28 April 2007

The hypothetical

It is obviously very difficult to define the sort of rejection of society as a source of significance that goes into becoming centralised. You don’t give up on wanting or needing things that society can provide, or on trying to get them, but you do give up on thinking that you ought to be able to prevent anyone from opposing you, or that it is some sort of reflection on you if you can’t.

The hypothetical is very important; you don’t give up on your drive to get things, but you do have to ask yourself whether you would give up on it, or nor act on it, if there should happen to be some consideration of a higher order of significance (that appeared to you to be of a higher order of significance). This is quite independent of a belief in such a thing or even expectation that there might be.

However, the hypothetical precedes anything presenting itself as highly significant, and has more psychodynamic force than might appear; I mean it has an effect on what actually happens.

As I approached the final degree exam at Somerville I found it very difficult to be motivated. Of course this was comprehensible in view of the unappetising vistas of doing pointless things without a hotel environment, but it was very alarming because the idea of being an outcast in the non-academic wasteland outside of a career as a Professor in a university, without a hotel environment, was simply appalling and unthinkable.

So also was the idea of ending my period of supervised education without even one first class degree. I knew that getting a second class degree would entirely destroy my social identity and my relationship to society. I would no longer be able to identify in any way with myself as a member of society. I would never again meet anyone as myself.

But however much I wanted to retain at least the tiny toehold of respectability that a First would provide, the horror of the cancellation of my life that would result from failure made it no easier to be motivated. I could work only mechanically, with deliberate conscious effort, to do something in which I had no subconscious cooperation.

Of course I was on a higher level so there was no doubt that there was an urgency of overriding significance and that I wanted to proceed in whatever would be the best way in terms of it.

That should not be taken to imply that I found myself wanting to do anything different in life from what I had always wanted, which was the best sort of academic career, expansive research projects and so forth. It appeared even more urgent than pre-higher level to get on with this, and even more certain that I would be able to make significant progress in any field in which I was able to work.

On the face of it, the best way of proceeding was by having the most successful sort of academic career, but by now I had fallen foul of the system; years of tedious work in bad circumstances at other people’s behest still lay ahead, with no guarantee that they would lead to the sort of life I needed to have.

But if I did not get a research scholarship, what then? Exile into the non-academic wasteland outside of Oxford University, into a place with which I had nothing to do, which might perhaps contain an opportunity somewhere, but of which I knew nothing good.

The university was at least supposed to be about things that were meaningful to me, even if they were not doing them very well and there was no sympathy or motivation of any kind to which I could appeal.

All ways appeared barred against me, and my sense of urgency produced extreme desperation. I was on a higher level, and that implies that all information was, at least potentially, accessible. I tried, therefore, to find out something useful. Surely there must somewhere be someone who was willing and able to help me. If I could, I thought, get a name and address in Australia I would walk out of the college and catch a plane like a shot.

But nothing came. It seemed I could not get any specific information on this point. I would have to go on with what I was doing; it did not seem right to stop trying to work as hard as I could for the degree, equally it was impossible to have any positive motivation. It remained an uphill struggle to do something rather disgusting, in a rather disgusting situation.

Might it not be better to do badly and get a Second? It might be better to be thrown out and find something in the uncharted wasteland. Of course it seemed preferable to get a First and simply abandon the research scholarship, even if I got it,, but somehow I felt it could not work like that. Obviously one would be very strongly inclined to stick with what seemed like a more secure and obvious way ahead.

So I thought that I had better consider as hard as possible that it might actually be better to get a Second and to go out into the wilderness, if there were anything out there. This seemed wildly improbable, but one always had to be openminded to the improbable. If something improbable was the case, it was a fact.

So I considered this possibility very hard because I did not want my preferences to get in the way of what might, in reality, be the best thing.

After a short time of doing this, and quite suddenly, I stopped being stressed. It was all right, it was all worked out. I hadn’t been able to get information consciously, but my subconscious had all the information that was necessary. Whether I got a First or a Second, all I had to do was to follow my nose, or do whatever seemed obvious.

There would be a way ahead.

And one must admit, in retrospect, that my subconscious did quite well.

Within a couple of months I was being interviewed for a job at the SPR, by two of those who had been most concerned with the Cross-Correspondence scripts. A fortnight later I was meeting Sir George Joy at the SPR office, and before the next academic year started in October I had found out about the Perrott Studentship of Trinity College, Cambridge, and decided not to return to Oxford, as I had intended, but to stay at the SPR to try to get the grant.