11 May 2010

Who Needs Teachers?

Filed under: Culture, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 3:49 pm

I sympathize with the Boulder teachers, who face salary cuts and possible staffing reductions next school year. They argue, and in my opinion rightfully so, that since the school district’s top administrators are hired by the School Board, they don’t really represent the teachers’ interests. Instead, they impose a business model on education, cutting expenses designated for classroom teaching without imposing commensurate austerity measures on the managers and accountants and other overhead types who don’t directly contribute to the educational mission. On the other hand, the amount of money available for education really has diminished, a consequence of a general economic downturn that’s lowered the state and local tax revenues which are the only sources of funding for public schools. It’s possible that the electorate will vote for increased school taxes next year to offset the shortfalls, but I seriously doubt that the voters, facing their own diminished economic situations, will be in any mood to do so.

There are more drastic ways to reduce educational costs than incremental reductions in pay and in force. As I noted in a prior post, the school district has been experimenting with online courses. With no classrooms and with discussions taking place via blogs and emails, online teachers can be spread more thinly, reducing per-student costs. Then there’s home schooling, which costs the taxpayers nothing at all. I’ve not made a systematic study, but on a cursory review it’s evident that, in comparing course grades and test scores and student satisfaction, the e-learners and the home-schooled achieve equal or better results compared to students in traditional learning environments. I’ve also looked a bit at the impact of differences in teacher quality on student outcomes: again, the results aren’t at all persuasive that better teaching yields better learning. And despite all the advances in pedagogy over the past decades, standardized test results in the US remain steady.

Which brings me to today’s book report.

“In 1818, Joseph Jacotot, a lecturer in French literature at the University of Louvain, had an intellectual adventure.”

Joseph Jacques Rancière, former protégé of Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, presents Jacotot’s adventure as a paradigm for educational overhaul in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1987). In 1815 Jacotot, a celebrated scholar in France, found himself exiled to Brussels. Knowing no Flemish and having no motivation to learn it, Jacotot assigned his students the task of learning French by studying a bilingual French-Flemish translation of The Telemachy. Jacotot didn’t teach his students The Telemachy, nor did he teach French lessons; he simply told them to learn French by reading the book. Periodically he would ask the students how they were progressing, even though he couldn’t evaluate their self-assessments because he still knew no Flemish. Finally Jacotot asked the students to write, in French, what they thought of the book. The results proved enlightening to Jacotot: the students had learned French without being taught French.

Jacotot’s take-home lesson: it’s not only possible but preferable for a schoolmaster to teach subjects of which he himself is ignorant. Or, to paraphrase a popular slam on the teaching profession, those who can should do, those who can’t should teach. It’s like the Music Man forming a school band from scratch without being able to play a lick himself.

In the usual educational arrangement, the teacher is positioned as the Master of the subject and of explicating the subject to the student. This assignment of roles, said Jacotot, is predicated on an inequality of intelligence between Master and student, an inequality that reflects and perpetuates the hierarchical society which the educational system serves. Even progressives perpetuate the system by instituting one educational reform after another that attempt to redress baseline inequalities between the underprivileged and the elite, reforms that are doomed never to reach the goal of actually achieving equality. Instead of making equality the goal of education, Jacotot assumed equality as a starting-point. All children are perfectly capable of learning their native language without explicitly being taught: why can’t they learn another language, or mathematics, or philosophy, the same way? Give the kids a book and some time, make sure they’re not being lazy and inattentive, and voilà — the students teach themselves. A book is self-explanatory: why stick a Master explicator between the student and the book? The Master implicitly teaches students that they cannot teach themselves, instilling a passivity before recognized experts that’s liable to persist for a lifetime. And it’s in this way that the schools serve as an ideological apparatus of the state: the students’ passive dependence on the Master, the “stultification” of their will and attention, recreates and preserves the broader hierarchical social-economic inequality between the elite and everyone else. In contrast, the self-taught student is “emancipated.” Obliged to engage his own perfectly adequate intelligence rather than relying on the Master’s, the emancipated student enters an educational “circle of power” that includes himself, his fellow students, and his teacher in the joint exercise of intelligence among equals.

“Whoever teaches without emancipation stultifies. And whoever emancipates doesn’t have to worry about what the emancipated person learns. He will learn what he wants, nothing maybe. He will know he can learn because the same intelligence is at work in all the productions of the human mind, and a man can always understand another man’s words.” (p. 18)

“Man is a will served by an intelligence,” Jacotot asserted. Does this mean that the emancipated person who engages his will to learn can accomplish anything he wants? Yes, says Jacotot. Rancière cautions the reader that Jacotot’s teaching method

