I've spent the last couple of days exploring The Guardian's secret philosophy / religion section and reading interviews from the Paris Review (and reading more and more Marquez; I can understand why Bolaño makes fun of him now, though it's hard not to find the man's scribblings adorable). The last interview I read this afternoon was with Haruki Murakami, who changed my life at fourteen with Norwegian Wood (him and Eugenides; see: The Virgin Suicides). There are two quotes I loved, in particular :
"In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers offered the real thing; that was their task. In War and Peace Tolstoy describes the battleground so closely that the readers believe it’s the real thing. But I don’t. I’m not pretending it’s the real thing. We are living in a fake world; we are watching fake evening news. We are fighting a fake war. Our government is fake. But we find reality in this fake world. So our stories are the same; we are walking through fake scenes, but ourselves, as we walk through these scenes, are real. The situation is real, in the sense that it’s a commitment, it’s a true relationship. That’s what I want to write about."
"I like to write comic dialogue; it’s fun. But if my characters were all comic it would be boring. Those comic characters are a kind of stabilizer to my mind; a sense of humor is a very stable thing. You have to be cool to be humorous. When you’re serious, you could be unstable; that’s the problem with seriousness. But when you’re humorous, you’re stable. But you can’t fight the war smiling."
This came, of course, directly after reading a joyful interview with the comic writer P.G. Wodehouse who must have been the merriest man alive. But still -- these words gave me some solace. "You can't fight the war smiling." Of course you can't, though you must try to delight in what you can.
And then there was this Don DeLillo ruby hidden in the midst of a beguiling David Mitchell interview :
"It is so much simpler to bury reality than it is to dispose of dreams."
I suppose, in the heady pursuit of science, it is impossible to bury reality. In the academic world, there is the interminable reality of rejections; politics; ghastly ideas (and some ghastly people promoting them as well). That strange, fake world. But sometimes, for a moment, it's nice to forget it -- and to struggle on, imagining the rightly impossible to be very near. Sometimes I think that perhaps what is so devastatingly wrong with the current state of academic psychology is the lack of wonderment among certain careerist academics; the obsession with protocol and publicity and status and not (rightly) with the meat and marrow of ideas, which might transform our world, which might bring us some much needed relief. When money and career are at stake, there are far too many too easily compromised. And for what?
Should earnestness be a requirement in a good scientist? Or should science teach us to be cynical?
(Link is to "On Bullshit," the Frankfurt essay.)