the future freaks me out

I must apologize, not to my readers, but to my blog itself (herself? himself? I think my blog is beyond gender).  I had made an unspoken and largely unacknowledged promise to my blog that I would post regularly, and I have been trampling all over that promise this summer.  So I’m sorry, Blog, that I have been neglecting you.  Perhaps I will write you a poem, and then wallow in the intellectual conundrum of whether a poem dedicated to a poetry blog is meta or simply bizarre.

But all that is perhaps beside the point that I wish to actually make in this post.  I want to share what I have been writing instead of poetry.  Over the course of the summer, I have been putting together applications for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships; the former would allow me to study English at Oxford for two years, and the latter would allow me to study Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia for one year followed by another year studying Issues in Modern Culture at University College London.  This should hopefully explain why I have been dedicating absurd amounts of time and mental effort to these applications.  So because these applications have been my major writing projects for the past month and because they have to do with my interest in poetry, I thought I’d post them (or rather, just the Marshall essay, since it is more poetic).  Perhaps it will be genuinely interesting for some of you, perhaps it only matters to me.  Be that as it may.  My blog will appreciate the post.

    Kierkegaard once asked of his own work of philosophy, “is this poem perhaps like a proverb, of which no author is known because it seems as if all humanity had composed it?”  Sometimes when I have finished a poem, I ask this of my own work, hoping the answer is yes.  In lines made beautiful by rhythm and imagery and alliteration, I hope that in that beauty there runs a strand humanness – something that defies my own particularities and closes the gap between author and audience, something that goes beyond an everyday poetic pleasantness.  Poetry, for me, is not necessarily about sounding good; it is about saying something utterly and movingly human.

Creative writing in general, then, is in my mind a form of humanistic inquiry, and because of this, I have found my interests in college divided between writing and philosophy. Ever since reading Brave New World in high school, I have been captivated by certain philosophic dilemmas: Should humans allow their natural urges to lead them in decision-making?  Is religion necessary to human existence?  Is the happiest way of living the best way?  These questions and others like them became more than a passing interest after my first year at Carleton; I have purposefully sought out classes that grapple with these very questions and give me the opportunity to read works by thinkers like Aristotle, Hegel, Luther, and Kierkegaard.  When it came time to declare a major, I designed my own – Self, Community, and Interpretation – and it has allowed me to devote my studies to these scholars who address the issue of what it means to be human in a way that transcends the fields of religion, philosophy, and political theory.  I find myself faced with topics varying from the life of Alexander the Great to the role of women in contemporary Islam, but whether it be an ancient philosophy text or a recent book on the sociology of religion, I have come to realize that these seemingly unrelated works are frequently dealing with the same issues.  Just as theologians must clarify their understanding of human nature to come to conclusions about the relationship between God and society, political philosophers must similarly establish a stance on human nature to assert that a certain type of state is best.  These are the sorts of problems that never cease to fascinate me.

This line of inquiry that I find so animating and vital has led me to pursue research beyond my coursework. Carleton awarded me the Hanson Ethics Fellowship, providing me with a stipend to do independent summer research.  Concerned by the deconstruction of ethical frameworks undertaken by postmodern scholars, I studied the relationship between personal identity and ethical authority.  In the work of Kierkegaard and Sartre, I was shown the despair of individuals left stranded without a moral compass, and in the writings of late 20th and early 21st century religious scholars, I found a solution to this moral floundering through models of religious community better suited to our liberal democratic age.  And I, being a student of both the political and the religious, offered my own solution (with great trepidation): an empowerment of the democratic state as an ethical guide for individuals seeking direction.

As enthralling as I find my coursework and research, the craft of writing itself is never far from my thoughts, and in fact, my work in college has proven to me that attention to the means of articulating an idea is just as important as attention to the idea itself, for there is always more than one medium through which to communicate a thought. As a writing tutor, I constantly advise other students to think of meaningful ways to get their points across; I ask them if descriptions of concrete examples might support their conclusions more robustly than an abstract argument.  When organizing a publication for the organization I help to run, Dialogue on Education at Carleton, my co-editor and I encouraged our peers to share their views on the college’s approach to education not through academic essays but through poems, anecdotes, personal reflections, and any other medium that would powerfully convey their ideas to the Carleton community.  Even in my sophomore writing portfolio, I made a point of including a short story that I believed exemplified all the criteria of a successful academic essay, and in the poems that I write while studying philosophy, I find that the intellectual exploration they permit is often just as fruitful as outlining an academic research paper.

My courses, too, have shown me that literature has great philosophic potential. In a political philosophy class, my professor included Shakespeare on the syllabus; in the work of Paul Tillich, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, whole chapters are dedicated to discussions of the existentialist literary movement; and in a class on Russian literature, I discovered that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are philosophers as much as they are novelists. When choosing a topic for my senior comprehensive thesis, I have found myself compelled by philosophy in literature, and I hope to research existentialist theology not alone but in conjunction with the literature that is in dialogue with it, particularly the work of T.S. Eliot.  Being able to incorporate literature into my major while also continuing to take creative writing workshops has for me been a personal exemplification of the dual nature of poetry.  It is beautiful in itself, in its rhythms and lyricism, and the construction of a poem is truly a craft that demands skill and patience.  But there is a beauty, too, in what is said that goes beyond how it is written, beauty that is present in even the most poorly written philosophy paper.  The task, then, of the poet – that is to say, my task – is to be both a philosopher and a wordsmith, conveying the beauty and power of an idea through a medium that can, through its own power, instill that idea with even more meaning and force.


One Response

  1. Good luck with the applications!
    (After reading this, my blog now feels a bit stupid and shabby. I shall now go warm myself with sarcasm.)

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