You may have noticed that my post from this Saturday relating some memories of a former professor of mine has disappeared. This is because, where I wanted to write a series of brief recollections that depicted what stuck in my mind about a former colleague who died too young this March 1, I expressed them in a way that offended some of his close friends. This is why I’m no good at funerals; I always say the wrong thing. Or worse, I say what I want to be the right thing in the wrong way.
Because I don’t remember Darren as a perfect person. He wasn’t. And neither am I. But where I wanted to describe my memories impressionistically and respectfully, I appeared instead dismissive, as if I held him in contempt.
When I think about my own relationship with Darren as a student colleague at Memorial University’s philosophy department in the mid-2000s, today I think about someone who wasn’t getting a fair shake anymore, and who deserved better than what he got. My first impression of him came when I was 20 years old, taking a summer course from him in the philosophy of the natural sciences. I still have the book of essays from that course, because it was a solid collection of essays central to the development of analytic philosophy of science. I found him very fair to me, after one day in particular. I had volunteered to do a presentation in that course on a subject having to do with philosophy of physics. I had the philosophy down, but was still a little sketchy on the physics. Of course, the physics was the focus of a persistent line of questioning from my friend P. As I was becoming flustered, Darren noticed and filled in the physics background better than I could (and he still gave me a terrific mark on the presentation). It went beyond what I think most professors would do for a student, and I really appreciated his doing me a solid that day.
Because I don’t remember very many people doing the same for Darren, myself included. He would always attend the weekly discussion groups the philosophy department would organize, called Jockey Club. And he would quite often be corrected by some other professors in the department. Sometimes they’d be right, because we all misread an idea sometimes, or speak without knowing the full conceptual or historical context. But sometimes, people would disagree for little more than the sake of disagreeing, picking holes in his perspective that weren’t truly present. I don’t think I ever did that to him. At least, I hope not.
He had a remarkably distinctive mannerism when speaking as well. He would hold his hand up, palm facing inward, in front of him, then draw the tips of his fingers together as he spoke, moving his hand away from him. Back and forth, as his fingertips would draw together and spread apart. I don’t know how he developed that habit. At least Darren tried for some theatrical flair.
I feel as though I never treated him as well as I should have. Partially, that was why his early death affected me so much, so unexpectedly. One commenter on this weekend’s memorial post accused me of acting superior to him. And I didn’t intend to do that the other day, although I appeared to do so in relating the following memory.
I felt uncomfortable around Darren when I’d visit the philosophy department on my occasional trips back to St. John’s during my doctoral work. His academic career seemed to be stalling over the last few years. When he first started teaching at Memorial, he was employed on regularly renewed yearly contracts paying a full salary. Over the last few years, he was hired only as a per-course instructor, with much, much lower pay. He could become frustrated and stressed easily, so I imagine he didn’t take it all that well.
While this was happening to Darren, my own career in universities felt like it was soaring. From 2007 to this year, I’ve attended 14 conferences (across four countries in addition to Canada) including the upcoming Canadian Philosophical Association at Brock University in St. Catharine’s. I’ve presented or commented at all but two of those conferences. My article publications continued at a parallel pace. I felt as though, with a track record like mine, the next phase of my university career was assured. So when I saw Darren still struggling to be published, having trouble just hanging onto his mediocre job at Memorial and not getting any feedback from applications elsewhere, I did feel superior. And I wish I had the chance to make up for that somehow.
It’s why my post from this weekend disappeared so quickly after Darren’s old office-mate Bernie Wills told me how offended he was by what I wrote. In the last year, I’ve hit a similar wall in my own career, one that I think hit me harder because I was so over-confident in the certainty of my coming success. I don’t know that I’ll ever work in a university again, but at least this has hit me just as I turned 30, at a young enough age that I can make a reasonable adjustment to my livelihood. I don’t know what I’d do if the same collapse of academic employment hit me in my late 40s, as I could see happening to Darren. It took me nearly a year just to get back on my feet as it is. For all the academics being pushed out of the system they’ve already given decades to, at a time of life when a fresh start has become practically impossible, I don’t know how recovery can be done.
Bernie told me that he and Darren had prepared some fascinating work on Plato that has so far gone sadly unpublished. I remember one day, Darren being terribly upset over an article being rejected from a journal. But the paper was over 50 pages long, and journals just don’t publish works of that size anymore. I remember in the early days of what became that collaborative project on Plato that Darren tried to explain it to me, something to do with the concept of the dyad. I didn’t really understand what he was getting at, but it sounded fascinating and original. Too many journals of ancient philosophy today are too conservative to publish large, strange interpretive works.
I still think Bernie should try to get a book contract for it, though. More people can read books. That way, more people can have Darren Hynes on their shelves.