I want to thank everyone for the many kind messages I’ve received while recovering from my operation. It was a longer process than I’d anticipated, but I think I am now back to the old New Normal.
I've posted nothing this month while I’ve been convalescing, but several projects are going on behind the scenes. I am nearing the final stages of co-editing a book, which will appear later this year. I am compelled to be quite painstaking because much of the proofing falls to me, and the papers included in it are heavy with numbers. I feel certain that some infelicity will slip through the cracks, and I comfort myself with the realization that my old mentor Ernest McClain, in whose honor the book will appear in memoriam, was continually finding little mistakes in his own work after the fact, and cheerfully acknowledging them and moving on. The book is currently expected to be called Music and Deep Memory: Speculations in Mathematics, Tuning, and Tradition.
More proximately, I will soon be posting here the first of what I plan to be a series of interviews with thinkers, educators, scholars. The art of the interview is a new one for me, and I’ve been learning as I go. These will appear irregularly here, but the participation I have had so far has been extremely gratifying, and has given me much to think about. The interview isn’t quite a “dialogue” in the old sense, because to some degree it aims to be expository as well as exploratory, but there is a give-and-take in the encounter which is its own interesting rhythm. It is not as simple as coming up with a list of questions and their answers. A good question yields more than some information; it discloses a new and interesting direction. I’m discovering that I don’t always know which questions will turn out to be good ones.
The two activities – the book editing, and the interviews – are interesting in themselves, but especially in their sharp contrast with each other, they are mutually illuminating. In editing, I’m concerned above all to keep the channel clean – to make sure nothing, least of all me, gets in the way of someone else’s presentation. I need to have a sense of what the author is saying in order to grasp whether it’s being said well, and accurately. But “being said well” is a tricky category, and I am continually reminding myself not to impose my own tastes. I have a baseline security and facility in the conventions of the discursive community, into which I render the content, but I am extremely careful about not interfering.
In an interview, on the other hand, I most certainly am interfering; the whole thing is occasioned by my "interference." I interrupt, I press again, I go on a long detour or ask the almost too-blunt question. It's an interference that needs to be finely calibrated to facilitate the presentation; and, in fact, my ability to “interfere” adeptly, requires my willingness to be interfered with. To ask good questions, you need a good sense of what is at stake, what could change for you. And even more than that, a willingness to grant that you might have to change. And yet, you aren't sitting at the feet of a guru asking questions for your own enlightenment; there is a place you are asking questions from, a kind of "baseline security" with one's own positions (including one's own uncertainties), which is equally indispensable.
I've frequently said that philosophy is inherently dialogical, and appealed to the work of Bakhtin, Levinas, and Wittgenstein, among others for support (to say nothing of the example of Plato). This is designedly in express contrast to the assertions of Žižek, for instance, when he says that philosophers eschew "discussion". I think I know what he means when he says this; he is (I take it) distancing himself from a kind of liberal, pragmatic model in which conversation and endless pointless roundtable opinion-sharing is the norm. And of course the thinker does require long periods of uninterrupted time, time alone, in quiet, in meditation, in reverie. All those long walks of Kant; all that staring-into-space of Socrates. But these two experiences of editing and interviewing have reminded me that encounter is itself a process, and not an innocent or uncomplicated one. There are all sorts of permutations of dialogue and collaboration, fraught with their attendant rituals and mores and ways of being brought off felicitously – or not. These norms are there in ordinary conversation (and they are not always the same from conversation to conversation). But it is striking how many of these norms emerge when the project is one of developing a text.