The Read

I’m taking a short break from it while I wait for my soup – that wonderful soup I made a huge vat of last night, using the essence of the left over carcass of a roast chicken I served on Christmas day combined with various delicious vegetables from the farmer’s market – to heat up for dinner. I need the break, as I’m mentally exhausted. Although I strongly feel like having a nice evening glass of wine, I am forbidding myself from having one since I must stay sharp for much longer this evening, despite my exhaustion. So a bit of blogging about my ongoing task will somehow serve as my relaxation. Oddly enough. Well, let’s see if it does.

I’ve been wandering an incredibly striking landscape, with such remarkable variety, detail, texture and hue. There are features that move me to tears at times, reduce me to fits of uncontrollable laughter at others, but mostly intense reflection throughout. I should be simply enjoying it for its own sake, drinking it in where I want to, letting it simply wash over me at times, while at others, cupping some of it in my hands and looking at it close up, before letting it flow away and moving on. But I do not have that freedom. Instead I have to look at it all with a view to ranking various features over others – putting it all into some sort of order. This is a terrible task to have to do, since so very much of it is simply wonderful in its own right, and there’s hardly any meaning to ranking some parts over the other.

What on earth am I talking about?

Well, as is so often the case with some of the things I get myself involved in, I can’t tell you much detail, since the process itself is ongoing, and rather sensitive. I’d not mention it at all were it not for the fact that I know there’s only the three or four of you (discerning readers that you are) looking at this blog, and so it’s really our little secret. Right? (!)

The landscape I’m wandering is one composed of the written word. I’m on the search committee for a certain department that will remain nameless, and it is for a faculty position in a certain area. We whittled down the applicant list last year to a medium length list, and now we’ve got to decide who to invite for interview – the final short list. So in preparation for the whittling, I am reading dozens of samples of the candidates’ work, and since this is the list of semi-finalists in an international search for a faculty position in a very strong department, you can bet that I am reading some astonishing work. Joyful, tearful, artful, thoughtful, woeful… and all wonderful. A marvellous landscape of work of all kinds, at some of the highest levels of quality. But I can’t just enjoy it for its own sake since every time I finish reading a piece of work I have to ask myself again how that helps me decide where this person is in comparison to all the others. Painful, because often it is a meaningless question.

I hate to say it but I’m relieved that it is not entirely down to performance in the samples of work that count in all this. As with any job, one has to take into account the entire skill set of the candidates and how well suited they are to the job in hand. There one takes into account other valuable things you look for in a good and effective faculty colleague as well, such as teaching ability, leadership, experience, and so forth. But so much of it is about the work you have in front of you of course, and right now it is an almost overwhelmingly difficult task to sort through so much great work. This is a most striking embodiment of “an embarrassment of riches”.

There. The soup is heated and eaten. I must get back to it. Of course, what I really want to do right now after so much of this (besides still wanting that glass of wine!) is to go and see (before it leaves theatres) the film version of The Road, the utterly beautifully written novel by Cormac McCarthy that I told you about last year. But I cannot since there is not enough time between now and the next meeting we have to do the thinning. I must continue my deliberations and ignore all my other pressing tasks for while longer (such as working on writing those two papers with some of my students, responding over email to an interesting physics question from a friend and colleague, and discussing over skype another manuscript of a writing collaboration with another friend and colleague – sorry guys!)

Ok. Back to The Read.


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