Friday, August 29, 2008

31.0 On Constable

Yesterday, Kate and I had dinner with John Constable, one of the most significant intellectual influences in my career, and his wife Chieko, who is to Kate as a left glove is to a right. We dined at the Athenaeum club in London, a club that counts poets like Yeats and Eliot in its membership, as well as businessmen, scientists and more.

The dinner was excellent: Kate tried grouse for the first time, while I had potted shrimp for the first time (as a prelude to my tuna). After dinner, strawberries and cream for me. John and Chieko are on diets that preclude many of the good things in life, but they were able to take the strawberries.

Most importantly, after dinner, a discussion with John not just about my research topic but on the nature of intellectual work. The Athenaeum is a hub of intellectual life outside the university -- and John is well suited to its environment.

John is a real intellectual. I mean this because his mind has a limitless energy and a limitless capacity to grapple with new intellectual problems.

He has a real appreciation for intellectual history (manifest in his work on Richards; see the ten volume set, one of which is here: http://www.amazon.com/Practical-Criticism-I-1919-1938-Criticisms/dp/0415217350).

He nonetheless has a powerful theoretical drive to answer contemporary critical problems (see the work on poetics here http://en.scientificcommons.org/268459).

And he has been a significant force in politics in the UK in the last five years (see his work as Director of Policy and Research for the Renewable Energy Foundation at http://www.ref.org.uk/).

Some people become academics because we have a moderate talent to teach and willingness to work to keep those teaching jobs (me), others because they have a powerful intellectual, academic vision (like my friends Josh).

John is an intellectual on an even higher order, because he has the ability to see through the complexities and obfuscations that mask the answer to a problem. Seeing the path to the answer, he then has the discipline to approach the problem systematically to find its answer. This is just as true in thinking through Richards' intellectual heritage as it in thinking through the distinction between verse and poetry as it is in thinking through correct energy policy.

John found it funny that I wanted to read his policy work. But I do, for the same reason that I have books filled with Walter Benjamin's scribbling on the back of notebooks and Albert Camus' notebooks while en route to America and Kenneth Burke's incomplete manuscripts. Because when the mind is of a certain caliber, you follow it, wherever it may go.

If you are reading this blog, you should probably follow it. too.

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