Being an RA for Reading Bernard Williams

Over 10 years ago, I was a Research Assistant at the University of North Florida. The task I was assigned was to help with the book Reading Bernard Williams. At the time, I was slowly developing a mental illness. Reading Bernard Williams was the last project I was able to complete in academic philosophy. Not long after its completion, I suffered my first psychotic episode. That was the beginning of a decade of struggles with schizophrenia.

I come from a working class background. I grew up in a small town in Texas. None of my teachers, growing up, really expected much of me. I was shy and awkward. I had so much anxiety I barely ate.

At the University of North Florida, I was exposed to many things and was given tons of opprotunities. I was stunned that I got to work on a book about a brilliant philosopher and help edit a few essays by other brilliant philosophers. It was beyond my comprehension.

While working on the book, my anxiety got to me. I read and re-read the select essays I was assigned to go over. Each stroke of my keyboard was filled with so much perfectionism that I felt tense in my hands, fingers and entire body. I wanted to do a good job.

I was overwhelmed with perfectionism. Eventually, it would over take me. Soon, I would be paralyzed with it. I would end up in a psychiatric hospital.

But not before I finished working on that book.

Dr. Daniel Callcut is the editor of Reading Bernard Williams. I had taken several of his classes. He trusted me to work on some of the essays for the book. I had read the likes of Martha Nussbaum for several years. I admired her. I never thought I would get to edit one of her essays.

But that’s exactly what I did. I copy edited the essay “The Women of Trachis” by Nussbaum, carefully going over each and every footnote. I handled my work with care. Possibly too much care. I was, after all, slowly going insane.

After the book was published, Dr. Callcut sent me a copy with an inscription on the title page. I removed that page and framed it. For the next decade, I kept that framed page in my bedroom on top of my dresser. On days that I felt like a loser, which came to be quite often, I would look at it and remember that I had a history of accomplishments.

If you happen to purchase Reading Bernard Williams, now you will know some of the toil that went into it. You will know what it meant for me to work on it. You will know what it meant to me as a young person who grew up in rural Texas. Working on the book didn’t drive me insane. Nothing I did in philosophy drove me insane. I have come to recognize that I have a brain disorder and am sensitive to stress. I try to manage my care properly. There have been times–in the psych unit or walking the streets barefoot during an episode of psychosis–when I may have seemed like all was lost for me all my life. I may no longer acutally be in academic philosophy anymore, but there was a time when I truly rocked. There was a time when I did excellent work on all accounts. When you read Reading Bernard Williams, you are taking in a piece of that time; the time when I did something great.

You never know that editorial history of a book until you look deeper. And you never know the wonderful things that can come from the disheveled people walking the streets.

Leave a Reply