“Idiography” is my own coinage (although it turns out I wasn't the first to coin it). “Idio-” is a Greek root meaning “distinct, private, personal, own,” as in idiolect, idiopathic, idiom, and idiot (from the related Greek word idiotes, “private person, layman, ignorant person”). “-graph” comes from the Greek graphos, “written, writing,” as in graphology, graphomania, polygraph, and paragraph.
This blog is, then, my writing about what interests me, a hopeless polymath. I am, among other things: a pianist (classical and jazz) and vocal coach; a recovering musicologist, who spent 25 years attempting to establish myself in a field that ultimately had no place for me (see my CV and list of publications and papers); a proud holder of a Ph.D in music history from the University of Southern California, surely one of the most expensively and lengthily obtained but worthless degrees in the history of human intellectual endeavor; the world’s leading (if currently inactive) authority (probably because no one else wants to be) on the musical manuscripts of Mozart and his Viennese contemporaries; a six-year resident of Vienna, Austria, who has also lived in Los Angeles, Cardiff, London, Baton Rouge, Memphis, and Boston; for the past several years an avid student of human evolution, particularly the evolution of human (and animal) cognition, perception, and culture, and all the sundry fields related to these questions (paleoanthropology, cognitive science, linguistics, and so on); a born teacher; a film buff; a writer; a spiritual atheist Unitarian Universalist; a closeted math and computer science geek; a student of chi gong; and a BDD sufferer. I will write about any and all of these things in this blog.
My topics will include:
• “Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist.” An occasional memoir about my life in academia, from graduate student, to world-class (no, really) but indigent Mozart scholar and popular teacher, to unemployed and broke would-be intellectual and musician. The story of the academic humanities is seldom, if ever, told by the losers. I hope to help fill that gap, and to shed some light on the current state of the humanities and higher education. And I plan to tell the truth about my experience, which ought, at least occasionally, to provide for some lively entertainment. (For links to installments in this series so far, see my "Writings" page.)
•“Reflections on BDD.” Another occasional memoir, which will sometimes
intertwine with “Confessions.” I suffered for nearly all of my life
from Body Dysmorphic Disorder,
although I didn’t know this until 1995, and didn’t receive adequate
treatment until 2005. Although my “Reflections” will draw on this
personal experience, the series will by no means be a heartwarming,
inspirational, and Oprah-ready memoir of struggle and eventual triumph
over adversity. I will cover in detail the developing science of BDD
and related disorders, from a broad perspective: for example,
definition, diagnosis, and treatment in the context of wider issues of
(say) the preparation of DSM-V; the role of drug companies in research;
research into the genetics of mental illness, and so on. I’ll also look
at more abstract or philosophical issues, such as “identity” and
“self-image,” as well as considering such topics as the cognition of
self (in, for example, the “mirror test,” used to determine whether
animals are aware that they are seeing themselves in a reflection).
(For links to installments in this series so far, see my "Writings" page.)
• “One Culture.” In my years of looking at humanities from both the inside and the outside, and more recently from the vantage point of the sciences, I have come to feel that the alleged methodological chasm between the sciences and the humanities is an illusion, and that there is (or should be) rather a broad methodological continuum across all fields of scholarship, sharing a core set of general principles in logic, argumentation, the testing of hypotheses, and the use of evidence.
To the naive reader, this might seem obvious. But, in fact, most of what has passed for Theory in the humanities over the past several decades has not been evidence based, and the resulting scholarship has been largely vacuous.
These statements will lead many in the humanities (although very likely not the sciences) to jump to conclusions (nearly all of which will be incorrect) about my attitudes, my politics, and even my personal values. Tough. Argue with me (although I won’t be kind to ad hominem attacks).
I plan to begin with a reconsideration of C. P. Snow’s celebrated essay “The Two Cultures,” and the responses to it over the 50+ years since its original appearance. I also plan to revisit Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which, in spite of its tremendous influence across a wide range of fields, seems to me to suffer from obvious fundamental intellectual and logical flaws. And I’ll look at recent writing on the humanities, by Louis Menand, Jerome Kagan, Martha Nussbaum, and others.
• “Art as Knowledge.” Recent years have seen a growing fashion for research into the ways in which science (evolutionary psychology, say) can potentially shed light on the arts. I will look at work in this area. But I will also attempt to show how art, in turn, serves as a potential repository of observation and potential insight into human cognition, perception, behavior, and culture, suggesting fruitful questions and avenues of research.
• This blog will also (eventually!) contain review-essays on books, films, and music (both music that I’m playing and performing, and music that I’m listening to). For a list of what I’m currently reading, watching, playing, or listening to, or what I’m hoping to get to soon, see “In the Stacks” [this page is currently on hiatus].
• I will also discuss topics in the sciences, particularly all aspects of human evolution, particularly as they relate to the evolution of human cognition, perception, and culture, and I will comment to a wide range of new research on these topics.
• My other hobbyhorses include: Open Access in scholarly publishing; the idiocy of current copyright and “intellectual property” law; GLBT issues and same-sex marriage (I’m straight, or at least I was last time I had the opportunity; but life with BDD has made me particularly passionate to protect the rights of others to love and be loved)....and whatever else happens to be among my enthusiasms of the moment (as I said, I’m a hopeless polymath). And there is likely to be a certain amount of low-grade Mac fanboydom.
I’ll also attempt to maintain a fairly regular “Daily Digest” (and a single “Weekend Roundup” on weekends) of commented links to items I’ve been reading or that I've found particularly interesting.
The subtitle of this blog is “A personal feuilleton.” The concept of the “feuilleton” is not well-known in the English-speaking world. A feuilleton was, originally, a supplement to a French newspaper that was (as English Wikipedia puts it) “a kind of supplement attached to the political portion of French newspapers, consisting chiefly of non-political news and gossip, literature and art criticism, a chronicle of the latest fashions, and epigrams, charades and other literary trifles” (see the article here, and also the one in German Wikipedia here). The term grew, in German and Austrian newspapers, to refer to sections concerned with literature, the arts and general intellectual matters, with a tone and approach that was, in the main, much more serious. The closest example I can think of in any American newspaper of which I’ve been a regular reader is the “Ideas” section in the Boston Sunday Globe, before that section was so reduced in size that it ceased, for me, to be necessary Sunday reading. The closest thing now among my regular print reading is The New Yorker (which remains essential).
This blog is my personal feuilleton. It’s basically a magazine about what’s going on in my mind.
So why am I going to all this trouble for free?
Well, for one thing, I secretly hope that it won’t continue to be entirely for free (see my “Support” page). The world of creative work—whether it be music, art, literature, scholarship, or criticism—is going through a period of fundamental realignment, one perhaps as profound as the period after Gutenberg. Old structures for distribution are disintegrating, as digital distribution has obviated the need for mediators between creators and their audiences.
But no one has yet quite figured out a new model for how creators will be compensated for their work, and thus have the incentive to do it. It’s clear, though, that using ads for the compensation of creators is not a good model for the long run, even if it is very common now. Consider, though: How well did that work out in the case of television? Not very, I think most potential readers of this blog will agree...
After spending several years still hopefully but vainly pursuing the old model of looking for an academic position that would provide a steady income as I wrote about the intellectual work that I was engaged with, I finally realized that, position or no (and no seemed to be the mostly likely continuing outcome) I simply needed to start writing before I ran out of time.
And, as I have long realized, writing (at least for me) is the best way to refine and clarify my thoughts. I just have to hope that at some point, someone will find these thoughts of value.
As the public service ad used to say: A mind is a terrible thing to waste. And I had to make a unilateral decision to try not to waste this one.