Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ruminating on Essay Name Changes and Brown Bags

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

I decided to change the name of my essay on contract theory, concluding that it did not truly capture the intertwined loops of paradox that I think underlie our simultaneous use of private law as subjective Kleinbottle_2 instrumentality and our attempt to make sense of it as an objective normative system.  In fact, I realize that I like the foregoing sentence as much or more as anything I have it in now, so I'm sure another revision is in store.  It's waiting to be approved by "SSRN Management" (what do they do to approve the revision?), and will reappear shortly as Instrumentality, Objectivity, Self-Reference, and the Futility of Justifying Contract Law.  (Until it's approved, this link will show the old paper.)

Speaking of paradox and topology (the Klein bottle above is a good representation of how I often see the world), I said goodbye to Tulane the other day in a brown bag lunch session.  (It was advertised as follows: "I will be in the Faculty Lounge about noon, muttering and/or babbling incomprehensibly on the subject 'Aboutness, Thingness, and the Viscosity of Rules.'")  I attended several of these over the course of the year, and I loved how people would float ideas not fully thought out, and without fear that the very half-baked-ness would somehow reflect on them.  A colleague here said that was one of the differences between being in academia versus the real world:  you could do stuff like that without fear.  I'm not so sure the gap is that wide.  There's no question that there was a palpable fear in the corporate world, particularly in the business review context (long tables of more senior management facing off against senior management in day-long mind-numbing sessions of endless Powerpoint slides) about appearing to know everything.  I'm not so sure that doesn't exist as well in the academy (see discussions in the blogosphere among young professors about whether they should let senior faculty see early drafts of papers), but certainly these brown bags, at least here at Tulane, accomplish the task of putting everybody at ease.

The other thing I've found is that, by and large, law professors are only slightly less concrete in their orientation to the real world than practitioners.  Do you remember the climactic scene in Tootsie, whereTootsie Dustin Hoffman in drag as Dorothy Michaels as Emily Kimberly reveals that he is really Edward Kimberly played by Michael Dorsey.  It happens when the crew has to reshoot a scene that is live, and Hoffman/Michaels/Dorsey/Kimberly goes off on another unanticipated ad lib:

Emily: I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the object of so much genuine affection. It makes it more difficult for me to say what I'm now going to say.  I do feel it's time to set the record straight.  I didn't come here just as an administrator.  I came to this hospital to settle a score.

Dr. Brewster (as usual, vapidly puzzled):  What score?

Emily: My father built this hospital.  But to his family he was an unmerciful tyrant.   An absolute dodo bird.

Ron, the director (in the booth, aghast): Oh, no! Not live!

Rita, the producer (also in the booth, hopefully):  Let's see where she goes.

I'm pretty sure the reaction of Ron and Rita was the reaction of most of my colleagues every time I started to say something at a meeting in the law firm or the corporation.  I will admit that faculty colleagues are more tolerant.  But I know it's what they are thinking.

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