Academic Autobiography

Preface

Years ago, when I was still teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, I posted several pages about the current state of academia. I took the articles down in the fall of 2001. I didn't have the time to update them often enough, and so I decided to remove them from my site.

Readers found my academic autobiography the most interesting of all of the pages. I had originally intended it merely as the introduction to the other pages, which contained, among other things, a great deal of unsolicited advice for my students, especially the ones who were thinking about going to graduate school. Given the interest expressed in my autobiographical remarks, I thought that I should revise the page and restore it to my website. The first installment covers eighteen years of my life, starting in 1981 when I enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2001 I added an update that covers an additional two years. The second update brings the story to October 2003. The third update covers November 2003 to June 2005. The fourth update covers the next year of my story. The fifth and latest update takes you up to August 2011.

Much of what I originally wrote in the first two installments remains unchanged, but I have made some revisions and omitted some passages here and there. Because the various sections were written at different times, readers will occasionally notice the present tense where the past tense would now be more appropriate. That's just an artifact of my manner of adding to this autobiography when time allows. I figure that readers can learn to live with this minor stylistic glitch. No one has complained so far.

As you'll see below, I did a couple of projects with Thoemmes Press before it became Thoemmes Continuum. I haven't changed the text to reflect this fact, but I have updated the relevant links, which will now direct you to the Continuum website.


September 1981 to June 1999

I began my undergraduate years at the University of Texas at Austin in 1981. I originally planned to pursue a double major in mathematics and liberal arts. In junior high and high school, my best instructors were usually in my math classes. Mathematics was also one of the subjects for which I thought I had some ability. Consequently, it became one of my intellectual interests, and so I resolved to get a bachelor's degree in it. But I had always been interested in history and literature, and also had a little background in philosophy by the time I entered the university, and therefore I decided to get some sort of degree in liberal arts as well.

UT Austin has a liberal arts honors program called Plan II. The phrase 'Plan II' is the Texan egalitarian way of referring to something that can't comfortably be called by its real name, i.e., a liberal arts honors program. That would sound elitist to some people, I suppose, and we can't have that in the Lone Star State. I applied for admission into the program, was accepted, and thereby officially became a liberal arts major. One of the best features of Plan II is that some classes are reserved for Plan II students. These tended to be the best classes that I took during my years at UT.

Plan II gives its students great latitude in their choice of courses. All that I had to do was to satisfy the basic Plan II degree requirements, which were similar though not identical to those of other humanities degrees. They included a one-year freshmen English sequence, a one-year freshmen sequence in European history, a one-year introductory philosophy sequence taught by a single professor (in my case, Robert C. Solomon, who is still a professor at UT), a sophomore class in economics, various seminar-style classes, and so forth. The rest of my course work was up to me, and at the end of it all I would be awarded a degree in liberal arts, but not one in some particular discipline in the humanities.

While I was satisfying my basic Plan II requirements, I also began taking courses in calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, and so on. After two years of mathematics I decided that while I enjoyed the subject, even though it wasn't easy, I didn't have enough talent for the higher level courses. Therefore, at the end of my sophomore year I gave up my plans to get a degree in mathematics. Instead, I decided to turn my attention to philosophy.

I had taken four philosophy classes in my sophomore year: the aforementioned introductory sequence, history of ancient philosophy, and existentialism. My limited exposure to German philosophy convinced me that I wanted to pursue philosophy in graduate school, and German philosophy in particular. (Thus, unlike some graduate students, I didn't simply drift into graduate school for lack of something else to do with my life after graduating.) I started taking German in my junior year. I enrolled in the intensive class, that is, the one that provided two years worth of German in a single year of instruction. I had the good fortune to have a wonderful instructor as my first German professor, a man named Ralph Read, now deceased. He had gone blind years before from diabetes, yet he was an excellent teacher. At that time, despite being blind, he was also a professional translator who did his translation work with the help of student assistants. I was always very impressed by him.

In my final two years at UT I continued taking philosophy courses, e.g., the history of modern philosophy, the history of analytic philosophy, logic, and continental philosophy, and I took more German and history classes. In my senior year I did an honors thesis on Nietzsche. I also worked as a grader for a logic class: one day, much to my surprise, the philosophy department called me up, saying that they needed two graders for a class, and I became one of them. (The department obviously needed bodies, and I had already taken and passed logic.) By the time I graduated in the spring of 1985, I had taken the course equivalents of degrees in German, philosophy, and history. I graduated with a B.A. in liberal arts with honors in philosophy.

Since I knew that I wanted to do graduate work in philosophy, but wasn't sure where I should do it, I applied to the UT Austin graduate program. I was in it for a year, and during that time decided that I should go elsewhere. (That I should go elsewhere became obvious when I found few graduate philosophy courses that interested me. Two of my six classes that year were in German, both taught by Katherine Arens, and one in psychoanalysis, taught by James Bieri. They were two more instructors who greatly impressed me.) I applied to several schools, and eventually wound up accepting an offer from the University of Pennsylvania. So in the spring of 1986 I was ready to leave Austin for Philadelphia.

Before moving to Philadelphia, I spent the summer of 1986 at a German summer school in the Taos ski valley. Several universities sponsored this school, including UT Austin, the University of Arkansas, and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. By that time my reading knowledge of German was fairly good, but I hadn't had much practice in speaking the language; and since it was my ambition to study in Germany at some point, I needed to improve my spoken German. The school was located in the Taos ski valley (some ten or more miles, as I recall, outside of Taos itself) for a good reason: the place is deserted during the summer. There was really only one rule: we had to speak German all the time, no matter how bad our German was. The isolation helped to enforce this rule, since almost everyone in the area, with the exception of a few locals, was bound by it. I managed to learn to speak passable German by being there two months. It was a good experience.

In the fall of 1986 I moved to Philadelphia and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. I did the usual course work that any first-year graduate student in philosophy does; I simply ignored the fact that I had already had a year's worth of courses from UT Austin. I continued in the program, and in the summer of 1988 I was fortunate enough to get a fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service to study at a Goethe-Institute in Murnau, a little town south of Munich. (Murnau, by the way, was the home of Wassily Kandinsky before the First World War. He lived there until 1914 with the painter Gabriele Münter. The house is now a museum open to the public. Visiting it and seeing the large collection of Kandinsky paintings from his pre-war period, donated by Münter to the Lenbachhaus in Munich, sparked my interest in modern art and aesthetics.)

I returned from Germany for my final year of course work, took and passed my preliminary examinations, and thereby became a doctoral candidate. During the summer of 1989 I wrote papers for three classes in which I had incompletes, the bane of all graduate students. Earlier I had made arrangements to go to Germany to study, and so I spent the following academic year at the University of Munich. While I was there I worked on my German until I became fairly fluent (although I've since lost much of my facility with spoken German, because I haven't had many opportunities to stay in practice), finished another incomplete, attended lectures on German idealism, taught myself some Latin, and read as much German and British philosophy from the 18th and 19th centuries as I could stand. I also managed to travel a bit, but not a lot, visiting various places in Germany, Austria, and Great Britain. I returned to Philadelphia in late August 1990 after having been away for an entire year.

The next three years, until I graduated in May 1993, were devoted to researching and writing my dissertation. While I was in Munich, I had attended lectures on post-Kantian philosophy given by Rolf-Peter Horstmann. He spoke of the pivotal role that Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi played in the development of German philosophy, and this got me interested in Jacobi as a dissertation topic. Once I was back in Philadelphia and writing my thesis, I concentrated on Kant and Jacobi. I managed to get a dissertation fellowship for the 1992-1993 academic year, which ultimately allowed me to finish and graduate that same year.

