Monday, March 10, 2008

Unwritten Books

My greatest intellectual fear – one that afflicts me whenever I finish writing something – is that I will have no more ideas, that I will realize that I have nothing to say. It could be worse, of course: I could fail to realize that I have nothing to say.

By way of insurance and with the inspiration of George Steiner, I here record five proposals for books that I would like to write. Steiner's own unwritten books include one on artistic envy, others on Jewish identity and animal rights. Notes for a book on his attachment to privacy appear beside a chapter on copulating with partners of every nationality: a penetrating study of language and sex. Steiner's erotic descriptions defy parody; read the Sunday Times review.

The suggestions that follow are not so erudite or, I hope, quite so embarrassing; nor are they all entirely serious…
1. Oxford's Hypatias – For about a decade from the late 1930s to 1940s, Oxford was home to five of the most influential women in 20th century philosophy: Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch and Mary Warnock. Two of them – the least important in academia – have written memoirs, and we have Peter Conradi's meticulous biography of Murdoch. But there is no serious intellectual history of this unparalleled time.

2. What Does It All Mean? – Despite their numerous flaws, these posts at least did not ignore the question: "Does life have meaning?" not "What does it take to live a meaningful life?"

3. Oscar Charleston: the Hoosier CometCharleston may have been the greatest all-around baseball player in history, next to Honus Wagner. He played center field for a series of teams in the Negro Leagues, ending up at first base and managing the Pittsburgh Crawfords at their peak, from 1932-36. Unlike some contemporaries, like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and even Willie Wells, he has yet to attract a biographer, though his life was surely as memorable as any.

4. Epistemology of the Old Ones – When I was 15, I compiled an enormous box of notes for a book contesting the now orthodox reading of H. P. Lovecraft as a "mechanistic materialist." I don't recall the particular charges and I could not recommend the notes – "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." – but I suspect that there was something there.

5. Hull is Other People – As previously advertised, the story of my path from Kingston-upon-Hull to Pittsburgh, the Sheffield of Western Pennsylvania.
Let me stress that I make no claim of copyright here: with the obvious exception of number 5, these titles are yours to take. I ask only for a brief acknowledgment – "from an original concept by…" – and for a copy of the published book.