t's been one of those weeks that was somehow both long and short at the same time: just something that kept my head spinning. Last Friday was a fun early Christmas gathering at Dan and Amy's, where the kids exchanged some presents and the adults tucked into some creative finger foods and everyone chattered away at their own speed. It was a good respite from the build-up to Finals Weeks, after finishing grading homework assignments and writing the final exam. Even though all my energy was going into finishing the semester's teaching responsibilities, it was like I could feel the back of my brain warming up and getting excited about a month of uninterrupted dissertation-writing. My subconscious mind seemed to be already chewing the material and it was the strangest sensation: every once in a while it was as though my subconscious mind would just finish working on a point and hand my conscious the mind the answers while I was working on something for the students: "Connect Part A to Part C with Section B." I described this to the guys and they immediately pounced and asked if I was making sure to write this stuff down, and, happy to take advantage of strange brain activity, I was not trusting my memory and making sure to do so. So I would pause, jot down the new insight, and get back to the other work. So I'm apparently getting quite jazzed about the final dissertation sprint.
That evening passed in a bit of a whirl, honestly, and all I seem to remember off the top of my head is a conversation about the legal questions involved in the U.K. court question equating Jewish self-identity with racism, and a side conversation I had with Professor Barnes comparing Augustine on knowing God and knowing the self with the argument for how we know things given in the Transcendental Thomism of Rahner, and whether these amount to the same account of grace. Far less technical and more fun for everyone was watching the kids exchange their presents by the tree in the living room, and to see just how taken they were with the most simple gift. The only downside was that Anthony and Kelly weren't able to make it up from Chicagoland because their baby, Kate, was coming down with the croup. That ended up getting worse over the next few days, leading Kate to being hospitalized for a few days while she slowly responded to treatment. I proctored one of Anthony's Intro To Theology finals on Monday so that he could stay there (and caught an idiot cheating during the exam, which is almost such a pain in the ass for the instructors with the paperwork involved as to not make it worth it). I
t has also been a week characterized more by interruption than anything else. My entire schedule seems to just lurch from one thing to another, without enough regularity to give it a rhythm. Review sessions with students, individual appointments with students. 8am final for one class on Tuesday, and a 1pm one this afternoon for the other class. Grocery shopping on the East Side. A run out to the hospital on the West for a shot. Grading exams. The one bit of a constant through it all that's been more fun for me has been the couple of moments here and there that I have had to read an engaging book I had read a review of just a few weeks ago and then borrowed from the library. Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the standout philosophers of our age, and is a professor at Notre Dame: one who has had a major effect on a number of friends of mine who have worked with him. A recently-published book of his, God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition
, grew out of an advanced undergraduate course he taught at Notre Dame. I think that I'm so used to teaching freshman over the last few years that it's almost a surprise to imagine undergraduates advanced enough to work through the material in the text. Plugging into my interest in both philosophy and in the Catholic university, there have been a number of chapters that have had lots of new information for me, too: looking through the material on what aspects of the medieval Islamic heritage were employed by Thomas Aquinas has certainly expanded what I knew of that exchange. Yesterday, bouncing on the bus over to the Metro Market, reading some of the conflict between Aquinas's work and that of John Duns Scotus (who I have never seriously worked on) has also been eye-opening. So I'm trying to imagine what sort of course I might be able to teach where I could employ the text. It has been painful to not mark up the text. Perhaps most useful in all of it is to see more of the development of the Catholic philosophical tradition that is setting itself up for the intellectual expansion coming out of this medieval matrix, where what we today call "Science" would become a methodologically distinct activity from Philosophy, but also to be more aware of what sorts of assumptions and questions science would take for granted and leave within the field of philosophy. I
also got a treat of a real, pen-and-ink letter from Angie with the Christmas card of the girls that she and Chad sent out. Giving sort of a laughing justification for why she likes to write actual letters sometimes, instead of typing an email, I got to enjoy just the visual and tactile experience of reading an honest-to-goodness paper letter again. This is extra fun for me when the letter is from Angie because, back in ancient times, before email and before long distance was cheap, she was my primary correspondent during my undergraduate years. There, along with the occasional expensive long-distance phone call, we might exchange as many as three letters a weeks, with multiple lines of conversation running at once as questions and answers, points and counterpoints crossed one another during the delay of waiting for a letter that answered one specific point or another. So there was a time when seeing her loopy handwriting in my mailbox was the greatest thing for making my day, and reading her letter therefore gave me that extra nostalgic glow of something familiar in that way. All of that had very little to do with the actual conversation of the letter, describing a systematic theology course she was taking, and the fun she was having in exploring a bit in my corner of the academic world, but no matter: a letter from an old friend with whom you once practiced the ancient craft of letter-writing was just "gravy," above and beyond the specific news of the letter itself.