It's typical for doctoral students to begin looking for a job in what they take to be their final year as a graduate student. Since I was unable to find a job during my first search, I was reluctant to graduate, partly because I would lose my student health insurance, partly because I had no real job prospects. The Penn department told me that it could give me some work, and so I put together a fifth and final chapter and finished my dissertation. I did this with some reluctance, not simply because the fifth chapter was poor (so much so that I'd no doubt be embarrassed by it if I were to look at it again, although the rest of the dissertation wasn't bad), but also because I didn't see any point in ceasing to be a student just so that I could start working as a badly paid adjunct professor. (As a graduate student I could at least purchase health insurance through the university. As an adjunct I had to buy much less useful insurance directly from an insurance company.) Ceasing to be a graduate student in my circumstances struck me as a rather harsh form of failure. Fortunately, I also got some work at La Salle University (where I taught part-time for two and a half years), and so in the year following graduation I was actually better off financially than when I was in graduate school. In other words, my new situation was some sort of advance over my situation as a doctoral student, even if it wasn't what I had been hoping for.

I began looking for a job in October of 1992, a few months before I received my Ph.D. Those who haven't experienced the job market in philosophy first-hand might need some instruction at this point of my narrative. Every October and November there appear two issues of a publication put out by the American Philosophical Association called Jobs for Philosophers. It's what it says it is: namely, a list of academic positions for people with degrees in philosophy (and sometimes other disciplines as well). Like all applicants, I select the jobs for which I believe myself to be qualified, put together my applications — which typically consist of a CV, writing samples, letters of recommendation, course syllabi, and student evaluations — and mail them out. Around the middle of December, schools contact me if they would like to interview me. At the end of December, I travel to wherever the eastern division of the APA happens to be meeting that year, and I go through my interviews. (The main jobs convention is always the eastern division meeting, and it is always held on December 27-30, which is just another reason to hate the month of December.) If I'm lucky, several weeks later I am contacted again and invited to an on-campus interview; I visit the school itself, present a paper, sometimes give a class, meet various administrators, and so on; I wait a few more weeks to find out whether or not I will be offered the job. In my case, I've never been offered anything.

There's more to the philosophy job search, but what I just described is the heart of the process. I've gone through it every year since the fall of 1992. It's a very trying process. First of all, it's very expensive. The applications themselves cost a lot of money. Making all of the photocopies can cost hundreds of dollars. Mailing the applications is also expensive, since they're filled with copies of CVs, papers, and what not; and so they're heavy and thus costly to mail. Attending the eastern APA meetings is paid for by the applicant; none of it is paid for by the interviewing schools. Therefore, one usually has to spend several hundred dollars on traveling and a hotel. Second, schools sometimes make heavy demands on applicants, such as asking for syllabi for classes that they may not have taught yet, but which have to be included for the application to survive the first cut. Even after a school receives an application, it sometimes asks for more information. Some places send out biographical data sheets to be filled out and returned, or ask applicants to write a response to questions about how they see themselves teaching at a school with whatever mission the school in question takes itself to have. Most schools also send out affirmative action forms, which they expect to be filled out and returned, even though no one is actually under a legal obligation to do so. In short, it's all very expensive and time-consuming. I have to update my CV and writing samples, gather up teaching information (which, fortunately, is now mostly done by the department secretaries, a fact for which I'm constantly grateful), make copies, and then put together and mail the applications, which includes customizing a generic cover letter for each application. And I send out a lot of applications. In the fall of 1998, for example, I sent out 70 in all, in exchange for which I had all of two interviews at the APA. (That, by the way, is roughly a 2.8% response rate.)

Little did I know in the fall of 1992, when I began my search, that I would have to go through the process without success again and again and again. Through the spring of 1995 my efforts to find a job were somewhat encouraging, despite the fact that I was never offered a full-time position. I had managed to get on-campus interviews at Florida State University, Fordham University, William Paterson College, and Metropolitan State College of Denver. I have some ideas about why I didn't get any of these jobs, but no candidate ever really learns why he or she didn't get a job. The reasons in the rejection letters are always vague. Sometimes a search committee member will say something that really should have been kept confidential. This happened with me more than once, and so I know a few things that I can't say. These revelations didn't come as a surprise, but it's nice to learn that someone decided to tell me the truth.

Between the spring of 1995 and the spring of 1999 I could barely get a convention interview, much less an on-campus one. In April 1999 I had my first on-campus interview in four years, when I visited the University of Central Oklahoma. That I went four years without a serious opportunity for a full-time position shows just how bad the market had become. It wasn't as if in that time my abilities had deteriorated. I had taught many more classes, received excellent student evaluations, published things or had them accepted for publication, and begun other projects. (My CV contains a list of all my publications.) I'm much better at philosophy than I was when I was getting more interviews. But it hasn't made a difference. Long-standing seriousness of purpose, dedication, and accomplishment are clearly not guarantees of success in academia today; furthermore, and this is more depressing, they are not even the beginnings of a reasonable chance at academic success. The constant frustration of what seems to me to be a modest desire — that is, a desire for a decent position that would allow me to teach and do research in philosophy to the best of my ability, all in a time of dizzyingly expensive tuition — is instructive. It shows just how far schools have fallen from their avowed mission of educating students and supporting faculty research.


June 1999 to May 2001

Shortly after I wrote the initial installment of my autobiography I began teaching at Bryn Mawr College, which is just a few miles outside of Philadelphia. I had responded to an email stating that Bryn Mawr was looking for adjunct faculty to teach in its College Seminar Program, that is, its writing program for freshmen and sophomores. The description of the program was interesting, especially since the courses were interdisciplinary seminars with a maximum enrollment of 20 students, and the pay was $5500 to $7000 a class, depending on one's experience. As this sort of employment goes nowadays, that was an extremely good wage for adjunct work, even though, once again, no benefits were included. I figured that I could teach a new class at a new college without an overwhelming amount of effort, and that I could also make a decent amount of money to make it worth my while. I sent in my CV and began thinking of a class that I could propose in my interview with the director of the program, Professor Jane Hedley, a member of the Bryn Mawr English department as well as the Associate Provost in charge of the College Seminar Program. (One thing, by the way, that I came to like about Bryn Mawr is that many of the top administrators are long-term faculty members. This means, among other things, that Bryn Mawr is less susceptible to the depredations visited on too many schools by the professional class of administrators who roam the country looking for ways to move up the administrative ladder by carrying out spurious changes that mostly serve to enhance their resumes at the expense of the schools in their care.) I met with Professor Hedley, told her about my ideas for a course on the aesthetics of tragedy and horror, and was offered an adjunct position a few days later with a salary of $6600.

This was a welcome development. In the 1998-1999 academic year I had taught only five classes at Penn, which paid a total of $23,000. (I have to laugh, by the way, when I write "only," since full-time faculty at Penn hardly ever teach more than four classes a year. Naturally, they earn much more than I did and receive benefits.) I had supplemented my income by becoming a faculty associate at one of the dorms, which allowed me to eat dinner for free several times a week. Not that I saved much money in this fashion, but every little bit helped. It was fun meeting with students outside of class in an informal context, and I even helped to put together a series of Orson Welles films that we screened in the dorm as well as a field trip to see the re-release of Touch of Evil, one of his best films. All of this had been enjoyable, but I needed to earn more money, and so I was glad to get the opportunity to do so by teaching at Bryn Mawr. It also couldn't hurt, I reasoned, to add Bryn Mawr to my CV. How to improves one's CV is always on the prospective job candidate's mind.

