Friday, 29 June 2012
As an undergraduate, I encountered only two really inspiring teachers.Neither tutored me but they lectured publicly in the University and drew enthusiastic audiences. Isaiah Berlin pulled in hundreds for his inspired, noteless and flawless oratory. A J Ayer drew a smaller crowd for what he called "Informal Instruction". Designed for postgraduates, undergraduates could also get into the class. Ayer marched around the room demanding questions from his audience and accepting answers from the brave.
Born in 1910, Ayer had published Language, Truth and Logic in 1936 before his 26th birthday. I had the book in hardback. It wasn't in any sense one of my favourites, but at some point the biographical detail inspired an ambition: I wanted to write and publish a book before I was 26. That gave me until July 1973.
I didn't make it. At the end of Language, Truth and Politics I dated it (following the fashion created by Althusser) "April - September 1973". I had been working up the material for the book more or less since my graduation in 1968 but I missed the deadline of July 1973 because, making the final-final version, I fell ill (Hepatitis A so Proper Ill).
I had a publisher to whom I duly delivered the typescript (I typed it myself). Then the terrible wait began. It got longer: the publisher said he was seeking to set up a simultaneous American edition. I couldn't wait any more and, in the end, withdrew the book and self-published it with my partner, Jean Stroud, in the summer of 1975. It didn't do any harm: there were lots of reviews and the print run of 2000 sold out quickly. Last time I looked, second hand copies were freely available on the Internet for the usual $0.99.
The ambition I had (almost) achieved was, no doubt, naive and vain and arrogant. But it did provide a structure for my reading and writing which always tended to lose focus and go off in all directions. I was never an efficient worker, someone who made each book they read yield some written output. That's probably still true, though I have just this year started another Blog Cover to Cover where I review the books I read, provided only that I manage to read them cover to cover.
All ambition spent. I Googled that phrase but it doesn't appear to be an Author Author expression.
Quite often recently, as my 65th Birthday approaches, I have tried to focus an Ambition - say, one which would have to be fulfilled within five years. I don't think it's going to happen, even if I widen the range of possibilities beyond the idea of writing One More Book. I have toyed with trying to become a millionaire (surely not that difficult?), or making things right with all the people I have fallen out with during my life (surely difficult), or learning something new and properly (I don't think it can be done).
I am not discontented and that may be one reason it's not going to happen. The Pateman who wrote Language, Truth and Politics was an angry young man, sometimes unpleasantly so (I think especially of my time as a postgraduate student in Richard Wollheim's Philosophy Department at University College, London).
I don't have as much energy, though I don't think that is a main reason. In terms of health, I did worse in my twenties.
I want quick results, as I always have done. That may be a more significant factor: I do like Blogging for that very reason. It's like getting more bangs for your bucks.