“is not the key to success granted to the enterprising who explore the prodigious power of the will. Nothing could be more opposed to the thought of emancipation than that advertising slogan… It is undoubtedly true that the ambitious and the conquerors gave ruthless illustration of it. Their passion was an inexhaustible source of ideas, and they quickly understood how to direct generals, scholars, or financiers faultlessly in sciences they did not know. But what interests us is not this theatrical effect. What the ambitious gain in the way of intellectual power by not judging themselves inferior to anyone, they lose by judging themselves superior to everyone else. What interests us is the exploration of the powers of any man when he judges himself equal to everyone else and judges everyone else equal to him. By the will we mean that self-reflection by the reasonable being who knows himself in the act. It is this threshold of rationality, this consciousness of and esteem for the self as a reasonable being acting, that nourishes the movement of the intelligence. The reasonable being is first of all a being who knows his power, who doesn’t lie to himself about it.” (pp. 56-57)

Equality of intelligence among individuals doesn’t mean identity in its application, such that each student learns the same things. Nor does a society comprised of emancipated individuals become an intelligent society. Jacotot’s vision for education and society — and Rancière’s as well — is an anarchism verging on libertarianism, in which individuals pursue their own individual pathways in a milieu of mutual support among equals. Says Jacotot:

“There is no pride in saying out loud: Me too, I’m a painter! Pride consists in saying softly to others: You neither, you aren’t a painter.” (p. 67)

Jacotot knew that the ignorant schoolmaster couldn’t successfully be instituted as a societally mandated model, with the accompanying insistence on certifications and standardized pedagogical techniques and evaluations. Emancipated education can’t be instituted; it can only be practiced, parent to child, ignorant schoolmaster to ignorant student, citizen to citizen.

“[G]overnment doesn’t owe the people an education, for the simple reason that one doesn’t owe people what they can take for themselves. And education is like liberty: it isn’t given; it’s taken.” (pp. 106-107)



  1. K: Jacotot’s vision for education and society — and Rancière’s as well — is an anarchism verging on libertarianism, in which individuals pursue their own individual pathways in a milieu of mutual support among equals.

    What would happen if we just decided to abolish the educational system? Cut all the funding and expand the library resources for self-guided learning. Have the state pick up the tab on tutors, for those students who really need a little guidance.

    I’m all for such an anarchist or libertarian vision of education.

    Ah. But wait. The educational system has also become a babysitter, supporting the corporate power structure. So, there is yet another way in which education is supporting hierarchy.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 11 May 2010 @ 4:22 pm

  2. Even now the government should assure open access to academic libraries and journals, both physically and online, in order to facilitate self-study.

    At the big universities, faculty members tend to regard themselves as scholars/researchers first and teachers second. I think that’s a good idea. I’m fine with the government funding experts who contribute to the advancement of knowledge, especially in fields where there’s no obvious practical payoff that can be exploited by business. In grad school I had the sense of being a participant in the creation of new knowledge; the distinction between faculty and student was much blurrier. Maybe if undergrads could have that same experience, actually doing the work of that field of study rather than just reading/hearing about it, their educational experience would be richer. But like Ranciere, I’m an enthusiast for learning from books, supplemented by discussion among equals. Those who just teach a subject without contributing to the field? Sorry, but I think we could find better uses for money our society sets aside for research and education.

    How does Ranciere’s anarchist-libertarian position fit with his Marxist background? I don’t know: this is the only thing I’ve read by him. He acknowledges that “the ambitious and the conquerors” have learned the lessons of intellectual emancipation, but that they’ve forsaken these lessons in pursuit of nonegalitarian mastery. I’m not sure how he proposes to keep these same types from pulling the same stunts in his anarchistic educational overhaul. This strikes me as a difficulty common to most of the bottom-up, immanent revolutionary strategies: what assurance is there that individuals, as they pursue their own paths of liberated intellect, won’t decide they want to rule the world or pursue unlimited wealth at others’ expense?


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 May 2010 @ 6:43 pm

  3. Rather than complete laissez-faire, student-demand education, I like the idea of subject experts rendering judgments about what would constitute a core education in their fields, at both the high school and the university level. Perhaps a core set of books would be recommended that would cover the material. Should there be standardized tests in these subjects to assure core competencies? Sure, although it’s up to each student to prepare.

    Now of course if public school teaching were eliminated or sharply curtailed, the private schools would have a field day with anxious parents who feel certain that committed teachers, student-focused learning, low teacher-student ratios etc. will increase the academic success of their kids. And regardless of the educational quality boost these schools may or may not offer, they reaffirm the class distinctions that an emancipated educational approach is meant to overcome.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 May 2010 @ 7:57 pm

  4. Joseph or Jacques Ranciere?
    I like this quote: “There is no pride in saying out loud: Me too, I’m a painter! Pride consists in saying softly to others: You neither, you aren’t a painter.”

    And this one: “education is like liberty: it isn’t given; it’s taken.”

