October 17, 2020:
Second summer home, a kid I'd hung with four or five years earlier wanted to talk philosophy.
He was a wargamer, an SCA alumnus. Back in the day we'd skipped school together, played SPI games, drank beer. Sometimes I'd shared from my bag of whites, sometimes not. Now as a young collegian he rented as his first independent home a converted garage near San Diego State. We played Pong, talked about girls, less about books. He was practical more than intellectual, the kind of fellow who grows up to be an insurance inspector or a vehicle buyer for local government. A person who knows about real life and its objects, less about theory and its. I'm not sure why he wanted to talk philosophy. The experience deepened my sense of a growing intellectual gulf between myself and the world.
For him "philosophy" meant proofs of existence. I think, therefore whatevs: how do I know the real from the not? Where to underscore "the real" he rapped on the wall with his knuckles.
I tried to explain, patiently I hope, that this wasn't my interest. My elevator speech was "scientificity": what categorizes one form of knowledge as "scientific" while another, equally true, might be lore or intuition or sheer good luck?
I was not yet fully confident answering these questions, but the fact I could pose them underscored my rapid evolution at Johnston. I'd read Kuhn, started with Althusser, knew of Bachelard and Canguilhem, and more broadly immersed myself in Marx, Freud, Braudel, Joyce, and the Greeks. Although we'd begun from roughly similar starting blocks it was clear my education was vastly outstripping his, to the point I'd have to deliberately slow down my side of the conversation for him to keep up.
This was an outcome of the way Johnston worked which had not been my experience in conventional environments. At Johnston we didn't read What Freud Really Said or Marx for Dummies. We read Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, The Ego and the Id, Civilization and its Discontents, Moses and Monotheism. And Marx: the Vintage anthology of political writings; Capital Volume 1. We read at the graduate level and I re-read the materials repeatedly, again and again, in my struggling ADHD way.
This is not to say my career there had been unproblematic. In fact it was ambivalent, often conflictual. I'd developed troubled relationships with professors who were not the resources they should have been. Yet this conversation made plain how rapidly I'd progressed, at speeds I knew from experience I would not have achieved elsewhere.
We hung out from time to time that summer. Me and this dude from the past. He was fun, and I got on well with his girlfriend. She was red like me, with ties to one of the historically major Trotskyist groups. As it turned out, we got on a little too well. After dinner one evening she tried to kiss me, and he stopped being my friend. I can guarantee my professors had nothing to do with that particular disaster.
I ended the summer feeling more isolated than ever. Before Johnston I'd deliberately fostered distance. Now, even if I tried to reach out, there was a gulf, a new one, where I knew more than others, was in some ways more sophisticated, and was terribly unsure how these things should make me feel.