what if

What if I could pursue any occupation regardless of education, training, special talent, or expense? In an ideal world, I would first return to academia to complete my PhD, and subsequently work in a teaching capacity while pursue a writing career. The reasons, for me at least, are relatively straight-forward. Simply put, I find such a vocation meaningful in a number of ways. I love books, reading and writing. My most vivid memory as a child growing up in Malang was of a sense of awe as I perused my grandfather’s collection of (the now defunct) “Windows to the World” magazine. The fascinating aspect of that is: why would I have been so engrossed with magazines published in a language I then, as a 5 year old, did not know? The greater miracle of my grandfather, I later learned, was that he taught himself English, an unknown language, by reading that very same unknown and incomprehensible language. This was rural Java, less than a decade after Sukarno and the anti-Communist purges which resulted in a million deaths (mostly Chinese), and from this miracle of reading he related to me the promise of JFK, the arrival of The Beatles, the wonders of “modern” medicine. If I was not to know immediately, I gradually learned that reading can bring you to places you would never otherwise have known and lift you out of places you possibly cared less for. So, in my mind at least, there is this comfort of reading being associated or rooted in my past. Much later, several time-zones away while happily failing my school examinations, I chanced upon Marx through an old-school Oxford Socialist and Max Weber through a liberal, American sociologist. In addition to the childhood event, then, I had the friendship of people, books and thoughts that made sense of the world and its injustices. It is this making sense of the world that spurred me to University. Such a vocation is as entwined with my value system as it is to my life narrative. I have always placed value on the written Word, aside from its basic communicative function, for a more fundamental reason: it captures the totality of “hard reality” in all its self-reflective, contradictory complexity. Research, properly understood, and writing are moments of repose, when the quietness of thought can silence the loudest Authoritarian Voice. Teaching is the natural extension of thought’s research, the exposition of that same “hard reality”, to view it anew from alternative perspectives and against received wisdoms. Writing, the necessary transposition of thought into its final Key, is the most difficult and most natural of pursuits. To capture a thought in lifeless form is simplicity itself, the pure recital of facts; the expression of thought in life-giving form is truly writing. It is also a way through which I can expound on and participate in the history of ideas, whether this concerns St. Augustine’s and St. Francis’s relation to the History of the Church, the impact of modernity and the misreading of Machiavelli, or some other seemingly archaic topic. Finally, to return to the PhD is to complete my task and thereby make good a promise and repay a debt.