A salvage

At the start of this month, I began my first vacation in six years. A friend and colleague had done a similar thing recently and said that it takes a week just to switch off from thinking about work. My experience has been a little different, and the time off has also afforded a clearer view of the way I feel about what I do. I’m still to switch off from work, per se, but not because I’m so committed to the job. I think it’s because what I do for a living is a marginal extension of what I do in my default state: think about science, write, and keep learning. The last two are in fact my most favourite things to do. Work requires in addition to these things a scattering of obligations that I’m happy to fulfill and in exchange for a suitable fee. More recently, with India’s social and political climate being what it is, I realise that the things I like doing have acquired yet another layer of identity: that of being salvaged material – stories and ideas protected from the violence of misinterpretation, forgetfulness and irrelevance. I admit I much like the idea that my blog is a safe haven in this sense, but because it is, I also feel compelled to collect the preservation-worthy stories and ideas of others (as words or as permalinks). Most of all, it directly imbues the act of writing, within the framework of the internet and online publishing, with purpose. Purpose is easiest to acknowledge when its temper is evident in the smallest, most nuclear elements of the thing it inhabits. The purpose of war for example finds simple and complete expression in every plan conceived and bullet fired, in the direction of and against the welfare of Others. But it is much harder to answer the question “Why do you write?”. So when an answer presents itself, however briefly, you seize upon it, treasure it. You want more than anything to remember it because the instruments with which you express and understand purpose – words – are, to every writer, whether of postcards or of magnum opi, the same instruments with which to make and wield a million other meanings, and in the churn of which purpose is at constant risk of corruption. Words are semantically ergodic: they are capable of visiting every point in the universe of all possible meanings available to be constructed. This is infinitely beautiful but also diminishes the opportunities for historicity – of a sequence of events that is meaningful because of the sequence itself, instead of no one sequence being able to be privileged over any others. I can’t possibly write to visit every point in this universe, nor do I wish to; I write to construct a history that I find meaningful, and my heuristic of choice is the identity and evolution of purpose. Right now, it seems, the purpose is to salvage, and I’m grateful that it is as strong as to be immutable even in the articles and the commas of this silly post.