I had a curious reaction after writing my little blog post about our condo porch bird house, reflection on which has taught me something about myself. Inasmuch as blogging is to narcissism, we might say, as pornography is to eroticism -- a bastardized form of an already suspect obsession -- I suppose it is perfectly appropriate that I should write about my reaction here.
After posting my report about my anxious interest, and Susie's, in the fate of the baby bird in our birdhouse, I promptly lost all interest in the bird. Now, very little, save the life of a sparrow, hangs on that bird's successful launch from the birdhouse, and although the Good Book assures us that His eye is on the sparrow, He is, after all, omniscient, so He has lots of unused RAM for such things. But why should this avian domestic drama lose its appeal for me so abruptly?
I am, as I have often observed, a writer before all else, and to write is to transmute some moment of transient reality into eternal art. Once I had found the right words to report the Bird House moment, it underwent a transformation for me into something approximating art. Its potentiality as a subject of a blog post was realized, and hence its importance to me ended.
Kierkegaard observes that the essence of the ethical is repetition, whereas the essence of the aesthetic is novelty.
I have often observed very much the same pattern in my philosophical writing, but until now I do not think I fully understood its meaning. My first book, published just half a century ago, was Kant's Theory of Mental Activity, a scholarly explication of Kant's First Critique. The customary academic response to such an achievement would have been for me to become a Kant Scholar, which is to say, someone who goes on to write other books about the same subject, gives conference talks about the same subject, reviews other books on the same subject, and very quickly becomes known as "Wolff, the Kant scholar." But in fact I did nothing of the sort. Almost immediately, I began writing about nuclear disarmament, then about political theory, then about educational theory, and finally, after the passage of some time, about Kant's ethical theory. It was thirty years before I wrote another original paper about the First Critique. The same thing happened with regard to Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. After publishing in 1960 a major paper, much read and reproduced, on Book I of the Treatise, I never again published a word about Hume until I began writing my blog tutorials fifty years later.
I have often remarked that I am not a scholar. I mean by that not merely, or principally, that I write books and essays that lack footnotes, but that my writing is not, for me, a participation in an on-going scholarly discussion. Rather, writing for me, despite the fact that I write serious argumentative non-fiction, is an act of artistic creation. That, I think, is why I never show what I have written to other scholars before publishing it.