I had hoped to start posting today my personal number one favorite among my writings, topping even my review of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. This one has never been posted here, and indeed had never seen the light of day until I included it in Volume I of my collected published and unpublished papers, available as an e-book on Amazon.com. [The slender proceeds from that and my other e-books go to the McMaster University student-run Society for Philosophy and Culture that managed the publishing task.] But alas, it was written long ago on a manual typewriter, and I possess it only in the original typescript and a pdf file of that typescript. I do not seem to be able very easily to convert it to WORD in order to post it serially here, so I have done the next best thing, archiving the pdf file on box.net. A few words of explanation are in order.
Back in 1986 [I think], I was invited to take part in a three-day Workshop on Kant's Legal Philosophy, hosted by Columbia Law School. I prepared what I thought was a not-bad twenty-five page paper, par for the course for Philosophy conferences. But a conversation with the conference's organizer, Professor George Fletcher of Columbia Law School, revealed to me that the various law professors participating in the conference were writing what the legal profession calls "notes," which is to say papers ranging in length from 50 to 90 pages. Not wanting to be perceived as the guy on the block with the shortest piece [of writing], I attached an airhose to my essay and pumped it up to an acceptable fifty pages.
The editors of the Columbia Law Journal, students at the law school, had been invited to watch the proceedings [but not actually to participate] and were under orders to commit an issue of the Journal to the proceedings. Since they were all very bright, they immediately spotted my paper as what Kant might [but then again might not] have called a luftshtick, and suggested that perhaps I would like to write a report of the conference instead of expecting them to publish my bit of fluff.
I agreed, and produced a report with the title "Why Indeed? by Johannes Climacus. Responsible for Publication Robert Paul Wolff." Alert readers of this blog will of course recognize this title as a steal from Kierkegaard's brilliant short work, Philosophical Fragments.
When the students read my report, they were horrified. I think they feared that if they published it, they would never get jobs at posh New York law firms, and indeed might even not graduate from law school. I received a conference call from the assembled Editorial Board of the Law Journal, and the editor in chief asked, timorously, whether I would perhaps be willing to consider some editorial alterations. I said absolutely not, that it was a matter of principle with me not to let editors mess about with my writing, but that I would be perfectly happy if they chose simply not to publish it. At that, there was a collective relieved exhalation of breath from the other end of the phone and we parted friends. I put the report in my file drawer in a folder labeled "unpublishable essay," and, as they say in the Soaps, moved on with my life.
The twelve page report has always been a special favorite of mine. Indeed, I often think it is the funniest thing I have ever written. I am sorry not to be able to post it here, but you can read it if you follow the link at the top of the page to box.net.