I came to Civitella at exactly the right time: I had recently published a book and was eager to develop my thinking about a new project. How lucky I was to find myself in a new (beautiful) place, with new (brilliant) people to talk to. I divided my workdays between long sessions of exploratory reading and shorter sessions of equally exploratory writing. When I returned home I had written the preface to my new book and, more importantly, outlined two chapters on topics about which I knew very little three weeks earlier. Civitella obviously gave me the gift of time for focused reading and writing, but, more importantly, it gave me the gift of mental space. Transporting me away from my familiar habits and interlocutors, the residency was an opportunity to step back from my work, rethink my motives and goals, and re-animate my intellectual life. I am especially grateful for my friendships with the other Fellows and guests, who guided me to aspects of my research I would otherwise have neglected. I look forward to future mind-expanding conversations with them.
Excerpt from Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (Cornell University Press, 2018)
As an experience of wanting something, but not anything in particular, from the field of perceptible objects, the observational mood implies the lingering of attention somewhere “out there” in the world. The vagueness of the wish ensures the mildness of the mood — not because all vague wishes are mild (it’s never clear what in particular Marlowe’s Faustus wants with the magic power for which he trades his soul), but because this particular one amounts to an ill-defined interest that more closely resembles open-ended waiting than suspenseful anticipation. The constant but partial fulfillment of the observational mood’s sliver of desire preserves its ongoing gentleness.