As a result of joining the Bryn Mawr faculty and continuing my relationship with Penn, I was scheduled to teach two classes at Penn and one at Bryn Mawr in the fall semester, and I fully expected (and was proved right in thinking) that I would have the same number of classes in the spring 2000 semester. Thus I was set to earn substantially more money than the previous year. Also, since I had almost gotten a job at the University of Central Oklahoma a few months earlier, I thought that I might have a decent chance at finding a full-time position in the coming year. I wasn't especially optimistic, but I figured that things weren't hopeless. In short, the 1999-2000 academic year started in a promising manner.

My classes went well that fall, I thought. At Penn I taught my aesthetics course, which I'd done many times before, and my survey class in contemporary continental philosophy, which I'd taught a few times as well. Since these were classes that I had done before, I had already figured out how best to teach them and knew what to expect from students encountering the material for the first time. No surprises, no anxiety. At Bryn Mawr, however, I was teaching a new class on tragedy and horror, an interdisciplinary course in philosophy and literature, to a group of students consisting entirely of sophomore women. (Bryn Mawr shares resources with Haverford and Swarthmore, and since both are co-ed, it's possible to have men in one's courses at Bryn Mawr. But my class was in the College Seminar Program, which is restricted to Bryn Mawr undergraduates, all of whom are women.) Since I'd never taught a class with only women in it, I was a bit apprehensive, just because the whole thing was new to me. But I had a very good group of students, most of whom were hard-working, intelligent, and curious. The class went well, and I was pleased with it.

At the same time as I was teaching at Penn and Bryn Mawr, I once again began looking for a job. I revised my job dossier, prepared my writing samples, made photocopies, wrote cover letters, and then mailed everything to the various schools. I sent out fifty applications, much fewer than usual. I'd become less inclined to accept a job regardless of its location, and thus I cut back on the number of applications that I was willing to send out. I made the usual arrangements to attend the Eastern Division meeting of the APA, which is always held on December 27-30, and which this time around was slated for Boston. Then I waited to see whether or not I would get any interviews.

I was contacted by four schools that wanted to interview me, which was gratifying. A total of four interviews is really quite good, especially for someone like me who has been on the market a long time. I was glad to know that people were reading my applications. Two of my interviews went well; two didn't go too well. It's hard to know what makes for a successful interview, but I've learned not to brood over the matter. I came back to Philadelphia and resumed working. Nothing, unfortunately, resulted from the interviews. Consequently, it looked as if I would spend another year as an adjunct.

The spring 2000 semester turned out to be a busy one. My landlord of twelve years decided to sell the house that I was living in. In late January and early February I started to look for a new place to live. One of my housemates and I found a two-bedroom condo in Old City, the part of Philadelphia down by the Delaware River and north of Market Street. We moved in the middle of March. I soon came to like the area. The change of location did me good. It was a lot of fun living in that part of town, especially since I had lived in West Philadelphia the entire time that I had been in Philadelphia.

I had originally been scheduled for three classes for the spring, two at Penn and one at Bryn Mawr. This was enough work to cover my expenses, but my new rent was almost twice what I had been paying. Therefore, I had started thinking, prior to moving, about how to make some extra money. Some friends of mine and I were suddenly presented with the opportunity to do some computer consulting for Eastern National, the non-profit arm of the National Parks Service. We became involved in helping them make on-line bookstores for each of the parks. The work lasted for several months, and I managed to make some extra money.

Also, I agreed to teach a second class at Bryn Mawr in February, a few weeks after the semester had begun. A visiting professor in the philosophy department slipped on a patch of ice and hurt herself severely enough to be unable to continue teaching her classes. I took over her course in the philosophy of religion. By the middle of February I was teaching four classes, working as a computer consultant, and preparing to move to a new apartment. I can honestly say that I had never been so busy in my life, but I needed the money, and I figured that the workload would only be temporary.

I was relieved when the semester ended. My course at Bryn Mawr that spring, a revised version of my course on tragedy and horror, had been somewhat disappointing compared to the section that I had taught in the fall. The students were rather subdued, although there were the usual exceptions. The most enjoyable thing about the class was that I was now teaching it in conjunction with Professor Joe Kramer, a member of the Bryn Mawr English department. We revised the syllabus, and then each of us taught his own section. It was nice having a colleague. My other classes turned out fine, but I was ready for a break when the semester ended. I had been working the equivalent of two full-time jobs for several months.

I spent the summer catching up on leftover projects. I wrote a review of a new collection of translations from the work of Moses Mendelssohn, started to revise an article on Kant that I had submitted to a journal, and wrote up a proposal for a project involving Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the 18th century German art historian and aesthetician.

The story behind the Winckelmann project is interesting. I had been in contact with Rudi Thoemmes, the head of Thoemmes Press, a publishing house based in Bristol in the U.K. In 1999 Rudi contacted me about publicizing a reprint of a 19th century collection of Fichte translations. The two-volume set, called The Popular Works of Fichte, was originally published in several editions, revised over several decades, by a man named William Smith. Thoemmes Press does a lot of reprint work, and my Fichte site was the obvious place to announce a Fichte reprint. I received a copy in the mail, scanned the title page, and wrote up a description of the contents. That was my introduction to Thoemmes Press.

A few months later I met with Rudi Thoemmes in person during one of his frequent trips to the United States. He asked me about ideas for projects, I pitched several, and then we said that we would talk more via email. My best idea was a reprint of Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art as well as some of his most famous essays. I said that I would also translate two essays that had never been done in their entirety or at all, and that I'd write the usual editor's introduction. The whole proposal went over well and was accepted soon after I submitted it. I got to work on it as soon as I could.

I found myself under a lot of pressure during the fall 2000 semester. I had finished with the computer consulting during the summer, but I was teaching three classes again, two at Penn and one at Bryn Mawr. I was teaching in the College Seminar Program again, but this time I was doing a class restricted to freshmen. The course was a new one, something the three of us who were teaching sections of the class decided to call Nature and Culture. A fair amount of the material was new to me, which meant that I had a lot of class preparation to deal with.

Besides the three classes, I was doing some translations for a Thoemmes Press series called Early Responses to Hume. I had agreed to translate five 18th century German reviews of Hume's works. Since I hadn't finished all of them by the beginning of the fall semester, I still had to contend with some of them. Furthermore, I hadn't been able to finish revising the Kant paper that I mentioned five paragraphs earlier. I had to work on that, too. I was also working as an editor for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I simply had much too much to do. The stress was beginning to bother me. That fall I caught three colds; therefore, I was sick most of the time. I had been having problems with stress off and on since the spring of 1999 when I visited the University of Central Oklahoma for an on-campus interview. At that time I was feeling some pain in my jaw and neck which wasn't too bad and wasn't constant, but which was nonetheless annoying. By the fall of 2000, however, the pain would usually start about half an hour after I woke up and would last until I went to sleep again.

To top things off, I still had to reckon with the job market. Earlier in this autobiography, I discussed some of my experiences on the market. One thing, though, that I didn't discuss is the stress that the uncertainty of the whole process places on the candidate. Well, I'd been applying for jobs since 1992, entirely without success. To say the least, that's a long time and a big load of nothing for my troubles. I had been overworked for quite a while. Some sort of change was necessary to deal with the stress.

