Friday, October 11, 2019

Changing interests

The contrast of the fox and the hedgehog is a reference to a fragment attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: πόλλ' οἶδ' ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ' ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα ("a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing"). The contrast is the subject of a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin. At any rate in the range of my intellectual interests I am very much a fox.
Once I made a list of almost 100 such interests, though some are dormant now. The living ones range from ancient Egypt to 20th-century abstract painting. Lately I have developed a passion for the older noir films - easily satisfied through the presentations on Turner Classics.
Why do some interests decline and then fade away? I used to follow Pre-Columbian archaeology closely, but now that i no longer make regular visits to see the sites, the books on this subject - I have quite a few - stare back at me in their neglect. For most of my teaching career I taught medieval art, but of late I have become weary of medieval studies, which are now riven with ideological disputes about whether they are racist or not. I would just as soon skip this stuff. And when gay studies got taken over by queer theory I pretty much shipped out.

As a rule I am drawn to subjects because I see - or saw - some positive value in them.  But not entirely.  Once upon a time I followed the Manson case because it seemed to say something about those turbulent times. But as we entered calmer waters my interest faded. Still, I suppose that cults and their gurus are a continuing but sporadic interest, going back to my stepfather's naive involvement in Dianetics, which later morphed into Scientology.