Does it ever happen to you that an idea crops up in your present life that reminds of something you read years ago, so you go searching for the book and for your notebook from that time hoping you wrote down some insightful detail that will help you now only to find that what you actually wrote was "Nationalism is has a religious nature. Nationalism acts as Durkheim-ian glue"?

I should be studying for my trusts and estates exam, which is at 1:30pm tomorrow and will surely be a disaster. Or perhaps for my accounting for lawyers exam, which is closed-book, multiple-choice, on a curve and happens Friday at 9:30am. Or maybe writing my section of a research paper on landfill gas energy projects that is due on Monday. Instead I was watching The Newsroom, and thinking about my paper for my professional responsibility/government lawyering class (due May 30th, clearly the bottom of the triage pile).

My final paper is tentatively titled "Legitimacy and Moral Injury: What John Rizzo Could Teach Us About the Project of Government Lawyering". It, according to the scraps of notes that I email to my self, (1) surveys theoretical perspectives on the government lawyer; (2) highlights two key tensions in those conceptions, the questions of who is the client and what is the role of counsel; (3) examines the results of failure to adequately resolve those tensions and (4) given the inevitability of failure, posits that the true measure of a government lawyer should be in her response to failure to resolve and her change going forward. Part three focuses on two consequences - impacts on legitimacy of government and impacts on personal integrity. Part four wonders what we do after we've failed, as we are guaranteed to.


As part of that I'm reading Achilles in Vietnam from Jonathan Shay, a VA psychiatrist who has spent years working with Vietnam veterans with severe PTSD, and who originated the idea of moral injury (or at least popularized it within DoD and Veteran's Affairs). That's the personal integrity side. As I was thinking about how to frame the legitimacy side, I recalled a book I read in college - Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities. That book was a significant influence on my undergraduate capstone paper (on the education system re: national narrative). I remembered writing a particular line that was eventually scrapped from that paper about the legitimacy of government resting on how well particular government actors are seen to be in accordance with our conception of what it is to be an American in relation to ourselves and to the rest of the world. Legitimacy, then, is largely a performative act. Lightbulb! That's relevant to this paper.

Now, do I have that book in my apartment now? No! Do I send my poor mother on a hunt for it in my parents' house? Yes! Does she find it? Yes! In a box of books I did not even know I still had there. Did I write down that line and its related thinking on a sticky note and put it in the book? No. Instead I wrote "Nationalism is has a religious nature. Nationalism acts as Durkheim-ian glue" followed by some scribbles about the cult of personality and Stalin and a fairly incomprehensible note about elastic synthetic bonds and societal fracture.

The passages in the book that led me to my lovely conclusion are obviously still in the book, I was just hoping that past me might have been more judicious in leaving future me a trail of crumbs to reconstruct the argument. So clearly the thing to do is not shelve the issue for now and return to it following my two exams and other earlier paper, it is to retrieve my entire capstone project notes file from my college external hard drive and comb through it looking for clues to what I was thinking four years ago.


And that is why I am sitting here at midnight the day before an exam reading a series of articles on Durkheim's conception of solidarity and collective consciousness. HELP! I am so interested in this, but also it needs to stop taking over my brain.