As a result, I decided to stay off the market in the 2000-2001 academic year. This was not a minor decision: by not looking for a job, I was almost certainly condemning myself to another year of part-time employment, since virtually no one is spontaneously offered a job. The sacrifice would be a worthwhile one, I reasoned: I had never had three colds in a single semester, a fact that I took to be a sign of something that could become more serious if I did nothing about it. I resolved to catch up on as much work as possible by the summer of 2001. I would then be in better shape, academically and physically, to return to the market in the fall of 2001 if I saw fit to do so.

I finished revising my Kant paper, and I sent it back to the editor of the journal to which I had submitted it. The revised version was accepted, much to my relief. (Just because an author revises a paper doesn't guarantee that the revised version will be accepted for publication.) I finished my translations of the Hume reviews for Thoemmes Press, and I wrote a brief book review that I had agreed to do. I started my Winckelmann translations, working as hard as possible to meet my deadline of April 30, 2001.

My stress got much better. It was still an issue, but there were days when I didn't feel it at all. (As I expected, though, it increased as I approached the deadline for the Winckelmann project. That can be a useful form of stress, as long as it doesn't last too long!) I had joined a gym in December of 2000, and working out several times a week helped to relieve a lot of stress, I suspect.

My classes in the spring of 2001 were good ones. I taught my Heidegger seminar at Penn again, for the first time since the spring of 1998. I had a good bunch of students who came to class prepared to talk. My Bryn Mawr course that semester was another version of the Tragedy and Horror class that I'd taught twice before. Joe Kramer and I invited Professor Noël Carroll to campus, since we were using his book The Philosophy of Horror. On February 27th he met with our students to discuss his book, and then later in the day he gave a paper before the larger Bryn Mawr community. I'd never met him before, and since I admire his work, I had been looking forward to making his acquaintance. I wasn't disappointed.

In the spring of 2001 I was asked to contribute an essay to a volume on philosophy and cinematic horror, and I decided to apply my ideas on Heidegger's notion of the uncanny to several films directed by Jacques Tourneur. I figured that it would be a lot of fun to write an essay on horror film, and, furthermore, that it wouldn't be terribly difficult. One of my problems in the years since graduating with my Ph.D. had been that my research had often had little to do with my classes. I figure that this is especially true of people forced into adjunct work, since they don't control their teaching schedule to the same extent as full-time faculty members who are hired with the understanding that they'll be responsible for certain types of classes as opposed to others. In eight years of teaching I hadn't taught a single course devoted to Kant and German idealism, but that had always been my main area of research. Being able to write on Heidegger and horror made life a little less hectic, since the topic meshed nicely with some of my recent teaching.

I decided to do only the academic writing that I really wanted to do, and to take on fewer things simply because the opportunity to do so was offered to me. Many of my fellow academics say 'yes' to too many things. I'd been guilty of this, but I resolved to change. Besides, in my position it didn't make much sense to try to do so much. None of my publications had actually helped me to get a full-time position. The commitment to continue writing was more a matter of self-respect, I think. Since I'm a scholar, I should publish the research that interests me, that most moves me to write. That's what I should do, I reasoned. There was no point in driving myself to distraction along the way.

Eight years had passed since I had received my Ph.D. in May 1993. I'd taught 55 classes at three very different schools (for which I'd received uniformly favorable evaluations), landed two essays in journals and two in books (and been asked to write another one for a proposed book), translated roughly two hundred and sixty pages of Kant and five 18th century Hume reviews, written two encyclopedia entries and four book reviews, put together (with my colleague Yolanda Estes) a proposal for a translation project on Fichte and the atheism controversy (which included a translation that I made of one of the essays from the dispute), learned web design to create a site for the North American Fichte Society (which is the world's largest site devoted exclusively to Fichte), and undertaken a project involving Winckelmann which had no equal in the English language. It seemed to me that this wasn't a bad record for eight years, and so, to be immodest for a moment, I thought that I had grounds for some measure of pride in what I'd done. But even after all of that time and effort, it was still something of a shock to realize that I'd achieved nothing in terms of a sustainable career, and thus still had to live from semester to semester.


June 2001 to October 2003

I managed to finish the Winckelmann project a little before the end of June. Unfortunately, it took me too long, and thus I was almost two months late in delivering my files to the publisher. Thoemmes Press was probably unhappy with me, but I couldn't complete the work any sooner than I did. After I finished the Winckelmann project, as well as the other things that had been hanging over me for more than a year, my stress largely disappeared. Therefore, it seemed that I was right: the main source of the stress was my excessive workload. It was literally a relief to get several pressing projects behind me.

At the beginning of June, before I had finished everything for Thoemmes Press, I had to take time out to find a new apartment. I looked around for a few days, and signed a lease for a one-bedroom apartment in Center City, twenty blocks to the west of my place in Old City. Then I finished the Winckelmann project and went home on June 25 to Texas for a week to see my parents. That very morning I emailed my files to the press. I spent a week in Texas, came back to Philadelphia, and started to organize myself to move into my new apartment. By the end of July I was settled in my new place. I wasn't too happy with it, but I had been in a hurry and therefore was forced to take the first decent place that I stumbled across.

Once life got back to normal, I started the research for the essay on horror film that I had agreed to write, and shortly after the semester began I started to write the essay. Sometimes I'd stay after class in my office at Bryn Mawr and write until late in the evening. I made progress quickly.

While the semester was under way, my Winckelmann volumes came out. It was quite a thrill to see my name on the title page of a book for the first time. My contribution was only a small portion of the entire set, but I was happy about it nonetheless. (Click here for the hardback edition and here for the paperback one.) But the thrill was only momentary, as I suspect it always is.

I taught Nature and Culture again at Bryn Mawr and wound up with the worst group of students I'd had in years. A few of the students, of course, were capable, and a couple of them were actually very good. Overall, however, they were a sullen bunch. At Penn I taught a class on German aesthetics from Kant to Hegel. I enjoyed this class, partly because of the subject matter, partly because of the students, several of whom were excellent, and many of whom were above average. I'd never had many opportunities to teach the more advanced classes, and certainly never an opportunity to teach an advanced class in aesthetics of any sort, much less German aesthetics from Kant to Hegel, a period that interests me a lot. As a result, I enjoyed this class immensely.

My mother died in the middle of the semester. She had suffered from multiple sclerosis for forty-two years, and her illness finally wore her out. My father had placed her in a nursing home in November of 2000, shortly before Thanksgiving. She steadily declined and died peacefully on October 30, 2001. She was only sixty-five years old.

I went home for the funeral, and then back to Texas again for Thanksgiving. There was nothing to do but to press ahead, regardless of how I felt. (I had emailed the first draft of the essay on horror film to Steven Schneider, one of the co-editors of the collection, the night before I flew back to Texas for my mother's funeral.) I applied for jobs, finished the semester, and went to the APA in Atlanta. I had interviews with Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Mississippi, but both jobs were later canceled for budgetary reasons. (This is a common fate for jobs at state universities, by the way). More wasted effort on my part, in other words.

