more level of abstraction I can really identify with that story, at this point in my life.

When I was younger, in the period after my mother died (probably not coincidentally!) I was sure I was going to be a priest in the Catholic Church. Especially vivid, I recall when I was 16 going on a pilgrimage to the monastery at Assisi. Looking out over the mountains on a clear summer's day, inwardly I was so sure, my life path was affirmed, I knew who I was and what I wanted to be. Circumstances intervened. That is not the path I am on now. Maybe it is not even related to what I am doing now: the fact, that this experience has been so much on my mind may be more related, in none-too-flattering a manner, to the recent debate in the philosophy blogosphere about self-importantly taking our work as The Work -- see here, and follow links backwards. Perhaps so. But, for all that, I do hope that, in some ways, I am none the less still remaining faithful to that experience, and what it meant to me, and the aspirations and ideals I held and still hold.

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