Sunday, November 11, 2007


I get the feeling as I approach the end of my final semester of classes (not to mention a few years into being an instructor) that students are unwilling or simply do not know how to learn. These days they all seem insanely passive, apathetic, intimidated, cowed. I vacillate between blaming teachers, the system, and the individuals. All are to some extent culpable. Even the "smartest" people in class are often hesitant, fearful. Why? What's at the bottom of this mood? I sense that most people have come to expect that they'll be taught everything they need to know/think/feel about the subjects they read exclusively by the professor. They may read the material, but they form absolutely no opinions, ideas, areas of interest, connections, etc., for themselves prior to the class discussion since they expect that the professor will simply tell them what to think about it and *then* they will have learned something.

And it feels like they've been discouraged from thinking of themselves as even having opinions or ideas, particularly when it comes to approaching difficult material. But what I mean by opinion might more accurately be called a questioning and/or desiring mode. Students don't want to bruise their sensitive egos by talking in class and taking the risk of being "wrong." And the evaluative nature of academic institutions just exacerbates their fears, or it's where they learned to be silent in the first place. Ego is, in many ways, the enemy of learning--whether one has a fragile ego or an over-developed one. One can't protect oneself and learn at the same time. Learning demands that one must find a way to "forget," to move outside, to risk boundaries and the demands from outside (or from inside, for that matter). Asking questions of the text means asking the self questions, asking what one thinks and why, and why and how the text makes one think/feel differently. That is, simply put, learning makes the self a question, a site for change and development not reinforcement.
And desire is inextricably a part of learning in that desire is always an undoing of one's self-image, of what one knows about oneself. (I'm thinking of Plato's Symposium here, as an example of how desire and knowledge are united.) Engaging with literature or theory or any text (musical, visual, performative) offers a potentially transformative encounter with the self because it offers a way to explore not only what our own desires are/might be, but because it develops a desiring operation that unfolds who we might be in relation to the desires of the text. A desiring encounter is a performance between the text and the reader that offers the opportunity to explore how the desiring self--rather than the "ego-self," if you will--has been shifted, tested, *poked*. Learning through/with desire undoes the ego-self and provides the occasion for exploring how others might respond; it creates a kind of dialogue with the text and with its other potential interlocutors, offering multiple positions that contrast or inform one's responses and feelings in relation to these others. This is learning. It is always an active, dialogic, desiring, and ego-risking endeavor.

How then does one t/reach desire?

1 comment:

Anna Vitale said...

Yes. Didn't read this before we were talking on Tuesday. But there you were thinking about it.

Would teaching/ reaching desire be the same for taking responsibility for someone else's desire? Which I imagine can't be done . . . but what can be? I am toting around a copy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Chicago. I hope I get to a little bit of it.