The spring semester was extremely busy. As usual, I taught one class at Bryn Mawr: this time it was Tragedy and Horror, which I'd done three times in the past two years. I had two classes at Penn, both of which I'd taught many times before. So it seemed as if the semester wouldn't be too terribly busy. But early in January I got a call from Haverford College, asking me to take over a class on Nietzsche. The person scheduled to teach it had gone on medical leave and thus couldn't teach the course. Well, with only two weeks of warning before the beginning of a new semester, no one can teach an advanced class on Nietzsche if he or she has never taught such a class. I hadn't. But I had an idea. My class on German aesthetics from the previous semester had included a lot of Schopenhauer and some Nietzsche. In the past I had always included Nietzsche in my existentialism class. Therefore, I suggested that I teach a class on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, which was fine with the folks at Haverford. I now had four classes at three different schools to deal with.

Because I had such a heavy teaching load, there was no time to do any writing. But I figured that it was worth my while to take on the extra class at Haverford, so that I could earn some extra money. I was offered $6500, which was a very good amount for this sort of work. Many adjuncts make much, much less for their classes, and they ordinarily don't get the opportunity to teach such an interesting class. Furthermore, I had a plan for the coming year, and the extra money figured into it.

I had decided to reduce my teaching for at least a year in order to have more time to write. I had learned in December that I could no longer get any work at Penn, and so I hoped to get one class a semester from Byrn Mawr in the 2002-2003 academic year. The extra money from Haverford would make it easier to get by on a reduced teaching load. But by early March it became clear that Bryn Mawr wouldn't offer me any more work. When I had agreed to the class at Haverford, I had thought that it wasn't a bad idea to meet people at a new school, just in case I needed to look for work there. I was proved right. I talked with the chair of the department, and he was able to help me. I was offered a half-position as a visiting assistant professor for the coming year: a teaching load of three courses (one in the fall, two in the spring) in exchange for half of a full-time salary (and even some health insurance, which I ultimately converted into additional salary, since I already had a policy that I wanted to keep).

I was rather happy with how things had turned out. In early April I agreed to write another essay on horror film. Steven Schneider had asked me to contribute an essay of roughly 2000 words to Kinoeye, an online film journal. I ultimately suggested that I write on Eyes Without a Face, a French film from 1959. A short essay wouldn't require much time, and so I figured that I could easily research and write the piece during the summer.

My plans for the coming academic year were shaping up. Yolanda Estes and I had been kicking around a proposal for a book of translations on the so-called "atheism dispute" of 1798-1800. It's a long story, of course, but the basic idea is that Johann Gottlieb Fichte was accused of atheism and lost his teaching position at the University of Jena. As the years indicate, the dispute was not a short one, and it became an important moment in the history of German idealism. No one has ever put together a collection of translations of the main essays in the dispute. I had first had the idea for such a collection several years ago. Yolanda and I eventually worked up a proposal, and we had submitted it to a few publishers. In early 2002 it looked as if we had found one or two who were genuinely interested. We hadn't yet signed a contract, but we were close to getting one, it seemed. Therefore, I figured that in the 2002-2003 academic year I would have a half-position at Haverford, which wouldn't be too time-consuming and would pay me enough to get by, and would spend the rest of my free time working on the translations. I also planned on beginning to write a short book on Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. I had taught this book several times over the years. I'd never yet seen any extended commentary on it; in fact, most of what has been written about it, of whatever length, hasn't been very good. I resolved to write a little monograph on it, and I figured that I could start to sketch out the project in the coming year.

Unfortunately, things fell apart immediately after the semester came to an end. My father had not been feeling well for most of May, and finally had to go to the hospital at the end of the month. It turned out that he had cancer. I flew back to Texas on June 2. A few days later we learned that his cancer was terminal. He died on July 28, 2002. He was only sixty-seven years old.

While my father was still alive, I made the necessary legal and financial arrangements. There's no need to go into the details. He came home from the hospital on June 20. A hospice nurse came to the house several times a week. Friends and relatives were on hand to help. Part of what I had to do was to take over the editing of a book manuscript that my father was completing for a publisher. He had written a book on 19th century baseball history. I took over the project for him, and it occupied me off and on for the next several months.

After my father died, I spent another month in Texas, and then returned to Philadelphia on August 28, 2002. The new semester started five days later. During my father's illness I had researched the little essay on Eyes Without a Face; I wrote it shortly before flying back to Philadelphia. I made a few revisions after returning to Philadelphia, and the article was online a few days later. The rest of the semester was taken up with teaching at Haverford and dealing with estate matters in Texas. All of my earlier plans to do more writing had to be postponed. I flew back to Texas once a month from September to December.

When I applied for jobs in October and November, I was thinking that I might have to leave Philadelphia after the end of the school year. Jobs prospects weren't good, what with the sagging economy. Working as an adjunct no longer had any appeal (and it never had much to begin with). Because I had inherited a house and car, I could live comfortably in Texas without a full-time job. Life as an independent scholar might not be the least bit unpleasant, at least for a while. I'd miss teaching, that's for sure. But teaching on unfavorable terms semester after semester is bad for the soul. It's better not to teach than to grow to hate it.

Going to the APA proved fruitless, once again. Thus it became clear that I would definitely have to move back to Texas, and so I started to make the necessary plans. I completed the editing on my father's book by the end of January, and the book became available at the end of March. It was quite a relief not to have to worry about it anymore.

My father's book is entitled Before the World Series: Pride, Profits, and Baseball's First Championships. From 1884 to 1890 teams from the National League and the American Association competed in the forerunner of the World Series. The book tells the story of these years with an eye on the post-season series. It's fun, but also scholarly, and should reach an audience that extends beyond professional historians. It's available in hardback from Northern Illinois University Press.

Once the book was out of the way, I devoted my time to preparing to move back to Texas and to finishing the semester at Haverford. I made the necessary arrangements with a moving company. On June 21 I flew to Texas. Since the house needed to be renovated, I contacted a builder who had been recommended to me. He and I figured out what to do, and the work began in the middle of July. By the end of August most of the work was done, and so I was finally able to unpack and organize my things. I spent a lot of time in September getting settled into the house, and by the beginning of October I was working on the Fichte translations again and researching two new pieces to be published in the near future. Around this time the volume containing my horror film essay was published by Scarecrow Press. The book is entitled Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror. Its publication seemed to me to be a nice way to inaugurate a new phase of my academic career. It felt strange not to be in the classroom for the first time in a very, very long time. But there wasn't anything I could do about that situation, at least for the time being, except to get used to it.


November 2003 to June 2005

Off and on through the middle of February 2004 I was again involved in renovating my house. Much of the time I couldn't really do any work, since contractors were constantly coming and going. But I managed to translate Fichte from time to time, which was rather difficult work, since his German is frequently terrible. Fortunately, though, it got easier — but not much! — as I become more accustomed to his writing style.

Before leaving Philadelphia I had made arrangements with Thoemmes Press — now known as Thoemmes Continuum — to introduce a reprint of Moses Mendelssohn's Phaedon, his dialogue on the immortality of the soul that was explicitly modeled on Plato's dialogue of the same name. I wrote not quite 6000 words by the beginning of March 2004. Later that month I read the page proofs, and the book is now available. Here's the webpage for it.

For quite a while I had been thinking about starting my own blog. I thought that I should have a regular outlet for writing, however minor the particular efforts might be, that isn't tied to my research. Because many academic projects take years to go from initial conception to publication, scholarship can become a discouraging occupation. Consequently, I figured that a blog would be therapeutic. I could write something up and post it to the blog without delay. It would be as if a little project had been conceived and finished in a very short period of time. There might some feeling of satisfaction in that. After many delays, I finally managed to start my blog on May 2, 2004.