    Is it too clichéd to say that a good teacher should enable the will to learn? Any good teachers I had mostly got us interested in a subject and we did the rest ourselves. Of course, we then had to show what we’d learned…

    I think an ability to get the kid going and interested is key, isn’t it? Is that what teaching is? I mean, were there any pupils in Jactot’s class who just wrote nothing because they couldn’t be arsed? I’m not sure I completely agree with such a hands-off approach. Perhaps the Belgian children who didn’t complete the task were sent to the headmaster for corporal punishment.

    “All children are perfectly capable of learning their native language without explicitly being taught: why can’t they learn another language, or mathematics, or philosophy, the same way?”

    But isn’t because we absolutely HAVE to learn our mother tongue, or at least so derivation thereof (sign language etc)? The British are notoriously bad at speaking or even bothering to speak another language. One problem is that English is a popular language (made so by Empire etc) and the teaching really is bad: you learn stock phrases rather than grammar. Isn’t speaking another language, or learning how quadratic equations work, different from being able to communicate with those around you. You hear of kids leaving school without knowing how to read and write, but you don’t hear of many kids leaving school without the ability to speak (or entering any non-specialist school without that ability for that matter).

    I suppose I learned to type and to email and drive because I felt I had to. That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting. Kids are already born into technologies that seem a little alien to us. A tree is as foreign to them as a computer.

    Er, what am I trying to say here? I don’t know. I need some guidance! But not severely didactic guidance…

    Also, who chooses the subject. Jactot choose the Telemachy. Who gets to choose? Perhaps pupils would choose Twilight, or a gaming magazine. There is a heirarchy already, even if its small and generally benign. Maybe teachers have to give the subject and see if the kids take it and run with it. Is that what Jactot/Ranciere mean?


    Comment by NB — 12 May 2010 @ 11:15 am

  5. Jacotot isn’t getting rid of the teacher; he’s replacing the Master with the Ignorant Schoolmaster. And I’d say that the IS’s job is largely what you say: instilling interest, engaging the will to learn. The IS might ask the student what he’s learned, what he’s thinking about the book, without the IS being able to verify that this learning is accurate or relevant: in a Lacanian sense this is like the analyst bringing his desire rather than his expertise to the analysand.

    I’ll be back later.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 May 2010 @ 11:28 am

  6. Some further elaboration from Ranciere (Jacques — I corrected the post) on the Ignorant Schoolmaster technique:

    “To teach what one doesn’t know is simply to ask questions about what one doesn’t know. Science isn’t needed to ask such questions. The ignorant one can ask anything, and for the voyager in the land of signs, his questions alone will be true questions compelling the autonomous exercise of the intelligence.” p. 30

    NB: “Who gets to choose? Perhaps pupils would choose Twilight, or a gaming magazine. There is a hierarchy already”

    Implicitly, choosing Twilight would be just fine if Jacotot and Ranciere are giving full authority to the student. While they emphasize the equality of intelligences, they don’t propose that all the works of intelligence be deemed equal. Elaborating on Jacotot’s “me too, I’m a painter” quote that I included in the post, Ranciere says:

    “Undoubtedly, there’s a great distance from this to making masterpieces. The visitors who appreciated the literary compositions of Jacotot’s students often made a wry face at their paintings and drawings. But it’s not a matter of making great painters; it’s a matter of making the emancipated.” (pp. 66-67)

    And who’s to judge whether this book or that painting is a masterpiece? Who’s to say whether the student’s attention has paid off so that he’s actually learned something? Ranciere again:

    “Let’s begin by reassuring the critics: we will not make of the ignorant one the fount of an innate science, and especially not of a science of the people as opposed to that of the scholar. One must be learned to judge the results of the work, to verify the student’s science. The ignorant one himself will do less and more at the same time. He will not verify what the student has found; he will verify that the student has searched. He will judge whether or not he has paid attention. For one need only be human to judge the fact of work.” (p. 31)

    In reading this book I’m trying to figure out the extent to which my educational anarchism would vest authority in the teachers who know or in the students who learn. Teachers can get proprietary and self-justifying in their masterliness, whereas the students are prone to signing up for courses called The Theology of Twilight. If teachers and students could be unified in their egalitarian commitment to intellectual emancipation through the pursuit of knowledge…


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 May 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  7. Well, it is very appealling. Do you think it could work generally at some kind of institutional level, or could it only be taken from parent to child, ignorant schoolmaster to ignorant student, citizen to citizen?

    Is the “teaching” of what makes great art, for instance, is different from emancipatory teaching…? What I mean is: emancipate the kids first, then suggest they check out King Lear as well as Twilight… Teaching Shakespeare over here famously kills any interest in his work for most school kids for the rest of their lives. He is already intimidating, he writes funny and he is The Bard. Twilight might be clichéd (I haven’t read it, I just know that it’s a teen sensation), but so are the basics of Romeo and Juliet. In a review of one of the Star Wars prequels, that guy who did the Avatar review compares rightly the awfulness of the romance in the prequels to Romeo and Juliet. Except George Lucas ain’t no Shakespeare.

    Also: what about the teaching of science where, on a basic level, there are “right” and “wrong” answers (even if we know that Newton was wrong)?

    Where should the learned come in to judge a student’s work? I suppose it’s on a case-by-case basis, perhaps?

    “The IS might ask the student what he’s learned, what he’s thinking about the book, without the IS being able to verify that this learning is accurate or relevant: in a Lacanian sense this is like the analyst bringing his desire rather than his expertise to the analysand.”

    Yes, I agree with this. The IS is performing a role that is not defined by knowledge (only). The problem is: how easy is it not to bring your knowledge, your supposed mastery, to a class or a clinic? Not very, I’d say. But the thing about kids is that they do seem to have an innate thirst for knowledge and/or discovery. Computers! Trees! Cars! People! Books! TV! Stories! Football!

    I was reminded of an exchange in Ulysses between Mr Deasy, a preposterous Protestant headmaster very keen to show what he knows, and Stephen Dedalus, who is working there part-time:

    — I foresee, Mr Deasy said, that you will not remain here very long at this work. You were not born to be a teacher, I think. Perhaps I am wrong.
    — A learner rather, Stephen said.

    (Irish) Dedalus also struggles against the mastery of Shakespeare, the English Poet, the world’s poet, The Bard, THE Poet.


    Comment by NB — 13 May 2010 @ 4:57 am

    • (Irish) Dedalus also struggles against the mastery of Shakespeare, the English Poet, the world’s poet, The Bard, THE Poet.

      What do you mean here? the tone is hard to read, and do you mean that he literally struggles NOT to master Shakespeare, or that he struggles TO master him? I mean, as Irish, which also please explain. esp. explain ‘THE Poet’, which is painfully close, upon mere superficial reading, to ‘Mozart, the Composer, the Musician, THE Genius’. Of course, you may have meant none of this overblownness except in sarcasm, god knows nobody is the ‘world’s poet’ or the ‘world’s musician’. Also possible that you meant that Dedalus was ‘rightly resisting’, as Irish, the oppression that certain Titans like Shakespeare are Mozart can seem to exercise…poetic and musical hegemony, you know…


      Comment by Anonymous — 13 May 2010 @ 10:24 am

    • I infer that Dedalus struggles to establish his own mastery when confronted with a model who’s presumably unuapproachable, such that Dedalus always feels impossibly inferior to the Master. “THE Poet” I interpret as constituting the hyperbolic and unbridgeable distance between Shakespeare and any other writer: only Shakespeare has Mastery, the rest needn’t even bother trying. Especially if you’re Irish rather than English, you’re already lacking in basic competency in English, a handicap from which you cannot hope to recover. Now of course, anonymous, if what we were discussing weren’t a recently-composed blog comment but an actual book, we’d have to hash the interpretation out between us rather than relying on the author to do further explicating.

      On a side note, when Kenzie attended English classes in France taught by English teachers, they invariably marked her down for American-style spellings: favor, maneuver, etc. I think she consciously avoids these Anglifications now that she’s back in the States, even though the English Masters showed her the Higher Path.


      Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2010 @ 10:33 am

      • When it gets to Brit spellings, I tend to want them every time: It’s an innocuous vice, I much prefer to write ‘practising’ and ‘manoeuvre’ and ‘colour’, and the Brits can accuse me of being a ‘certain kind of Anglophile’ all they want–as if that were all I wanted in life, being a well-known Francophile as well. I am not one of those touristy types who uses ‘bloke’ with any frequency, though, that’s pretty much their province, but once recently it did come out of its own accord, which surprised me: I had planned never to use it a single time. I also don’t tend to say ‘spot on’ or ‘get on with it’ or even ‘bloody’ very rarely, and never ‘blimey’ or ‘innit’, of course, and never ‘shirty’ or ‘arsed’ either. I do like ‘Open your SKULL!’ but that may be Australian, I liked it at an office when some brute said it to a co-worker who was battling mild alcoholism…


        Comment by Anonymous — 13 May 2010 @ 10:50 am

      • “Shirty”? I’m not familiar with that one. It surprises that me “spot on” has made it into common parlance in America — it seems so English to me. Oh, and “erm” — in England the “r” doesn’t get pronounced, so that spelling makes sense, but I think “um” is the right onomatopoetic construction for most of the US. In French the equivalent of “um” or “erm” is “ben.” I like it that “to Anglicize”… isn’t.


        Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2010 @ 4:07 pm

  8. The idea seems mad, especially when considering the details of actually implementing it. But is it so clear that Masters are any better than ignorami when it comes to students actually learning the material and — at least as important — learning how to learn and wanting to learn? In a prior post I looked at psychotherapists’ outcomes and tentatively concluded that there were no significant measurable differences attributable to level of education, theoretical orientation, or years of experience. Still, if you’re looking for reduced symptoms, it turns out that any therapist is quite clearly better than no therapist. Almost surely the Ph.D. or M.D. with 20 years on the job has more Mastery of pathology and treatment theory than the novice with a high school diploma. It turns out that Mastery doesn’t have much to do with results.

