The Slow Pace of Constantly Interrupted Labour, Composing, 16/10/2013

I have been writing a single essay for nearly an entire year.

Of course, I don’t mean literally that every moment of my waking existence has been consumed by the composition of a single article. I’ll admit that could be a hilarious short story, though.* I mean that sometimes, events intervene in the writing of a piece that should have been short and easy, which makes the writing process much more difficult. 

* Yes, as of this post, I’ve already started writing that story. I’ve called it “Fixation.” Updates in the future.

The story goes something like this. Around this time last year, I thought of an idea that I could use for a job talk if I landed any interviews for tenure-track positions. It was based on some of the research I had been doing on Henri Bergson’s philosophy, particularly his relationship with the science of his time. I’ve discussed this in earlier posts, but what’s most interesting for this article is what we can learn from how well Bergson engaged with his contemporary science for Matter and Memory, the mistakes that crept into Creative Evolution, and the phenomenal public disaster of Duration and Simultaneity. From this lesson, I hoped to derive a more general lesson about the relationship of science and philosophy, and the dangers that can arise in the conversations between them. The Bergson analysis would occupy the middle bulk of the essay, and the general points about philosophy and science would frame the analysis, making Bergson a case to understand this more general problem.

I feel like Bergson was more relaxed writing his
books than I was while I was writing one article about
his work.
Once I thought of the idea, I wrote a short provisional outline and began the research, gathering a great deal of secondary material on Bergson’s philosophy and raiding my own notes and archives on the history of philosophy’s relationship with science for the framing problem. My PhD supervisor, Barry Allen, was a great help in simplifying my search for material on Bergson. I began reading this material over November and December.

All this time, I was working at the answering service and as a TA for Fall 2012’s introductory philosophy course at McMaster, squeezing in research when I could. I finally wrote the introduction in late December. But I had to drop it for a while. In order to secure the week over New Year’s Eve off the answering service to attend my friend E’s wedding, I arranged to work a full week over Xmas leading up to 27 December. I had hoped to research the essay a little over my break, but returning to Newfoundland for Xmas was as hectic as ever. I love my friends in St. John’s, and had a pretty wonderful time. But I never got much time to relax.

Returning to Hamilton in January, I found myself with TA duties again, and had to catch up on the material for an entire introductory moral/political/legal philosophy course with no warning. I’m not about to complain about the extra unexpected work and money, but I was damn busy. Just as I caught up to the work for my teaching assistantship, the answering service gave me a pile of extra hours: I was one of their best workers, and they were short-staffed to a level that wouldn’t recover until the Spring. And I was called in for blizzard duty. And for a 32-hour three-day weekend for the Ontario civic holiday of Family Day, the same weekend as my excellent but insane 30th birthday party. I had barely started the Bergson essay, so I decided that I wouldn’t get it finished by the time of any possible job interviews. I adapted my essay about Graham Harman and his unfortunate debt to Heideggerian philosophy into a shorter talk of about forty minutes. I already had a version of this paper accepted to the Canadian Philosophical Association conference in Victoria. Bergson went on the back burner while all my writing effort was focussed on this.

At the start of April, I did a job interview on the west coast of Newfoundland. I was running out of steam at this point, and it was all I could do to work on the last stages of the moral/political/legal philosophy course, and continue my hours at the answering service. I had to leave early the day before my job interview because I was breaking down from the stress of the day, week, month, and last year. Though I got a little work done on the Bergson essay, each time I sat down to write it, I had to re-read the entire draft just so I’d know what I had covered already, because my sessions at it were so far apart. This recapping ate most of the time I had set aside to work on it. 

At the end of May, I got word that I was rejected from the position in western Newfoundland. Seniority rules were cutting me out from being considered for adjunct teaching work over the summer and the entire rest of the following academic year. As well, I was too stressed to continue working at the answering service. I got no work on the essay done this month. After I went to the CPA, I spent the following two weeks in June looking after my friends’ apartment and cats in Toronto. I thought I’d be able to relax and work on the Bergson essay, but some unfortunate professional meetings threw me into an even greater depression than I had yet experienced. They convinced me that I would never be able to secure a tenure-track position without several years of teaching experience as an adjunct/sessional, but also that I would never be able to secure such positions in southern Ontario, where unionization had produced hiring rules that prevented new entrants like myself from securing work. For the rest of June, I was too depressed to work. 

I wrote a little of the essay in spurts over July and August after I convinced myself, thanks to some more data on the market, that this advice regarding my tenure-track prospects was wrong. Nonetheless, I put the Bergson and science essay on the back burner while I concentrated on working on some preliminary research on my utopias project, Sartre mostly, and starting this blog to make sure I wouldn’t slip into unproductive weeks of wallowing like I did earlier this summer. I started work on the essay again concurrently with preparing this round of tenure track applications. 

Last Friday, I was about to write the climactic closing section of the essay, but then the incident described in that day’s post happened, and I wasn’t able to work for the rest of the day. I recovered more quickly, however, and hope to get that last section finished this week. 

After all this, I just hope that publishing this essay goes fairly smoothly.

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