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Inertia is the tendency for a mass to remain in a constant and uniform state of motion until acted upon by an external force. Inertia is motion. Inertia is also rest. Inertia, in and through the mass of a body, is the resistance to change.
We talk about inertia as if we understand it — but what are we observing when we see inertia? Unhindered motion? Freedom? Absolute stability? A fundamental “desire” in an object? It is an explanation unlike any other: as an essential principle or law, inertia is present in every object but arguably never witnessed — the observer sees only motion, or the lack thereof, and this is merely a collection of forces acting in specific ways. And yet, science has named it.
Thresholds 39, “Inertia,” is not a book-closing treatise on the concept that lends its name to this issue. Each article contained herein approaches the theme of “inertia” from a unique angle. If themed journals, in some quarters, seek unity in the various articles included, this is not the case in Thresholds 39. Readers will likely sense friction between respective interpretations of “inertia.” Indeed, one could argue that this issue, itself, lacks inertia: every article swerves into different lines of thought, offering reinterpretations of artwork, making unusual connections between people and ideas, and veering off into speculative, even contentious areas of reasoning. Articles range in historical focus, method, and disciplinary standpoint. What brings the following texts together is not “inertia” as a comprehensive theme; the concept itself is conflicted and multiple. While “inertia” is hard to get a handle on, this difficulty is, in fact, productive: every article in this issue of Thresholds makes valuable contributions to the project and process of thinking.
In the academy, “critical” thinking means confounding and questioning typical modes of thought. But to qualify thinking as “critical” implies that the mind has a tendency toward inertia. On the contrary, I suggest that thinking does not inherently move toward stasis. Thoughts can be described as linear, but what is logical for one person is not always straightforward for another. By the same token, what is an interruption of thought for one may be productive and revelatory for another. If we accept that intuitions, belief systems, and logical processes are partially shared but by no means universal, what narratives are we trying to disrupt when we think “critically”? When is the interruption of thought or action most productive? And when is it best to ride the wave and see where you end up?