    The home-schooled kid isn’t teacherless; instead he typically has a relatively ignorant schoolmaster, usually his mother. This non-professional, inexperienced teacher likely devotes more hours to this one kid than a licensed experienced teacher would at a school. So what resources to home-schooling parents draw on to ensure that their kids are actually learning things accurately? Students whose teachers who were math majors in college get measurably superior results, but home-schooled kids also tend to score higher on standardized math tests, even though very few of their moms were math majors. I presume it’s possible for parents to get hold of the kid’s Holy Grail — a teacher’s version of the math text, with the answers in the back. They could check the kid’s answers even if they lacked the mastery to provide the remedial explication. Again, I’ll be back later.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2010 @ 10:25 am

  9. I acknowledge that with unlimited resources you’d like to have teachers who can summon the students’ latent passions for learning and who can also turn on the expertise when needed. Private schools are “owned” by the students’ parents, so the kids already have a sense that the experts are — and always will be — working for them rather than vice versa. The people who can buy the masters are the real masters.

    Coming back from lunch today I was thinking, you know, I might be done with this blogging thing. I’ve enjoyed the conversation on this post, so maybe I can go out on an upbeat. No, this isn’t a plea for showing me some love about how wonderful Ktismatics is etc. I’ve quit before; I could always come back. But there are other blogs to chat on, plus there’s always email for keeping in touch with the people I’ve gotten to know and like. I’ve written half a post about yet another nuance on the objectology front, which periodically recaptures my attention, but I think I’ll let that one sit there half-finished and step away from the keyboard.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  10. After considering Ranciere’s proposition, I’m reconciled to having the transmission of knowledge to the next generation entrusted to those who dedicate their working lives to advancing and maintaining that knowledge. Presumably student and teacher alike serve the same master, which is knowledge itself (Jesus, I’m sounding like some 18th century Enlightenment figure myself now). Some experts convey a childlike exuberance about what they do that’s contagious and that links them to anyone who shares their passion. The teacher who poses as the Master in a way that makes the student feel incapable is in actuality just a Dickhead. I’d prefer those who love knowledge to decide how best to keep the flame burning with less fuel.


    Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2010 @ 6:36 pm

  11. “Also possible that you meant that Dedalus was ‘rightly resisting’, as Irish, the oppression that certain Titans like Shakespeare are Mozart can seem to exercise…poetic and musical hegemony, you know…”

    Yes, that’s what I meant. Shakespeare continually appears in Dedalus’s day, especially in the Scylla & Charybdis, where he questions the authorship and reasons for writing Hamlet (“Where there’s a Will, Ann hath a way”) and Circe chapters.

    “I think she consciously avoids these Anglifications now that she’s back in the States, even though the English Masters showed her the Higher Path.”

    Good for her; those teachers are exactly the ones that Ranicere is attacking. Color or colour, who cares? I think to stress English spelling is suggestive of trying to change her accent. Colour tries to sound posher, plummy: like car-laur. But, only the Queen talks like that. And people in Richard Curtis films.

    As John pointed I mentioned that he was Irish because Shakespeare is not just marketed, then as now, as the British national poet but as THE Bard, almost the world’s poet. Visit England: Home of Shakespeare. Dublin was the second city of the Empire. It was ruled from Westminster. This literary and physical mastery (in terms of imperialism and the fact that it resonates in Dedalus’s vocal chords) is underlined in the famous tundish scene in Portrait of an Artist:

    [The Dean speaking]–To return to the lamp, he said, the feeding of it is also a nice problem. You must choose the pure oil and you must be careful when you pour it in not to overflow it, not to pour in more than the funnel can hold.

    –What funnel? asked Stephen.

    –The funnel through which you pour the oil into your lamp.

    –That? said Stephen. Is that called a funnel? Is it not a tundish?

    –What is a tundish?

    –That. The funnel.

    –Is that called a tundish in Ireland? asked the dean. I never heard the word in my life.

    — It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen, laughing, where they speak the best English.

    — A tundish, said the dean reflectively. That is a most interesting word. I must look that word up. Upon my word I must.

    The dean repeated the word yet again.

    — Tundish! Well now, that is interesting!

    –The question you asked me a moment ago seems to me more interesting. What is that beauty which the artist struggles to express from lumps of earth, said Stephen coldly.

    The little word seemed to have turned a rapier point of his sensitiveness against this courteous and vigilant foe. He felt with a smart of dejection that the man to whom he was speaking was a countryman of Ben Jonson. He thought: The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.

