A Platonist Dilemma

I broke out in a rash about a week ago. Red dots came out on both wrists covering the area you would see if you look down when you’re typing. I attributed it to stress.

What is there in my life to stress me out?

After turning in the dissertation whole in December, I was informed in January that it would not do, precipitating, for me, a crisis. After meeting with my advisor for two hours, I came away with no clear idea of what I had to do but nevertheless resolved. Resolved to work steadily and to have no days off. I would work every day except the Lord’s day, and on that day I only teach Sunday School, and lead worship and preach twice. Resolved to have to forego any vacations other than snatching a few days here and there. Resolved that the only way forward was to work as hard as possible until I got out from under the burden. I no longer enjoy researching my dissertation, I do not enjoy the subject of my dissertation, and I think the argument is trivial and its contribution to knowledge insignificant. I resolved to wade into it nevertheless, and I hit a wall. I was paralyzed. I realized I have no idea what to do next, and then I got the rash.

There are of course a whole bunch of factors. I do live the writer’s life. I write 300,000 words (at least) every year because I don’t have the confidence to get up and preach without writing down everything I’m going to say. I have a series of lectures I’m giving for a friend in Colombia on Christianity in the Middle Ages. That’s going to require 60,000 words. I have to do it especially when I speak in Spanish: knowing all the vocabulary you are going to need requires some advanced exploration. That is hard work, but it is work I enjoy. I love the research. I did the same thing last year and it was a highlight. Neither thing was the cause of the rash.

The thing that I think is behind the rash is the rewriting of the dissertation. Is my body telling me it is not going to go along? Why a rash on the wrists, of all places?

You know what galls me the most about having my dissertation turned down like that? The thousands of dollars in continuation fees. I have the knowledge, mostly. Can I really bring myself to care enough about the degree actually to pay for this? I think my own body is saying no.

That would sound unambiguous, except that for a Platonist to listen to the body when it acts up that way poses a dilemma. Is it the lower part of me, or is it a deeper part of me?

I have since concluded that the Platonic lesson is that I need detachment. You do what you can, but you contemplate, mainly. You take it one step at a time. You are not anxious or stressed out about it. Who cares about temporal rewards such as having a degree when I already have the learning in my indestructible soul, mostly? This is the Platonist way. Perhaps I can avoid also having a rash. It is kind of like Balaam, who was driven by temporal achievements and vain glory: he was forced to listen to brother ass, wasn’t he?

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