Farewell, semester

Tomorrow marks both the end of our semester and the end of my guest-blogging stint, so I thought I’d write one last post as farewell. I’ve enjoyed my time here and hope you have too.

Anyway, for my final post I wanted to muse a bit on what the summer break really means. Of course it’s a welcome break from the hard work of teaching, teaching prep, meeting with students, serving on committees, going to events, etc. And for most academics, the summer is the primary chunk of time in which to write. But I think the summer break has an important expressive and psychological value as well.

Being a legal academic requires living simultaneously in two very different worlds. During the school year, when everything’s at full swing, the job of a law professor isn’t that different from any other job. Sure, we have more freedom, but most of us have to be at the law school at scheduled times, have lots of meetings, and participate in an external work community (albeit one composed of eccentrics). Your days have a rhythm and a set pattern to them, and you function as a public person.

During the summer, however, the legal academic reverts to the classic definition of a scholar, someone who focuses primarily on the intensely internal world of thinking and writing. Perhaps not quite a monk in his cell, but a time of deep contemplation, an immersion into the life of the mind. To get to this state, I find, is no easy task, because it requires the ability to achieve an inner silence–a stillness within.

Pascal famously observed that “[m]ost of our miseries do stem from the fact that we have lost sight of the importance of being silent, for even a short period, every day of our lives.” As I continue along my academic path, Pascal’s observation becomes ever more true. How often is it that any of us can obtain the interior quietude that is required for serious thinking and true scholarship?

As we finish up our semesters and embark upon the summer, I hope we can all find the inward concentration and contemplation that we all need. Thanks for listening.

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3 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:


    That was exquisite. In teaching ‘comparative world religions,’ the theme of silence (often, although not exclusively, in ascetic, mystical and contemplative sub-traditions) arises frequently, and in a day and age when the fragmentation of consciousness seems ubiquitous, when the pace of our lives is dictated by an acquisitive capitalist ethos, technological gadgetry and wizadry, and obsession with status, silence does indeed provide a necessary contrast and counterpoint from which to cultivate another, if not more proper, perspective. Pico Iyer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pico_Iyer), Time magazine essayist, travel writer and novelist, has frequenlty alluded to the benefits of his annual summer sojourns to the New Camaldoli Hermitage (Benedictine monastery) in Big Sur, and one of my former teachers from graduate school, the late Walter Capps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Capps), wrote a wonderful little book, The Monastic Impulse (1983), which in effect is a celebration of the virtues of silence. Many of my generation have been drawn to Buddhism for this very reason as well, for it has developed something on the order of a science of mind or consciousness based in part on the practice of meditation (cf. Rick Fields’ How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, 1992 ed.).

  2. Thanks for a great visit! And best wishes for a still summer.

  3. Frank says:

    Thanks so much for your insights, Laura. I agree, there is a real lack of contemplation in the world, and we can hope the academy can be one place that will try to cultivate it–both for its permanent members, and for students, and for the community as a whole.

    I highly recommend Steven Keeva’s book, Transforming Practices: