There is a line from Tom Stoppard that I like to quote, one that I suspect is important to Stoppard as well, because he has used it in his plays, with variations, at least twice: “The idea will not perish. What we let fall will be picked up by those behind. I can hear their childish voices on the hill.” As I move into the latter years of my career, one of the great pleasures I have is in seeing people come behind me to pick up what I have dropped or neglected.
At about the time that I felt that I had gotten as far as I could with a critique of our technological culture, Mike Sacasas picked up that theme and has written wisely and eloquently about it. I have struggled to find time to write as much as I would like about technologies of text and of the book, but my friend and former colleague Richard Gibson has picked up that theme and has done more interesting things with it than I ever could have: see his recent book Paper Electronic Literature, which I am going to write about at some future point. I haven’t felt the need in recent years to say anything much about what I called Left Purity Culture, because there are plenty of other people doing that work, for instance Jesse Singal. That there is so much good work being done on topics that I once wrote about regularly and still care about is an encouraging thing, in part because no truly important issue can be explored by a single person, and in part because my freedom from doing that particular kind of work allows me to focus my attention on the things that other people aren’t writing about.
Another form of this dynamic: When people take up the same issues that I am writing about but pursue them from a different perspective and with a different toolkit. My work on invitation and repair largely within the world of literature and literary culture has its complement in Sara Hendren’s work on critique and repair from the perspective of design and the human-built world. I’m very much looking forward to further engagement with Sara on these matters, because she is someone that I have already learned a lot from and expect to learn a lot from in the future.
A former colleague of the late and always-to-be-lamented Paul Farmer said that when she asked him how he managed to keep working on global heath issues when so many other people got burned out, he replied that the secret is “doing hard things with friends.” Farmer’s work was infinitely more important and radically more challenging than mine, but still, that’s what I want to do from here on out: hard things with friends. Including the friends who have arrived on the scene after me; and even, in a way, those who will come onto the scene after I’m gone. Hello, friends! Let’s do the hard stuff together.