When I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, I posted my academic autobiography as an introduction to several other pages that I had written about the state of academia. My autobiography, much to my surprise, turned out to be the most popular of my pages. That wasn't my intention, but it seems that people are just interested in other people's lives. That was fine with me, and so I added the occasional update.
What you now have before you is my latest telling of my life story as a university student, professor, and independent scholar. In this version I've omitted some of the details of my ten years as an adjunct professor. There's no longer any point in having you read about classes that I taught over ten years ago, and I've slightly reduced the amount of material devoted to my futile search for an academic position. But the cautionary aspect of my tale remains as relevant as before.
Over the years I've received many comments about my autobiography, and I would like to say to everyone who has ever written to me that I've greatly appreciated your messages. I hope that my readers will continue to be interested in what happens to me. After all, that's why I continue to update my story.
This version of my autobiography is around 14,000 words long and stops at the beginning of June 2018. If you don't have the time to read such a long document—and I completely understand if you don't—then you can look at my "about me" page. It will briefly tell you about my academic life.
My Years as a University Student, September 1981 to May 1993
I began my undergraduate years at the University of Texas at Austin in 1981. I had 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, and 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 mathematics. 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, 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, or at least I no longer had enough interest in mathematics to put to use whatever talent I had for the discipline. 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 had the good fortune to have a wonderful instructor as my first German professor, a man named Ralph Read, now long 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. 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. 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 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 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, 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, 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 even published a book review in German. I also managed to travel a bit, visiting various places in Germany, Austria, and the UK. I returned to Philadelphia in late August 1990 after having been away for an entire year.
The next three years 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 in May of 1993.
It was at this point in my academic life, i.e., my final year in graduate school, that things began to go badly for me, although at the time I couldn't possibly anticipate how terribly the whole process would end. I'll have to explain how the academic job search worked at that time before I relate more of my autobiographical details. I can only assume that the job search still works the same way, but since I don't know for sure, you should keep in mind that this part of my story is twenty years old.
My decade-long job search began a few months before I received my Ph.D. In October and November I received a publication put out by the American Philosophical Association called Jobs for Philosophers. It was what it says it is: namely, a list of academic positions for people with degrees in philosophy. I selected the jobs for which I was most qualified, put together my applications and mailed them out. Around the middle of December, schools contacted me about interviewing me. At the end of December, I attended the convention of the eastern division of the APA and went through four interviews. Two of them led to on-campus interviews, in which I gave a lecture drawn from material in my dissertation, met many people, and generally toured the two schools that had brought me to campus. Unfortunately, neither school offered me a position. So there I was with my Ph.D but no job.
My Years as an Adjunct Professor, June 1993 to May 2003
Since I had been unable to find a job, I was reluctant to graduate, partly because I would lose my student health insurance, partly because I had no other real job prospects. But 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 mediocre, 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, 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.
Of course, I continued to look for a academic job. Let me say a little more about the search procedure before I add more detail to my story.
The job search is 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: 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.
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 had never been 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 was nice 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 single 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. I became much better at philosophy than I had been when I started my job search in late 1992. But it didn't make a difference. Long-standing seriousness of purpose, dedication, and accomplishment were clearly not guarantees of success in academia; furthermore, and this was more depressing, they were not even the beginnings of a reasonable chance at academic success. The constant frustration of what seemed to me to be a modest desire — that is, a desire for a decent position that would have allowed me to teach and do research in philosophy to the best of my ability, all in a time of dizzyingly expensive tuition — was instructive. It showed just how far schools had fallen from their avowed mission of educating students and supporting faculty research.
In the fall of 1999 I began teaching at Bryn Mawr College. 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. I applied, had an interview, 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 earned much more than I did.) 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, and so, of course, it was on mine at the time.
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.
Once again I resumed my search 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, which was fewer than usual. I had become less inclined to accept a job regardless of its location, and thus I had 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, and 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 was really quite good, especially for someone like me who had been on the market for such 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 had 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. 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.
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. Besides the three classes, I had agreed to translate five 18th century German reviews of David 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 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. I had been overworked and overstressed for quite a while. I needed to reduce the amount of stress in my life.
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, 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.
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. I reasoned that I should publish the research that most moved me to write. 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, 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, and undertaken a project involving Winckelmann which had no equal in the English language. It seemed to me that that 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.
I managed to finish the Winckelmann project a little before the end of June 2001. 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 had been 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. Yet the thrill was only momentary, as I suspect it always is.
My life didn't seem so bad at the beginning of the fall semester, but 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. 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). Just more fruitless effort on my part, in other words.
