It is true that I don’t really watch TV. My perspective on Fox News is certainly biased. I only find out about what they are doing through Twitter. Amazingly enough, something that went viral actually interested me, though maybe not directly. So, if you have been living under a rock – as I am wont to do on occasion, this week a video went viral of an interview between a Fox News person and a Muslim who wrote a book about Jesus.
Well, not really about Jesus, but about the “historical Jesus” who is more imaginative and fantastical than the one that I know, but scholars who haven’t read their Kierkegaard seem to still be chasing after some sort of objective myth to base their weird faith upon.
That was not the part that interested me. That there are ignorant and hateful people in the world doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. That there are people that make their living from spreading ignorance and hatred is nothing very new either. I get my news by reading Der Spiegel and the BBC when I want to read in English. What actually interested me, was the reaction to the story.
My friend Ari Kohen has a very thoughtful post about Aslan’s response and his own scholarly work on heroism. Ari’s training was not in heroism, though I’m sure he is heroic to his wife and child – which is the most important. Ari’s post did however bring something to mind that I found interesting. Doing creative work is weird, and I’m wondering if there are real and qualitative differences between scholarly and creative work.
I’ve read Jacques Barzun enough to avoid the fallacy of assuming that creative work takes more emotional power than lets say mathematical work. The mathematician is just as invested in his/her equations as the writer is in his/her predicate objects. It is silly and arrogant to suggest that “creative” people have some sort of monopoly on emotion and use it more than people in other lines of work. It is true that our work sometimes communicates better. Whenever a University needs to entertain a guest, they seldom call the math department and demonstrate the solving of an equation. They phone the music department. However, that’s the other in. In the investment end, the chemist is just as passionate about his enzymes as I am about my F#’s.
The thing I can’t quite get around is that I certainly feel different when I am doing scholarly work than when I am doing “creative” work. When I do scholarly work, I am usually working in the area of religious aesthetics. I have had training and many years of reading on the subject. When I write on religious aesthetics in a scholarly capacity, I justify my arguments by referencing other scholars who agree with me. I also confront other scholars who disaagree with me, and make arguments based on source texts that seem to contradict other scholars’ opinions.
When I am doing my creative work, it seems much more complicated. There is definitely a tradition that I am referencing, but it is much harder to explain why an F# is the right choice. Sometimes, when I am writing, I do think things like, “This is right because it is what Bach or Britten would have done.” However, the one to one semiotic correspondence between the thing is not as concrete as when I am arguing a scholarly point in a paper. I can’t footnote my compositions in the same way I would footnote a paper. If I did, rest assured, I would use the Chicago style manual.
There is a point of existential courage that is more clear in writing an opera than in a scholarly paper. For me, the F# is correct because I think it is the most honest solution. It’s not that I don’t think that in a certain sense that writing a paper takes courage. It does. It’s just that the point of justification feels very different. In the paper, I justify myself by referencing someone else. In the creative work, the justification is more personal and amorphous in some ways. The F# is the right choice because…I don’t know. It is just right for me.
The weird thing is that the scholarly resort to “objectivity” results in a series of scholars that either agree or disagree with you. The F# results in people saying things like, “That choice was just engenious! How did you come up with it?” or “What a banal, trite bit of pastiche you’ve assembled there!”