An Intellectual Practice

What I want, it seems to me, isn't a career--I have one of those--but to sustain intellectual life and practice. I would like to be able to ask questions, read seriously, participate in important conversations, and to write about this work and practice effectively for an audience that is invested in these discussions. This post is a follow up to my "career pathways" post.

I have a blog and wiki, I can read, and my writing continues to improve. How hard can it be to achieve these goals and establish this practice on my own? Famous last words.

The thing is, I hate auto-didacticism as an approach to knowledge production and learning. Sure it works, sometimes, and professionally I think I've been able to succeed on the basis of being able to learn things on my own. At the same time, self teaching at more advanced levels, and avoiding formal study feels like a mechanism for people to use to avoid challenging themselves or their assumptions about the world. The challenge here, in addition to discipline (in a number of senses of the word,) is to avoid scholarly isolationism.

Conversely, it might be true that sufficiently advanced study is always already self-lead and self-taught anyway. That's not a conjecture I have the experience or specialty to comment upon, but it's a possibility.

In any case, my success at being able to do meaningful and fulfilling work, hinges upon:

  • being able to write and interact effectively for your communications medium. In my case this means, use blogging and wikis well.
  • being able to maintain an active presence and participation in the discussions and work you want to do. This means posting regularly, in addition to writing, reading, and thinking about various projects. Work needs to be sustained and ongoing.
  • being able to make leisure time sacrifices to support the work. There's only so much time in the day, and I think it's also important to manage expectations somewhat in recognition of this fact.
  • being able to find or establish and interact with a community of peers. Regardless of interest or focus, it's important to find colleagues who do work that is enough like yours to allow them to grasp the intricacies of your work and different enough to infuse the conversation with useful context and ideological breadth.

At least, that's my hope. What am I forgetting?

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