Joe Fins ’82: The Intellectual Adventure Continues

September 1, 2011

[Joe Fins ’82] Hi Wesleyan,

I just had a flashback to a scene in the College of Letters Library. It was the week before graduation and I just finished my senior thesis, a treatise on the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, literature and creativity. With my editorial work done it was time to pack up copies for distribution to my tutor and the other readers.

Because this was not a routine paper, a staple in the corner would not do. This effort had evolved into a manuscript that warranted special care. It had to be placed, unbound, in a cardboard box for safe passage to my readers. And ultimately — if it were worthy — to its ultimate resting place in The Honors College where it would receive a solemn black binding with gold stencil.

I am sure Jacques Lacan and the Question of the Self has sat untouched by human hands in Honors College for nearly thirty years. Nonetheless, the experience of writing one’s first book has lingered.

I was reminded of that experience when I sent a brand new manuscript to my editor at Cambridge University Press. I had just finished a first draft of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics and The Struggle for Consciousness. It is an account of patients and families with disorders of consciousness and the scientific advances which have the potential to help reintegrate individuals who have been marginalized and forgotten in chronic care.

My editor was fortunately a bit old school. She did not want a PDF of the manuscript but a hard copy, unbound. So once again, I placed a manuscript in its own special box and carefully enclosed it within a FEDEX box for delivery. As I tucked in the envelope corners and applied the tape, I was transported back to another late night, in Middletown when I was preparing my thesis for transport.

Strangely enough the moments were the same. They were both tactile and cerebral. The art and craft of boxing and writing yielded a Zen-like moment of reflection that accommodated both the thrill of accomplishment and the fear of rejection. But at that moment, as both packages were neatly trimmed, the prevailing sentiment was one of gratitude for simply being able to arrive at that moment, to have produced any work. That feeling swamped any hubris or dread related to the book’s reception.

And I as I sat there, I was grateful to Wesleyan, a place where ideas grow into books under the watchful eyes of teacher-scholars who write to teach and teach to write. We were all the beneficiaries of their efforts. They taught us how to be intellectually audacious, to read in whatever subject it took to track down a justification or to inspire a new idea and make the argument as well as we could.

It is that intellectual audacity for which all of us from Wes are known. We were taught to think as if scholarship were an adventure, destination unknown. And in the process of exploration, we have come to expect the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of packing up a manuscript for shipment in the morn.

All the very Best,

Joe Fins ’82

Joseph J. Fins, M.D., F.A.C.P

Chief of the Division of Medical Ethics
The E. William Davis, Jr., M.D. Professor of Medical Ethics
Professor of Medicine, Public Health and Medicine in Psychiatry
Weill Cornell Medical College

Former Trustee and Chair of the Alumni Association
Wesleyan University

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