    As any Lacanian will tell you, Joyce turns his speech into a physical sinthome to escape this mastery (not just the mastery of English but of language itself), especially by Finnegans Wake, where the language seems to be alive and seething, a site of pure jouissance. But I feel that’s a pathologisation to far and relies on the assumption that Joyce was a psychotic-in-waiting so to speak and that he has no life, no freedom but writing as sinthome. Another domination. It also takes language as a pure structure away from the day-to-day, which Joyce was at pains to point out can never and should never be done (call him a genius for shorthard, but don’t make Shakespeare the overlord). Language is not in itself a thing, not an object, it is a method for making subjects and objects:

    –These questions are very profound, Mr Dedalus, said the dean. It is like looking down from the cliffs of Moher into the depths. Many go down into the depths and never come up. Only the trained diver can go down into those depths and explore them and come to the surface again.

    –If you mean speculation, sir, said Stephen, I also am sure that there is no such thing as free thinking inasmuch as all thinking must be bound by its own laws.

    Lacan – and many others such as Wittgenstein

    –One difficulty, said Stephen, in esthetic discussion is to know whether words are being used according to the literary tradition or according to the tradition of the marketplace. I remember a sentence of Newman’s in which he says of the Blessed Virgin that she was detained in the full company of the saints. The use of the word in the marketplace is quite different. I hope I am not detaining you.

    –Not in the least, said the dean politely.

    –No, no, said Stephen, smiling, I mean —

    –Yes, yes; I see, said the dean quickly, I quite catch the point: detain.

    (Beyond Lacan: there is nothing meant outside the physical pratice of language, the structures are also affected by the price of bread: Wittgenstein. He realised that the Tractatus was an objectifaction of language by the bewitchment of language – although even there he realised that some things can only be “shown”, not spoken of.

    Er, I’ve gone on another rant. Sorry.

    “The teacher who poses as the Master in a way that makes the student feel incapable is in actuality just a Dickhead.”

    Ha, yeah, that’s true. There were plenty of dickhead teachers at my school, as well as good ones. Do they have Steiner schools in America? They have them over, but they’re private, so maybe we’re back the same old problem of inequality.


    “Coming back from lunch today I was thinking, you know, I might be done with this blogging thing.”

    Gold darn it, John, your blog is only one I really read! I demand that you come back to blogging soon!


    Comment by NB — 14 May 2010 @ 4:50 am

  12. “the structures are also affected by the price of bread” – and the eating of it!


    Comment by NB — 14 May 2010 @ 5:58 am

  13. Ironically, I find myself intimidated by Joyce as Master. Ulysses is recognized by those who should know as THE Novel of the twentieth century. I tried twice but failed miserably both times, unable to reach triple digits in page count. In some ways it’s similar to those who are intimidated by Lacan’s oblique writings which decry the Big Other and the discourse of the Master and Father’s castration of the child into language.

    Would either Shakespeare or Joyce or Lacan, dead writers all, instantiate the divide between elite and common if it weren’t for the living Masters who perpetuate the hierarchy? Without the Master pointing to Shakespeare as THE Bard, would students get it on their own? Maybe if they weren’t put off by being forced to read Macbeth et al. in their formative years they might actually enjoy Shakespeare when they’re better able to handle it. And what’s that incredibly high percentage of people who never again read another book once they’ve gotten out of school? I don’t know if these people have, after due consideration, deemed the book form irrelevant to their lives, or if they’ve been intimidated by the books’ Mastery and regard bondage to books as shackles well worth shaking off in the transition to adulthood.

    I think maybe the blogging is a live-in-the-moment thing: do it if something comes to mind, otherwise don’t. It gets daunting when thinking about the long backlog of posts and the (possibly) even longer stretch of years to go. Will I have to keep doing this the rest of my life? Is the blog writing me? That sort of thing.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 7:56 am

    • Ulysses as ‘THE novel’, by some, ‘Recherche’ by others. I’ve read both, and was sure Ulysses would mean more, but it doesn’t for me, even though I think it’s pretty great. Also, neither greater than Faulkner, when you’ve read a big clump of those. Shakespeare and Mozart are slightly different in that they have cults behind that are slightly stronger than anyone else’s, and in the case of Mozart, it’s not even a matter of greater quantity than Bach, but rather it’s more accessible, perhaps. There’s little second-rate Mozart, but there’s even more first-rate Bach, just because he lived a lot longer and was always very prolific. Same with Shakespeare and Racine, the latter of whom is NOT considered greater at least in France, even though the output is much smaller.


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 9:54 am

      • Wrongly written–I meant that Racine is NOT considered lesser at least in France, of course.


        Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 9:55 am

    • Oh please, I can’t believe when you have these blogging dilemmas. I can just see you obsessing and maybe taking an Anacin (it needs to be the ‘pain reliever’ that has the best TV ad) and maybe a Male version of Midol (for periodic pain, I believe), so that you can decide yet once more if you can stand the blogging…we’ll be waiting on pins and needles up our ass. I just wrote a long comment on a NYTImes blog the other day, this guy had written this insipid little ‘love letter to New York’ and called it a ‘small town’ and how the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building were like ‘an old married couple’, which was so silly I told him they were BOTH Phallic, and that if you wanted a more ‘feminist sort of skyscraper’, you needed to think of some of those big cylindrical wedding-cake buildings of the Reagan era, which had more colours, and more fanciful ornament. But the fucking spire of the Chrysler building, also of the 30s, is just as Phallic as the Empire State, or maybe he could think of the needle worm that eats up your penis by slipping inside the eye and working from there (I didn’t put that part in, but I had to rewrite anyway, even though I didn’t think I had gone too far. In my second version, I said I really don’t think you allow anything but these sentimental comments in these blogs, and most were like that. The weirdest thing was that this ordinary little reverie that somebody named Bill Hayes wrote, this sweet little hickshit stuff, they were all praising and calling ‘painterly’ and ‘masterful’ and all manner of fulsome bullshit. It read like an 8th grader’s composition for English class.)


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 10:02 am

  14. I read Ulysses ten or so years ago and again last year (hence my focus on it) – but with help this time! I have a fantastic unabridged talking book recording made for the 100th anniversary of “Bloomsday” in 2004 (which itself has become a sacralisation of Joyce). I listened to the words while following them with my finger, like a child… Ah, mastery! …Sometimes I went back and re-read things without headphones but, essentially, it was like Read with mOther – in a good way. I could compress it and send it to you, if you’d like. The Circe chapter in particular is much easier to understand and very enjoyable.

    “In some ways it’s similar to those who are intimidated by Lacan’s oblique writings which decry the Big Other and the discourse of the Master and Father’s castration of the child into language.”

    Heh, heh, like me, I guess. But I think Lacan screwed up because he wanted to cement a globalising theory of human behaviour and perception( never a good idea if pretty unavoidable in theory) via the oblique, unconscious-mimicking discourse of the Master – a particular failure for a theory that is supposed to see through the mastery of narratives. I also think Freud would have thought it a mistake. The unconscious is the true master of Lacanian discourse, one all the more domineering because we never know what it says, only translation through a glass darkly. Science triumphs because it knows, discovers primarily through localisation; art triumphs because it knows, discovers it doesn’t know primarily through imagination. And surely one needs the other without domination.

    Joyce and Shakespeare may be, rightly or wrongly, called masters or at least been viewed as intimidating masters (that’s how I felt at school). But I don’t see globalising theories behind their work, and both are celebrated for the variety of voices in their works.

    “Would either Shakespeare or Joyce or Lacan, dead writers all, instantiate the divide between elite and common if it weren’t for the living Masters who perpetuate the hierarchy? Without the Master pointing to Shakespeare as THE Bard, would students get it on their own? Maybe if they weren’t put off by being forced to read Macbeth et al. in their formative years they might actually enjoy Shakespeare when they’re better able to handle it.”

    I think that’s right. Learning Shakespeare at school is like having to eat spinach. But maybe we should go back to the Ignorant Schoolmaster again. I don’t think that there should be absolute canons of the curriculum, in the arts at least. But kids should be handed Shakespeare, or Joyce or Lacan, to see what they make of it. The thing about Ulysses, or King Lear, is that it really is written for everymanandwoman, as long as you don’t underestimate people. Ulysses is about the comedic heroism of the quotidian; Lear about the tragic lack of it in heroes and kings of the court (and the family!). They wouldn’t get it all on their own, but who does? Not Shakespeare, Joyce or Lacan. They might start asking questions though, as in: why is this poncey stuff so bleedin’ good then? As far as Shakespeare is concerned, I’m not sure why teaching doesn’t involve more interaction with actors or reading why so many actors get a kick out of his stuff, and what it means for the student’s own self-expression and freedom of speech.


    Comment by NB — 14 May 2010 @ 9:17 am

    • Thanks for all that, will read all when I have time later today–incredibly, have read and studied Ulysses on fair amateur level, but never Portrait, with the marvelous word ‘tundish’. Don’t feel the need to do ‘Finnegan’s Wake’–life’s too short to have to go into someone’s personal universe unless you really get something other than a credential for it (which you do also from reading Recherche, but my brother can’t stand it and won’t read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of it).


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 9:49 am

  15. This is great, NB:

    “The unconscious is the true master of Lacanian discourse, one all the more domineering because we never know what it says, only translation through a glass darkly. Science triumphs because it knows, discovers primarily through localisation; art triumphs because it knows, discovers it doesn’t know primarily through imagination. And surely one needs the other without domination.”