The spring semester was extremely busy. I taught one class at Bryn and two at Penn, all of which I'd taught 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 professor 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 had 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 had 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, hadn'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 kidney 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 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. Once my father's 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. I gave my final exams and turned in my course grades. My life as an adjunct professor was officially over.
My Years as an Independent Scholar, June 2003 to June 2018
On June 21 I flew back 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. 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.
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 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 was published shortly thereafter.
For quite a while I had been thinking about starting a blog. I thought that I should have a regular outlet for writing, however minor the particular efforts might be, that wasn'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 created my blog on May 2, 2004.
This post from 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 attempt 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.
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!
On the second anniversary of my return to Texas, I posted this entry on my blog. It briefly summarizes the preceding year.
After I finished the Fichte chapter, 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 were 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 had been planning on writing a book about Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. That was still in the works, and I started to write a proposal to send to publishers.
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 could do for my next translation project, that is, what I might do after I finished the Fichte translations. I had long been toying with the idea of re-translating some of Wagner's prose works. I figured that if I eventually applied myself to translating Wagner, I should first develop greater technical knowledge of music.
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 made progress. It was 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 was certainly 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 was not something that I could have done had I remained an academic. Consequently, studying music, in addition to my scholarly studies, was 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. It was just over 500 words in length.
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 happened 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. 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 was about to go to graduate school 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, after three years back in Texas, I was studying the piano, translating Fichte, and thinking about future projects.
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 routine 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 experienced 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. Despite being one of Mendelssohn's most important works in German, Morgenstunden had 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.
By this time in my life, however, 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. I've already 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.
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 wrote about Professor Marc Bousquet's How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. For entirely obvious reasons, I paid less and less attention to academia the longer I was 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.
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 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 had more or less recovered from the direct consequences of the surgery.
I had another problem to deal with, this one an indirect consequence of my surgery. My prolonged inactivity seemed to cause 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.
And as if to demonstrate that I'd 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 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 my health issues were 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'd been threatening to write a book about Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. (From now on I'll refer to Horkheimer and Adorno's book as "DoE" and to my project as "my DoE book".) I had begun 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. 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. My scholarly life seemed to be getting back on track, in spite of my health issues.
After I signed the contract for my DoE book, I decided to pitch my Wagner project to Acumen as well. Once again, it seemed that what I had in mind would be a good fit for them. I sketched out a bunch of ideas and sent them to Tristan Palmer. Such a project could obviously take many forms. It seemed to me, as I discussed matters with Tristan, that an ambitious version of the project could contain at least four volumes of new translations ranging over Wagner's entire life. The simple version of the project would simply be to translate Wagner's Oper und Drama, which is really his only book-length prose work. If I prepared a new translation of that work, and it did well, I reasoned, we could then publish additional volumes. The ambitious version of the project take at least a decade, I thought, because Wagner's prose is often obscure and tangled, much like Hegel's, and because my back issues limits my time at the computer. But I was willing to take on such a project. It seemed like a worthwhile endeavor to me.
I wrote a formal proposal for a new translation of Oper und Drama and sent it to Tristan. He discussed it with Steven Gerrard, the founder of Acumen and himself an admirer of Wagner's music, and I was soon sent a contract to sign. So by the summer of 2012 I had a second contract with Acumen.
Now I admit that signing two contracts for book-length works might not have been the best idea that I ever had — after all, that's a lot of work for anyone — but Tristan and Steven understood my situation as an independent scholar and were obviously willing to help me to see my two projects to fruition. One reason that I chose Acumen was that it was a small press that wasn't constantly changing staff, and so that meant that I could maintain something of a personal relationship with them. In short, we could always work our way through any difficulties that might arise on account of my health issues and the demands of my life as an independent scholar.
So there I was, at the end of the summer of 2012, with contracts for two books. I started doing some additional research for my DoE book, mostly about Max Weber, whom I added to the proposal after it was sent out to readers. I hadn't talked much about Weber when I was teaching DoE years ago, but it was appropriate for me to add him to the mix of influences that I would discuss as background to understanding DoE. While I was working on Weber, I began translating Wagner. I was making slow but steady progress when I had a new health issue to deal with.
I needed to have periodontal surgery to address problems with gum recession, which was probably the legacy of years of grinding my teeth. The recession wasn't extreme, but it wouldn't fix itself, of course. So in November of 2012 I received two grafts in the front of my mouth. As you can imagine, it's hard to sleep after this sort of surgery. So I slowed down for a while as I healed.
