John’s Message to Committee

Dear Catherine, Fish, Zach, Jonno, Theresa, Bea, Ivette, Carol, and Senay:

I am still trying to process the festschrift weekend.  It is really strange to be an observer of people talking about you, and as the weekend wore on, I think I disassociated myself from the topic.  That is, it became more and more about someone else.  Who is this guy they are talking about?  The dinner was the most bizarre for me.  I recognized all the people, and I recognized all the anecdotes, but I never thought of all the people and anecdotes somehow coming together to be about me.  Who is this guy they are talking about? I want to meet him.

I went from embarrassment (even an arrogant ass hole can become embarrassed) to confusion. It sincerely did not occur to me that all those things somehow were all related.  I knew I taught 101 for many years, but even I was shocked when all those former GSIs stood up.  And I remember talking to Helda about her experiences in ECOSUR, but I was shocked to hear that I had made her a feminist.  And a historian even said I was a historian!  Who is this guy they are talking about? I want to meet him. I want to be like him.

The weekend caused me to reflect.  I thought that I had always reflected, indeed reflection seems to be an obsession with me, but having all those people from a 45 year time span tell all those stories, made me reflect at something of a deeper level, and I am still reflecting on it.  Still not completely processed.  Turning into a bit of an obsession. I know I’m an arrogant ass hole (now you are supposed to reassure me that I REALLY am a sensitive new age guy), but the thing about all those anecdotes is that they somehow fit together.  It’s the fitting together that I’m having trouble processing.  Who is this guy?  I would like to be able to say that I’m proud of my accomplishments, but I honestly am having trouble doing so.  I am proud (I’m not sure that is the right word) of the accomplishments of you all and all those people you invited, but especially of how all your and their anecdotes come together into something of a whole.  And it would be the ultimate arrogance for me to think that they all come together to form this guy I’m trying to identify.  In a sense he IS great.  But he is not really me.  And it is the ultimate arrogance for me to somehow assume his identity. I really did do all those individual things that everyone talked about, but each one of them is sort of a triviality.  It is the coming together of all of them, their dialectical whole, if you will, that gives them meaning.  And would anyone suggest that that whole is me, or that I created it, or even that I had all that much to do with it except provide a bit of a space.  It’s as if I get credit for Vermeer’s paintings because I rented him a room to use as his studio, or like giving credit to Einstein’s landlord.  It’s not really the space I provide for all of you and all the other participants that matters all that much (yes it matters to some extent), but it’s really what you do with that space that matters, and, especially, what higher order interactions emerge from your use of that space.

And, at any rate, most of my behavior is conditioned by Dick Levins, and most of his behavior by his grandmother, whose behavior was conditioned by the Left-wing anti-Czarist movement in Russia, which was conditioned by Marx himself.  So from you to me to Dick to his grandmother to the Bolsheviks to Marx, it is all one big dialectical whole.  But that makes me a link in the chain, and ultimately I think it is mainly the chain that counts.  Links important, but not by themselves.

Well, this note was just meant to say thank you so much for putting together that weekend for me.  It got a little out of hand, I guess.  Sorry.