Damn it! Why did I have to win the philosophy prize?! If I had won the Top Quark for political blogging, I would have made straightaway to the hot-tub store and put a down payment on a DreamJet Deluxe. As it is, I have to admit I'm a bit embarrassed. I am not an amateur of philosophy, but rather someone who earns his living at it; I am not a student, and not, except in a very conflicted way, a philosophy blogger.
Allow me to reflect for a moment on these distinctions. When I started ‘blogging’ (and I only admitted that this is what I was doing about a year ago), I did so precisely to be able to indulge a side of my personality apart from my career as an academic philosopher: a side that is free to say things without arguing for them, to be satirical rather than sincere, to appeal to rhetoric, emotion, phantasy, eros, and all the other subterfuges my tradition seeks to keep in check.
In 2005, when www.jehsmith.com first went up, all this was rather easier to do. But increasingly blogging is coming to be an important part of the academic profiles of a certain species of young professors. Group blogs are, more and more, important vehicles for conferring prestige, and I see no reason why in the near future they should not be the makers or breakers of careers. Relatedly, many younger academics are sculpting for themselves an online profile that really does nothing more than supplement their research profiles. For better or for worse, it is too late for me to follow that model: I have let off five years worth of irrelevant, unprofessional, sometimes compromising steam into the intertubes, and sometimes I fear that the principal result has been a general fogging up of my professional identity.
But like pretty much everything one chooses to do, it closes off some possibilities, even as it opens up other ones. Winning this prize, in the ‘philosophy’ category, brings me, willy-nilly, a bit closer to the respectable, career-complementing variety of blogging I initially eschewed. It’s always gratifying to win a prize, and as long as I'm going to win one, the silver hairs now sprouting on my back are tickled that it is the ‘top’ one. It’s especially gratifying to win this prize, this year, given that a previous interaction in this space had led me to believe that the contest’s judge was likely to be unsympathetic to my opinions. I supposed this all the more in this instance, since the post that was nominated (against my wishes) happened to be written in my usual brusque manner on a topic I knew to be close to the judge’s heart. I am grateful that he gave my modest little essay a clear-eyed read, and found what I had to say compelling.
Still, I cannot, under the circumstances, accept the prize money (again, damn!). What I propose to do instead is to turn it into a fellowship for a deserving graduate student at my institution. I will be investigating the formalities of doing this once I have returned to Montreal next week from my Middle American conference junket.