This post — which, by the way, is dated June 21, 2004 — contains various reflections on my first year back in Texas, including my decision to remain an independent scholar and thus not to return to academia. If you follow the link, you'll see my reasoning for not going back. In short, though, I can say here that I came to the conclusion that academia did not have enough to offer me that would make it worth my while to pack up and move somewhere new.

I continued with my research, which at that time was mostly limited to writing a chapter on Fichte's Foundations of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre. For the next six months, until the end of December 2004, I was bogged down in this essay. Because I had injured a tendon in my right hand in early August, probably from working in the yard, I found it difficult to sit in front of my computer and write for any length of time. Unfortunately, the typing-ready position — you know the one I mean, the one in which your hands are poised over the keyboard while you're musing over what to say next — aggravated the damaged tendon. Consequently, there were many days when I couldn't write. Eventually, though, the tendon got better, and I was able, slowly but surely, to complete the first draft.

While I was struggling with the Fichte chapter, I received the page proofs for the volume of the Cambridge Kant edition that Paul Guyer, Fred Rauscher, and I had been working on for many years. I seem not to have mentioned this project by name in this autobiography up to now. The idea behind the volume was always to translate a generous selection of Kant's posthumously published notes and fragments, which is why the volume is called Notes and Fragments. I worked through my part of the proofs and sent them back to Paul Guyer.

While I was waiting for the readers' reports on my Fichte chapter, I decided to take care of a few small things before I moved on to writing a proposal for that book that I still want to write about Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. Some years ago I had written the entry on Fichte for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I revised the piece to accord with the new thoughts that I had developed while writing the chapter that I just mentioned. Then I put the finishing touches on a review of Robert Warshow's The Immediate Experience and revised the text of a lecture that I gave in 1996 on Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment.

At the end of January 2005 I received the readers' reports on my Fichte chapter. Because they weren't especially helpful, I contacted several friends and asked them for their feedback. More time passed. (There's more of that frustrating delay that plagues academic writing!) My friends sent me useful suggestions, and I revised the chapter accordingly. I sent the final version to the press at the beginning of April. A few weeks later I received the copyeditor's queries, which I answered by the beginning of June. My chapter will appear in volume 3 of Central Works of Philosophy, which is edited by John Shand and will be published by Acumen Press fairly soon, probably in September or October 2005.

While I was finishing up the Fichte piece, Notes and Fragments finally appeared. Ten years were required for this project. So now you know why I decided to start a blog!

My house still claims some of my attention, although all the work requiring contractors has been completed. I had several pieces of furniture re-upholstered in late 2004, and I've been restoring old pieces of wooden furniture and decorating the walls as time has allowed.

My current plans are to keep translating the material that Yolanda Estes and I will include in our volume on Fichte and the atheism controversy. As I indicated above, I'm also planning a book on Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. I'll keep everyone posted on that project as it develops.

It's almost two years since I returned to Texas. I've slowly settled into a life as an independent scholar. As the earlier parts of this autobiography clearly indicate, this isn't the life that I planned for myself. It's a good life, however. I've no grounds for complaint.

On the second anniversary of my return to Texas, I posted this entry on my blog. It briefly summarizes the preceding year.

July 2005 to July 2006

After I finished the Fichte chapter — which is now available, I should add — I resumed work on the Fichte translations, somewhat fitfully, I admit, but I began to make progress again. By the beginning of November 2005 I had completed a very rough draft of Fichte's "Appeal to the Public," one of the larger essays to be included in the volume of translations and commentary that Yolanda Estes and I are working on.

After I resumed translating Fichte, I finally made good on a decision from several years ago to start taking piano lessons. I've mentioned before that I'm planning on writing a book about Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. That's still in the works. I'm working on the proposal these days. One motive behind the project is my general interest in Adorno.

About half of Adorno's collected works, which run to twenty volumes in the Suhrkamp edition, are devoted to the aesthetics and sociology of music. I had been thinking for several years, even before I moved back to Texas in June 2003, that I might someday wind up writing something on these aspects of Adorno's work. Maybe, maybe not. It was just a passing thought, but it led me to start thinking about studying music, and piano lessons seemed the most natural way to do so.

I had also been thinking about what I would do for my next translation project, that is, what I might do after I finish with the Fichte translations. I've been toying with the idea of re-translating some of Wagner's prose works. Why that's so is another subject for another day. But I figure that if I eventually apply myself to translating Wagner, I should first develop greater technical knowledge of music, even though what I'm thinking about translating isn't especially technical.

Therefore, in July 2005 I finally resolved to begin piano lessons. Unfortunately, I didn't own a piano. Consequently, the first thing to do was to buy one. Then I could find a piano teacher.

Since I didn't know anything about buying a piano, I began looking on the web for advice. I quickly learned that showrooms don't post the price of new acoustic pianos on the web. Used pianos, yes, and only then sometimes. The thought of wandering around the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area in search of a piano wasn't especially appealing. So I started shopping on the internet for a digital piano.

I quickly found that prices for digital pianos are very reasonable, that the sound is considered comparable in quality (though not equal) to that of acoustic pianos, and that I could have my choice delivered to my door. I read online reviews, considered my needs, and after some debate settled on the YDP-223 from Yamaha.

I placed my order, and the YDP-223 arrived a few days later. I assembled it, which was easy to do, and found a suitable spot for it in my house. My lessons began at the end of August 2005. I've no great musical gifts, but I've been making progress. It's even fun from time to time.

I didn't take up the piano simply because I might have some future scholarly use for whatever I manage to learn from taking lessons. I wanted to do something entirely new to me — I had never taken music lessons before — and studying the piano would certainly be entirely new to me. As I've mentioned before, the death of my parents left me in a position to live as an independent scholar. I wanted to take advantage of my newfound free time, but not only to write and translate as I please. Studying the piano is not something that I could have done had I remained an academic. If I were to return to academia, I would probably have to give up music lessons, or at least drastically curtail them. Consequently, studying music, in addition to my scholarly studies, is another expression of my resolve to stay out of academia permanently.

As 2005 came to an end, I once again heard from Steven Schneider, the horror film maven whom I've mentioned before. He asked me to contribute an entry to a BFI film guide that he is putting together. I chose a very odd silent film entitled Häxan. I did some research and completed my entry just a few days ago. It's just over 500 words in length. I'll post a link to the book once it appears.

In January 2006 I met with a young woman who had contacted me through my blog. She was seeking advice about going to graduate school. She happens to be from my part of Texas, and so she and I arranged to meet to discuss her situation. I told her that I had once written a webpage devoted to the issue of going to graduate school. (This academic autobiography was originally intended as an introduction to several pages on academia.) She expressed an interest in reading what I had written, and so after some delay I posted the original page to my blog. I added a few of my current thoughts on the topic.

After that page was online for a few days, one of my former Haverford students, who is about to go to graduate school (and has since been accepted to Princeton), asked me how long I think someone should search for an academic position before turning to something else if the search should prove unsuccessful. I wrote up an entirely new post in response to his question.

If you happen to be a professor advising students who are thinking about graduate school, or if you've stumbled across this page in your efforts to decide whether or not to go to graduate school, I'd appreciate your passing along the links to these two posts to others who are considering graduate school.

I managed to stick to my resolution to post an annual blog entry about the previous year. This link will take you to the one written on the third anniversary of my move back to Texas.

So, to sum up, I'm studying the piano, translating Fichte, and thinking about future projects. The Fichte project will probably take two years to complete. I'll post progress reports when there's progress to report.

