Sunday, July 08, 2007

Electicism, Dilettantism, and Being a Fox Rather Than a Hedgehog

Eric Muller is going to make fun of me for this one too, I bet. But I love his blog, so I don't mind. But this post--like so many others--starts off one way, and finishes another. I like to go from mundane to meta.

I like all kinds of music. I'm just fantastically lazy about updating my music tastes. Sometimes, they're stuck somewhere in the 1940s. Which isn't exactly rocking. I'm often the young gal in the early-bird-special audience at my Peter Cincotti and Jane Monheit concerts, debating the "no one does it better than Billie, but what the hey" finer points of "I'll Be Seeing You."

Other times I'm in the wrong part of the country, listening to my George Jones and Loretta Lynn. And, I really do wish I were from Texas (like TC) so that I could sing "All My Exes Live In Texas" by George Strait and really, really mean it.

And I have a not-so-secret love affair with pop. I'm a closet pop tart who casually-on-purpose displays the cases for indie rock and classic rock while hiding my Corrs and Justin Timberlake CDs. I do listen to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, The Shins, The Decemberists...(I could go on) and I have an all-consuming love for Wilco. But once in a while, I just have to have some pop. And while we're at it, some hip hop with a more than generous dose of old school R&B.

Mostly, I hover on the edges of cool. One of my friends is a former college radio DJ-turned lawyer. Actually, I think there are a fair amount of those, trying to hold onto the vestiges of coolness on the weekends and living in hipster neighborhoods despite the commute to the financial district. But I get some good music pointers from her, and sometimes I like them, and sometimes I think "dude, that is a little too emo for me." But in general, I'm not totally uncool--I have been known to rock out, and Hipster Law Prof seems to dig my taste in music.

I sometimes envy people who are less eclectic, less dilettantish. They just seem more committed and certain. Those indier-than-thou guys with emo hair and total lack of muscletone. Those who can get away with saying out loud that Tupac is their dog. They seem so sure of themselves. They are specialists in their areas. They are hedgehogs. And isn't the legal academy supposed to be populated with hedgehogs rather than foxes? This dichotomy seems pretty apt in its description--there are far more specialists than Renaissance people. But I'm afraid I might be a fox. Sometimes, my eclecticism knows no bounds. My music tastes are emblematic of my all-over-the-map ways.

I'm worried that this breeds into my approach to everything. Not only do I read law review articles--I read fiction, poetry, non-fiction, blogs, newspapers, long-form journalism....you know, I wonder if I wouldn't be a better legal scholar if I just really focused on just one thing. But maybe I would be a more depressed, soulless person though. Not that I keep this up all year round, but I do try to knock at least one or two books per month, and I always read my New Yorker (this is why I don't oversubscribe to too many magazines). I skim maybe 10 blogs a day, cherry-picking the posts. I read broadly and widely--sociology, lit theory, even science. I'm everyone's favorite Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy! partner. I can talk on almost any subject for at least an hour, doesn't matter what. Most of the time, I'm happy to be a dilettante. If you like all kinds of music, you're pretty easy-going on roadtrips. If you're widely read, you can talk to anyone and their siblings/parents/significant others at awkward social events. So in general, I consider this a "good."

But with respect to my academic career, is it a bad thing to be a dilettantish fox? I was formerly a CRT'er, keep my finger in the con law pie (mostly anti-discrimination law), and am writing mostly interdisciplinary scholarship on employment discrimination law. Even whittled down, I'm writing in two areas (even if I read more widely): constitutional law and employment discrimination. Should I just choose one? Am I just too all over the place?

At what point do eclecticism, dilettantism, all-over-the-mapism, and fox-rather-than-hedgehogism become bad rather than good? hurt one's scholarly focus? In a law-law-land of hedgehogs, should a fox try to change her ways?

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