The first half of 2013 was uneventful, and so I continued to make slow progress on both of my projects. I started to think that I should concentrate on the Wagner translation, but I thought that it would be better to finish my DoE book first. I said as much to Tristan and Steven in person, when I met them during the summer of 2013 while I was traveling in the UK. But when I got back to US, I decided on a second round of periodontal surgery. This time I had two grafts to the gum tissue on the left side of my mouth. Once again, I had to recover.
By the end of 2013 I decided to put the DoE book on hold until I made significant progress on the Wagner translation. This wasn't a problem for Acumen, since they had already suggested that I concentrate on the Wagner project. It obviously has more sales potential than my DoE book. So I reluctantly began to devote most of my time to Wagner. His prose is wildly difficult, which means that to translate properly I can only go very slowly, even more slowly than I had anticipated. At least I was making progress, but then something unexpected happened to me.
On December 28 I got up in the middle of the night as I sometimes do. I don't know how I managed to do this, but I fell and injured myself. I tripped, I guess, and fell over a dresser, banging myself rather badly. When I managed to pull myself together, I looked in a mirror and saw two bloody bruises on my face, numerous scratches and cuts on the left side of my head and my body, and the biggest lump I've ever had on my forehead. I didn't seem to have a concussion, but to this day I can't really remember what happened to me with very much clarity. So I might have slightly concussed myself, but if I did, I didn't need to go to the emergency room. Fortunately, I didn't break any bones, but I felt lousy for a while.
Therefore, I started 2014 with cuts and bruises that took time to heal. But the fall also set off problems with my hernia repair from the summer of 2010, and it took a while for them to settle down. Consequently, for the first half 2014 I had to limit my physical exertions, which included cutting back my time at the computer, causing my work to suffer. Eventually, I got back to work and things were going well.
But at the beginning of May I received sad news from Acumen. The press had been sold to Routledge, and so I would no longer be working with Tristan and Steven. That was the downside of the sale. The upside, though, was that Routledge would be able to do more to promote and distribute my work. It remained to be seen how things would work out with Routledge, but I figured that they would ultimately turn out to be a good home for my work
Unfortunately, I made slow progress on my work for the rest of 2014. Ordinary life overwhelmed me with more than the usual amount of chaos. I had to deal with problems with my house (including the damage caused by the worst hailstorm I'd ever experienced), persistent problems with my car (which ultimately forced me to buy my first new car), as well as problems with my home phone line and my internet connection, which finally led me to upgrade to Verizon FiOS. After I made the upgrade, I moved my entire web presence to my Typepad blog. So from now you'll be able to find me here.
By the end of the year, though, everything was more or less back to normal, and I was slowly getting back to work. For a couple of years I had been owed a check after signing the contract for my Wagner translation. I had to work this out with Routledge, but at the end of January I finally received what I was owed. I figure that this is a good sign, since it means that Routledge really intends to fulfill the terms of the contract that it acquired when it bought Acumen.
The other bit of good news is that my problems with the pinched nerve in my right shoulder seem to have lessened. I'm still not completely cured, but I definitely feel better. So I hope that my work will be less physically taxing from now on.
But a bit of bad news accompanied the good news. When I went to my primary care physician in early February, she noticed that my heartbeat had become somewhat irregular. An irregular heartbeat isn't necessarily a cause for great concern, it seems, but it needs to to be investigated. So I had to undergo some tests, pay closer attention to my blood pressure, visit my doctor several times, and start taking a beta blocker.
The upshot of all of this medical hullabaloo was that I'd been having premature ventricular contractions, which are very common and, in my case, benign. The medication, something known as metoprolol, has greatly reduced, but not eliminated, the irregularity and improved my blood pressure.
Now, keep the following in mind. In the two previous paragraphs I very briefly described a process that dragged out for several months. It's not as if I was actively dealing with my arrhythmia every moment of every day for seven months, but it was often on my mind, and so it was acting as an obstacle to my work.
An irregular heartbeat, unlike, say, mild hypertension (which is what I have), is something that you can literally feel, even after it's being regulated by medication. So sometimes it forces you to pay attention to it. Every day the following thought crosses my mind at some point: "Hmmm, am I having a heart attack right now?" You can easily imagine how annoying that can be. It's not that I really worry that I might really be having a heart attack, but the thought crops up unbidden to distract me. Consequently, my arrhythmia can get in the way of my work by affecting my ability to concentrate.
Simply being middle-aged has turned out to be a full-time job that, sad to say, routinely competes with my scholarly activities for my attention. I sometimes worry that my physical declinewhich, let's face it, is what I've been experiencing in its early stages during the past few yearswill overwhelm my ability to continue working as an independent scholar. That's a sobering thought.
