I noted in a post on another blog I maintain that I have for a third time been accepted to present a paper at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. I am as excited about the prospect now as I have been in years past when I have gone (2010 and 2011), perhaps even more so. Before, I always had hanging over me the spectre of the dissertation (which is available, by the way, if you're interested, and you can check it out on WorldCat), and it largely directed my attendance at panels other than that on which I was presenting. Now, however, I can more freely direct my attentions, and I very much appreciate being able to do so; the generalist nature of my graduate program, along with my indiscriminate readings during my happily vanishing your and after, left me markedly interested in a great many things.
Indeed, I find that it is very useful to be involved in things outside the regular subject area, both in the academy and outside of it. The Good Doctor warns of the dangers of overspecialization (namely the fragmentation of knowledge and the inability to perceive singularly important connections between related--and even unrelated--areas of study) in "Sucker Bait," among others, and I, who very nearly cut my teeth on Asimov (and regularly return to him), keep the warning in mind. That I have, as a petitioner for admittance into and an indweller of the ivory tower, seen too narrow field specialization inhibit understanding over and over again has served largely to push me to do what I can t keep it from happening to myself.
I do think that doing so, that pursuing even passing knowledge in a variety of fields (and I do, believe me), helps me to recall the interconnectedness of all knowledge and all scholarship. For I truly do believe that it is the case that all of us who are at work in the ivory tower, from its deepest basements to its highest crenellated turrets and under its peaked roofs, are fundamentally pursuing a single object: The Truth.
Perhaps I am naive to think so. Perhaps I am deluding myself that my own field of study, one engaged primarily if not exclusively in looking at what people centuries dead wrote and which few outside of college literature surveys and the professoriate (broadly defined) anymore read, can be trying to do the same thing that more "practical" fields like physics or medicine or explosives technology or brewing science (I am so very, VERY annoyed at my high school guidance counselors for not telling me that such programs as the latter two exist! Among other things.) do. I do not think so, but I could hardly be expected to view myself in such a light.
If I am a fool for my thinking, then I harm nobody by pursuing my passion. But if it is not the case that I am pursuing some cockamamie idea in thinking that by studying and trying to promote a deeper understanding of the literatures of medieval England, as well as those literatures which derive from it at varying degrees and in varying sorts of removal, I am approaching a greater understanding of what it means to be a human being in this great and glorious creation we inhabit, then my pending return journey to Kalamazoo marks what I hope will be one step closer to what might well be termed enlightenment.
I look forward to it.