August 2006 to August 2011

It's been five years since I last updated my academic autobiography. As you can imagine, a lot has happened. So it will take me a while to explain it all.

In the previous installment I mentioned that I was translating Fichte in the middle of 2006. You'll recall that for some years Yolanda Estes and I had been working on a book devoted to Fichte and the atheism dispute. We had begun the project many years earlier, but we hadn't made much progress. That was mostly my doing, since I couldn't concentrate on our project until I moved back to Texas and became an independent scholar. By the middle of 2006 I had translated enough that it made sense for me to visit Yolanda so that we could work together face to face. I visited her twice in 2006 and a third time in 2007. We were making progress, and so it seemed that we could finish the final draft of the book in a year or so.

But life always gets in the way, for in October 2007 I suddenly had to go to the emergency room. Late one night I started to feel intense abdominal pain. After a couple of hours I decided that I wasn't getting the flu or some other normal ailment, and so I called 911. Ten minutes later I was talking to paramedics and on my way to the hospital.

I wasn't in fear of my life, but I was in a lot of pain for several hours. The pain wasn't unbearable, but it was very unpleasant. Unfortunately, the doctors at the ER couldn't come up with a diagnosis, despite doing an emergency CT scan and blood work. But my pain subsided after a while. So I went home mystified as to my condition. (If you've never been to the ER, you should know that this happens all the time. You go there, spend an enormous amount of money, and leave without finding out what caused you to go there in the first place. It makes you wonder sometimes why the medical profession is held in such high regard.) My personal physician suggested that I might be having problems with stomach acid. This seemed unlikely to me, but I made some changes to my diet and hoped for the best. I had a few more bad nights over the next two weeks and then felt fine for six weeks. Then one night in December I sensed another attack coming on, and I could tell — don't ask me how I knew, I just did — that this one was going to be vastly more painful than the first one that had sent me to the ER.

I have to admit that this time I wondered whether or not I might be dying. What I felt that night was by far the most intense pain that I've ever felt. Even the pain that I had felt during my first attack in early October paled in comparison. I was doubled over and gasping from the pain while I was on my way to the ER. This time around the attending physician called for an ultrasound test. It revealed, of all things, that my gall bladder was full of gallstones. I had my gall bladder removed a few days later.

Fortunately for those of us who enjoy the benefits of modern medicine, gall bladder surgery is a minor affair. I recovered from my surgery in a couple of weeks and had only four little scars on my abdomen. And because the gall bladder is a non-essential organ, the absence of one has never caused me the slightest difficulty. Having one of the damned things, you see, turned out to be the problem. (This seems to me to be an excellent refutation of the argument from design, but exactly why that is so is an argument for another day.)

Unfortunately, however, my gall bladder episode turned out to be the beginning of an ongoing series of health problems that has interfered, and continues to interfere, with my work to some degree. More on that below.

But let's back up a bit. While I was working on the Fichte translations in 2007, I was contacted by Michah Gottlieb, a professor at NYU. I had been referred to him as someone who was not only interested in the work of Moses Mendelssohn but also had extensive experience in translating 18th century German philosophy into English. (There's a freemasonry at work in scholarly circles that passes along this sort of information.) Would I be interested, he asked, in doing some translations for a classroom reader devoted to Mendelssohn?

That was a good question. Whenever I'm working on one translation project, I'm also thinking about the next one, and it just so happened to be the case that I had been thinking about translating a book that Mendelssohn wrote shortly before he died in 1786. Morgenstunden (Morning Hours) is Mendelssohn's final statement of his philosophy and was intended as his response to the Spinoza controversy that had begun a few years earlier when F. H. Jacobi claimed that G. E. Lessing had become a Spinozist by the end of his life. (I know that all of that sounds very obscure, but I won't bother to explain it here. The content of the controversy doesn't really have anything to do with what I'm writing in this installment.) Despite being one of Mendelssohn's most important works in German, Morgenstunden has never been translated into English in its entirety. So I had been thinking for some years that I could be the one to do it.

Well, by this time in my life I was beginning to grow weary of 18th century German philosophy. It had been my main scholarly preoccupation ever since I had graduated with my Ph.D. in 1993. And since you've read this far into my autobiography, you know how well that turned out professionally. So I was thinking about concentrating on other aspects of German philosophy. In the previous installment of this autobiography I mentioned my interest in writing a book on Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. I also mentioned that I was thinking about re-translating some of Wagner's prose works. I still wanted to pursue those projects. Because the Fichte book had turned out to be so difficult, I was ready to leave the 18th century altogether. But I wondered whether or not there might be some sort of fitting way to end my scholarly involvement with this time period.

And then the offer to participate in the Mendelssohn project came along. I didn't have to organize it. I didn't have to find a press that would publish it. All of that had already been taken care of. All I had to do was to translate material selected by someone else, most of which I had already read in German when I was working on my dissertation. Furthermore, there was already some grant money behind the project, and so I would get some money for my troubles. It sounded like a pretty good deal. I could begin working on the Mendelssohn project as I wound down my involvement with the Fichte book. So I said yes. (And it's just as well that I never started to translate Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden, since someone else beat me to it.)

I began this new batch of work around the middle of 2007, only to be stopped dead in my tracks by my health problems. Not only had I discovered that I had gallstones, I also learned that I had mild hypertension. So I had to start taking medication to lower my blood pressure. I took a while to recover from surgery and to get my blood pressure under control. If you've never had surgery, then you should know that one hard-to-predict consequence of surgery is the effect that the inevitable scar tissue and internal adhesions will have on your body. Although my gall bladder surgery was a piece of cake, and although the incisions had healed very quickly, I had trouble sleeping for several months. Sharp pains would sometimes wake me up in the middle of the night, caused, I suspect, by my rolling over and thereby breaking a bit of scar tissue or causing an adhesion to pop. Eventually, these things worked themselves out, and so by the spring of 2008 I was able to get back to work.

Throughout 2008 I made slow progress on both the Fichte and Mendelssohn projects. I devoted more of my time to the Fichte book, but I also worked on the Mendelssohn material when time allowed. I wasn't able to visit Yolanda again, but we frequently talked on the phone on Sunday evenings. We discussed my drafts as I sent them to her via email. By the end of the year I had completed all of the material that we had decided I should translate for the book. Now it was up to Yolanda to write the notes and introductions, and now I could focus my attention on the Mendelssohn material.

(I should mention in passing that in September 2008 I reviewed a book that will be of interest to anyone who is interested in the perpetually sad state of academia. Take a look at what I say about Professor Marc Bousquet's How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. For entirely obvious reasons, I pay less and less attention to academia the longer I'm an independent scholar, but a press representative contacted me about reviewing this book.)

Unfortunately, a new health problem came to the fore as I began to devote my full energies to the Mendelssohn project. I started to feel considerable pain in my right shoulder whenever I typed at the computer, played the piano, or drove my car. I saw my doctor and then a neurologist, and around the middle of 2009 I learned that I had a pinched ulnar nerve. The impingement was probably a repetitive stress injury, caused, as you would expect, from too many years in front of the computer. So I had to restrict my work schedule, take medication, and go to physical therapy. I started to feel a bit better by the end of September. This allowed me to pick up the pace, and so by the end of 2009 I had finished the first draft of the Mendelssohn material.

At roughly the same time, Yolanda and I began working through the page proofs for the Fichte book. This turned out to be an arduous task that required several rounds of corrections and revisions. We finished dealing with the proofs in February 2010, and the book appeared a couple of months later. It was a great relief to be rid of Fichte and the atheism dispute. The book contains what is by far the most difficult translation work that I've ever done.