So, as if to demonstrate conclusively that the universe is not on my side, I learned that I needed more periodontal surgery. Fortunately, though, unlike my two previous surgeries, this third surgery only involved a single tissue graft. You can't exactly call that progress, but at least it wasn't as ghastly a prospect as two tissue grafts.
I had the surgery in mid-October 2015 and all seemed to go well. But two weeks later my graft came apart: sutures broke, tissue tore, and so forth. There was some bleeding as well as an enormous amount of anxiety.I went back to my surgeon's office, and she expertly put me back together. I hadn't done anything wrong, she said, these things just happen sometimes. That wasn't especially reassuring, but at least my body hadn't rejected the graft.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that it took me longer to heal this time, and that I felt worse than I had after my first two periodontal surgeries. In fact, for much of 2016, I didn't feel all that well. I had trouble sleeping and often just felt lousy.
I started to have problems again with my hernia repair, which seemed rather strange to me. After only a few minutes of walking I would start limping and be in a fair amount of pain. I went back to the surgeon who had fixed my hernia in 2010, and he told me that oral surgery can often set off the immune system so that it attacks the surgical mesh used in hernia repairs. After all, that little piece of mesh, however medically useful it may be, is still considered a foreign object by the immune system.
In other words, the year 2016 didn't start very auspiciously. After a while, though, the hernia repair settled down; and after a while longer, my latest gum graft caused me less discomfort, but it kept bothering me throughout the rest of 2016.
In the middle of October 2016 I suddenly felt intense pain in the right side of my groin. As you know by now, that’s where my hernia mesh repair is located, so you would think that it had something to do with this pain. The problem was, however, that this pain felt new to me. At least I couldn’t remember feeling what I was feeling this time. It was especially intense for about ten days, and there were several times when I considered going to the emergency room in case I had ruptured something.
But I wasn’t dying, so there wasn’t much point in going to the ER. I contacted my surgeon again and arranged yet another CT scan. (How many CT scans have I had since my first ER visit in 2007? So many that I can’t remember how many.) The good news was that the scan didn’t reveal any problems. The bad news was that it didn’t reveal any problems, either. It really wasn’t any help in diagnosing my pain. I even had two X-rays, but they didn’t explain my pain, either. Talk about frustration!
But there wasn’t any obvious new complication. In the ensuing weeks, fortunately, the pain lessened, and I more or less returned to normal by early 2017, at least as regarding the pain.
Unfortunately, this turmoil greatly worsened my insomnia. For years I had resisted taking any medication, but this time around I just surrendered and went back to my doctor. She prescribed a relatively new medication called Belsomra. We had to tinker with the dosage for a while. But then I settled on the 15mg pill. It helped, but I never really liked the way it made me feel the next day. I would feel rested, but I would usually have some trouble waking up completely for the first few hours of the new day. So I decided against taking it daily. I resolved to take it only when my insomnia became especially bad.
Through much of 2017 I was dealing, only somewhat successfully, with my insomnia. I was still working on the Wagner project. But it was slower going than before. That was very frustrating, since, after all, the project had already been taking too long before my insomnia worsened. So now it was taking even longer to make progress.
But there was one good development in the project in 2017. I engaged a friend from my days in Philadelphia to read my manuscript and give me her thoughts. I didn’t need someone to check my English against the original German. I already have another friend who is a native speaker of German to help me with that aspect of my translation. Instead, I needed someone to aid me in my efforts to craft English for a modern reader. My Philly friend was very helpful with this. We slowly worked through Wagner’s two prefaces, the introduction, and part one. By early 2018 we had discussed all that I had sent her.
While we were discussing my manuscript, I pressed forward and worked on part two. I spent much of 2017 and all of 2018 so far in fighting with my insomnia. So its worsening wasn’t just an outcome of the pain I suddenly felt in late 2016. It has clearly gotten worse in general. I’m not sure why that it is, but I’m managing it as best as I can.
So at this point in my academic autobiography I can only report the sort of thing that I’ve mentioned many times before. My work is moving forward, but even more slowly than usual. It’s very annoying, as you can imagine, but I am making progress. So I can look to the future and actually imagine that I’ll finish this damned Wagner translation.
But I don’t know whether or not I’ll continue with my scholarship after I finish the Wagner project. Working is becoming such a struggle that it might be more prudent just to retire. We’ll see! I’ll keep you posted.
This page was last updated on June 3, 2018.