This Academic Life
  Running with a knee brace
I. It's gotten very cold in the mornings around here lately; yesterday when I went out it was 19 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was a bit of wind. Brrr. But it's amazing what an extra pair of nylon pants and a good pair of running gloves can do for you -- not to mention a nice hat made of synthetic insulation material. Cold at first, but gradually it gets okay, and the even more pronounced absence of people because of the cold is also very nice. (I don't like seeing people around when I run. I'd rather run in as deserted a landscape as possible, like that nice beach in Den Haag…)

Not sure if it's the cold or what -- maybe it's the exercises -- but my knees are doing much better than they were previously. My routine now is to put on a brace (the left knee is getting that support these days; it was the right knee before, but they seem to tag-team from time to time) when running, ice afterwards, and do leg lifts and such in the intervening time between runs. Yesterday I was able to run harder for longer than I had in a while, and didn't feel significant pain. In fact, I felt so good that I considered taking off the brace altogether. Running without a brace. I hardly even remember what that is like. I've gotten so used to having the brace on that sometimes it feels weird to be walking around campus without feeling that pressure underneath my kneecap.

So just for the heck of it I took it off. Tentative step. Two. Three. Then a brisk jog. And a little bit of a run…ow, ow, ow. Slow to a halt, put the brace back on. Stretch my leg muscles again. Walking; a little pain but not too bad. Jogging is okay. Running -- not speedy, but certainly faster than a walk or jog -- also fine. A little twinge, some soreness, but nothing horrible. And no real pain afterwards, either.

So my running will be brace-assisted, at least for the foreseeable future.

II. Working through my book manuscript, trying to meet the 1 March deadline for the final copy -- and to meet the word length restrictions. I'd actually never put the whole book together and done a word count, so I figured that I should probably do that to give myself an idea about how much flexibility I had with the Conclusion. So I dutifully unformatted the EndNote bibliographies, to avoid inflating the word count with each chapter's references, and then totaled up the count for each one. Hmm. 12,000 here; 16,000 here…19,500 for one of the heavily archival chapters…grand total: 110,000. 110,000.

Panic. Contract says 90,000. I have to lose 20,000 words??? How the heck am I going to accomplish that, especially since the conclusion still isn't done?

Hurried e-mail to editor at Big University Press. His reply: 110,000 is too long; try to cut about 10,000 words at least; and oh yes, the intro chapter that I slaved over last weekend still sounds like a dissertation to him, because it features too much discussion of existing accounts and not enough of my own original stuff. My first reaction is to dash off an e-mail about how the reviewers wanted me to locate myself in the existing literature, which requires some discussion of their work. Then on the drive home I think it over.

After dinner I discuss it with my wife, who provides a reality check in the following two ways: first, my editor is not trying to ruin my book, he's actually trying to help me get my stuff out there, and after all he's a professional so his advice should be taken seriously; second, reducing the discussion of other literature actually would produce a more readable book. (My wife is not an academic, so she can provide reality checks like this, pointing out that not everyone in the world wants to wade through a longish discussion of why IR realists, liberals, and liberal-constructivists are actually on the same side of some social-theoretical debates about the location of causal mechanisms, as opposed to evolutionary realists who are more like structural or even Gramscian marxists…okay, I get excited by these things, but the rest of the world? Even the rest of the field? Perhaps not quite so much.) After some resistance on my part (telling an academic that some of her or his work is really interesting, and some is just internecine warfare of interest only to technical specialists, is always a tricky operation; major bonus points to both my wife and my editor for undertaking the operation :-) I decided that they were right, and came up with a radical suggestion:

Delete the second chapter. That's the "IR theory" chapter. Don't bother trying to revision the field in this book; save that for elsewhere. When I pitched this to my editor, his reaction was better than I could have hoped for: since he has an option on my next single-authored book, he proposed that we make that an IR theory textbook of sorts, and put the excised material (suitably rewritten) in that book instead.

Still feel a little weird about doing this. IR theory is a very comfortable set of props for me, a cast of characters with whom I'm pretty familiar and in terms of which I can most directly characterize those debates in which I'm engaged. I do not think that my stuff is going to be all that exciting for non-specialists, so the principal impact -- initially, at least (I do have these delusions of being read one day in general social theory classes, much like Weber is … hence my username …) -- is likely to me among IR theorists and other IR scholars. And if I don't point out explicitly what I am doing, how do I avoid being mistakenly assimilated into positions with which I disagree?

My editor says that I have to stop reaching out for other literature as something to lean on. I may have developed my stance by arguing with these people and their writings, but it does not follow that I have to lead my readers through that whole process in order to make my point.


III. Right before the conclusion of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein comments that readers should discard his chain of reasoning after following it: "He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it" (§6.54). The process of achieving an insight, especially an insight about the process of achieving insights, is not essential to the subsequent communication of that insight -- or even to having the insight itself.

Then again, Wittgenstein did publish the Tractatus. And it withered away about as much as the post-revolutionary Soviet state did. So maybe the ladder remains useful? Maybe we do need markers of process, traces of the twists and turns that a train of thought took? (Of course, they needn't be right in your face all the time; footnotes are perhaps sufficient, along with brief discussions at more appropriate points in the text, and something short in the conclusion about where my book might fit.)

So was Wittgenstein wrong? Can one run without a brace?

If we could always remember the insights, then maybe. But we fall back into the world, with its metaphysical commitments and its essentialist restrictions. And we forget. The theory, the process, the brace: these keep us healthy, stop us from straining too much, and make it possible for us to keep on running.

In a sense we are marked by how we got to where we are. And it's important not to forget that. But not everyone has to be led there by the same pathway. The knee brace helps me run, but what matters here is the running, and the openness to which it gives rise. The rest is filler, in a way, and can be safely cut in order to make a 250-page book: still hefty, but manageable.

[Posted with ecto]

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"Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



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