Fortunately, the Mendelssohn material was much easier to translate. It was still difficult, but it never presented the same sort of challenge. So it had always gone more smoothly than the Fichte project. Very rarely did I run into something that left me completely stumped when I first read it. That happened to me quite often with the Fichte project.

In my darker moments, which crop up with greater frequency as I get older, I tell myself that Fichte caused my hypertension. And when I'm at in a really bad mood, I manage to convince myself that he caused my gallstones. (I don't know how, but it must be his fault!) But, more realistically speaking, it's hard to resist the conclusion that the many hundreds of hours spent at the computer working on the Fichte translations were the main culprit behind my pinched ulnar nerve.

By August 2010 I had basically finished with the Mendelssohn material. Doing so hadn't actually taken up much of my time. I had taken a break from my philosophical work for much of 2010, which was a good thing. Translating is mentally exhausting, and so I decided to give myself a rest. I started going to a massage therapist for my neck and shoulder, which taught me one thing about life. I learned that everyone needs a massage therapist, regardless of his or her ailments. So it seemed that I was feeling better. But my health took another turn for the worse when I learned at the end of August that I had a hernia.

I haven't the slightest idea how I managed to get a hernia. I never had a "hernia moment" in which I felt something pop inside of me. Far from it. Instead, slowly but surely I realized that something just wasn't right, and the problem turned out to be an inguinal hernia on the right side of my body.

So, once again, I had to have surgery. It's a sad realization of middle-aged life when it dawns on you that you have a surgeon the way many people have a lawyer or an accountant. I called the same surgeon who had removed my gall bladder, made an appointment, and got things rolling to go into surgery on September 3, 2010. I went to the hospital in the morning and was back home in the afternoon. Once again, fortunately, the surgery was a piece of cake.

Unfortunately, however, my recovery was extremely protracted. I don't know the technicalities of hernia surgery, but these days a hernia is often repaired by inserting a piece of mesh into the patient's body. It prevents the intestines from poking through the gap in the muscle wall. (That pinched feeling familiar to anyone with an inguinal hernia occurs when the intestines poke through the muscle wall and can't pull loose back into their normal position. Or something like that.) Well, mesh is mesh. The human body doesn't much appreciate its presence, and so it takes a long time for things to settle down internally. Scar tissue is created as everything heals, and sometimes the mesh goes in one direction while the scar tissue goes in a different direction, thereby causing very sharp, occasionally even stabbing, pains. Sleeping, as you can imagine, is sometimes difficult.

For several months I spent a lot of time, especially in the evenings, lying in bed with an ice pack on my incision (which, by the way, had healed quickly and cleanly). It was all the internal turmoil, whatever its cause was, that kept me laid up for so long. But by Thanksgiving I was more or less recovered from the direct consequences of the surgery.

But I had another problem to deal with, this one an indirect consequence of my surgery. My prolonged inactivity seemed to have caused a disk problem in my lower spine. When I started to get up and around again, I would feel odd sensations in the lower part of my right leg. They weren't really painful, just peculiar, and definitely not normal. I also started to feel something approaching pain across the top of my right foot. This foot ailment turned out to be a serious obstacle to sleeping. I had an MRI that proved that I had a disk problem, but as I became active again — walking, riding my exercise bike, and so forth — the sensations in the lower part of my leg disappeared. So that was a relief.

But the discomfort in my right foot persisted. My neurologist suggested that I might have anterior tarsal tunnel syndrome. At the end of February 2011 he prescribed a mild steroid treatment. It helped a great deal with my foot, although it didn't cure this new ailment. I guessed that I had developed another repetitive stress injury, perhaps by driving a car and playing the piano, two activities that I didn't used to do until I moved back to Texas. (See the previous installment for my decision to take piano lessons.)

And as if to demonstrate that I've fallen under some sort of curse, just as I started to feel completely recovered from the hernia surgery and began to resume working, I noticed a small, slightly painful lump right next to one of my gall bladder surgery incisions. Well, when a lump appears next to an old incision, the first thing you think is that the incision has herniated. I spoke with my surgeon about this, and he said that it was probably a hernia, but also that it might be something less worrisome. I got scheduled for a CT scan, and waited until the middle of June. I had the scan, waited for the results to come in, and then went back to my surgeon. This time I actually had some good news: what could have been a hernia turned out to be merely a cyst. Removing a cyst is just an office procedure, which meant that I didn't have to go into a hospital operating room for the third time in four years. What a relief! I had the cyst removed on July 12, 2011. I was a bit tender for a while, but by early August I was feeling pretty good again.

In the run-up to this latest round of surgery, I did some physical therapy for my foot, which started to feel better as a result. I had spoken with a foot specialist who suggested that the discomfort was being caused by a weak ligament, and thus not some sort of repetitive stress injury. He thought that I had simply injured my foot in some more sudden way, perhaps by rolling my ankle. It's still not completely healed, but it is much less painful than before. So that was an improvement.

Now, it wasn't as if I had been completely idle while all of the above was playing out from the end of 2010 to the middle of 2011. In fact, I managed to do something fairly significant. As you've no doubt noticed by now, for many years I've been threatening to write a book about Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. I began a proposal some years ago, but there wasn't really any point in submitting it to a publisher until the Fichte and Mendelssohn projects were out of the way. I finished the proposal at the end of 2010 and then sent it to Tristan Palmer, the editor at Acumen Publishing, the press with which I published a book chapter on Fichte's 1794/95 Wissenschaftslehre in 2005. (Scroll back up this page for more on that particular project of mine.) I had had a good experience with Acumen, and it seemed to me that my book proposal would be a good fit for them.

I went through the usual review process, which included responding to the comments of the anonymous readers of my proposal. Everyone at Acumen was satisfied with what I said in response, and so I was sent a contract while I was recovering from the surgery to remove the cyst. I signed it just recently, and so now I'm at work on a book that I first imagined many years ago. So my scholarly life seems to be getting back on track, in spite of my health issues.

I compiled this litany of health problems in order to explain why my latest projects have taken longer than expected to complete. (It also explains why it took me so long to update this autobiography.) Almost every scholarly project takes longer than anticipated, but I've run into a sizeable share of health problems in the past four years. But don't misunderstand what I've written here. I haven't become a sickly person, but I have slowed down a bit. Fortunately, my most dangerous health problems — gallstones, hypertension, hernia — are the ones that were most easily remedied (gallstones, hernia) or managed (hypertension). Unfortunately, the pinched nerve in my neck and shoulder seems to be a long-term problem. It's certainly the biggest obstacle to my work right now. Just updating this autobiography has caused me a fair of amount of discomfort. So from now on I'll have to ration my writing time at the computer.

I won't ever blog to the same degree that I was doing several years ago. I plan to keep the blog active in some capacity, but I'm still trying to decide what I should do with it. And I really won't be able to send much email anymore. I'll continue to study the piano, but I've resolved not to practice for more than half an hour at a time. I certainly intend to continue to pursue my academic projects, and as of this moment I'm working on the commentary on Dialectic of Enlightenment and researching how I can go about re-translating some of Wagner's most important prose works. (Acumen has also expressed interest in my Wagner project, which I've mentioned above from time to time. We'll see how that goes.) So I'm sticking with the projects that I began contemplating years ago when I was still living in Philadelphia. I'll just have to be careful not to strain myself.


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Last modified on August 22, 2011.