    It’s difficult to hear Shakespeare performed too, I think, with all the archaisms pronounced with (usually fake) English accents. It’s often too much like going to a Latin mass. In an opera it’s hard to understand the lyrics even if you speak the language — not unlike rock music in that regard — so the linguistic obstacle to High Music isn’t so pronounced. So the idea of having actors explain what they like about performing Shakespeare could provide greater ease of access.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 10:22 am

  16. Yes, Recherche is the other Master Work in which I’m caught in a relationship of mutual resistance. In my current effort I’m nearly finished with Swann’s Way. The difficult for me, I think, isn’t so much the effort of parsing the language, as it is with Ulysses, but the extreme preciousness of the characters and situations and dialogues and Proust’s narration. How about some shooting or fucking or vampires? In my evident Philistinism I find a connection with Shaviro’s latest post about slow movies. But I like some slow movies, some slow novels too. Maybe it’s another live-in-the-moment lesson: I’m at page 297 so I’m committed, but there’s so many pages left to go.

    I hear you, anonymous. I can angst about whether to blog or not to blog, and I can even comment on the blog about it, but it’s surely tedious to read about it. I’m not obsessing at all really; it’s more a sense of ebbed desire, of not really feeling like it. Now I suppose I could start writing self-reflexively about how I feel and so on, but even I would soon be put to sleep by that tedium.

    Plus I already put up a new post since my angst moment.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 10:37 am

  17. Or perhaps I experienced an aesthetic intimation of going beyond blogging yesterday afternoon, having enjoyed a lunch of curried almonds and olives; a hot pressed sandwich of duck confit with roasted apple, fig mustard, roasted onion, and mozzarella; a glass of robust Argentinian red; and a superior cappuccino.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 11:17 am

    • next thing you know you’ll be writing the new ‘execrable piece of shit about opera and cookery’…


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 1:53 pm

  18. @Yes, Recherche is the other Master Work in which I’m caught in a relationship of mutual resistance. In my current effort I’m nearly finished with Swann’s Way@

    It is a masterpiece, alongside Ulysses. But they’re very different. I got stuck on The Fugitive. It’s brilliant stuff but I was personally having a bad time and I just got annoyed at The Narrator essentially terrorisiing this poor girl. Even if he felt he was the prisoner. I’ve still to read Time Regained.

    What I love about Proust is that he really sets us adrift. Shakespeare and Joyce don’t do that at all.

    My favourite books so far are Swann’s Way and The Guermantes Way.


    Comment by NB — 14 May 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    • Guermantes Way is my favourite, I’m nuts over that 100-page dinner of Chicken a la Financiere at Oriane and Basin’s. Sets you adrift? Not sure what you mean by that. I think it’s what lifestyle we lead, what Proust talks about is more like what I’m familiar with than Joyce. But Sodom and Gomorrah is fantastic too, and that will supply some of John’s need for fucking, albeit it’s totally homoerotic, but I really don’t get that complaint at all. All of the suspicions of Swann about Odette are true: She’s fucking her brains out all during the day, and doing nice birthday parties for Gilberte when she can stand it (the overelaborate chocolate cake helps, granted, and I wanted it too). And there is TONS of fucking in Proust. But the opening of S & G is fantastic, when Jupien so casually decides well, yes, it looks like I won’t have that much trouble buggering M. Charlus after all, it’s Marcel that calls it ‘cross-pollination’, Jupien wouldn’t have thought of that. And they’re all after Morel, the parvenu violinist who is obviously delectable and totally unscrupulous. St.-Loup discovers his charms as well, and Roland Petit made an appalling sissy ballet about the ‘love between the two’, which is ludicrous, since Morel is just a hustler.

      Le Temps Retrouve is merveilleux, and there are more ‘madeleine episodes’ with horse’s clip-clops, a teaspoon and asucer, etc., and more Odette and Oriane, not to mention the Verdurins having learned how to behave.

      He terrorises Albertine because he is physically weak, of course. It is like someone I knew with M.S., whose mind seemed to go into very wizened diagrams, as when he used to give me driving directions in a car–he gave about 13 steps at once, as if I could remember them, but also as if he couldn’t bear it until they were all complete even though we’d just started. btw, reminds me that Proust has an interesting propensity for medical conditions as revealed in speech patterns, impediments, they come up a number of times. I will say, that the Albertine episodes, and really any that involve Marcel too much as an active character, are less interesting to me than those involving Swann/Odette, the Guermantes salon, and a few others. His long descriptions of the waves at Balbec are stunning, as are the ‘trees that have something for him to learn from ‘ are as well, and the way that from the upper-middle-class milieu in which we first see Swann, we go to the Verdurins and they’re terming of the fashionable ‘Princess des Laumes’ (the same as the duchesse de Guermantes)as bores, into the world of the Guermantes themselves, and even ‘Mme. Swann’s’ adventures, is wondrously musical: All of a sudden they aren’t ‘condemned’ any more, we’re not looking at them from without, but rather Marcel manages to get to know Oriane and get to these affairs, and then we are looking out at the Marcel family and the Verdurins, who manage, god knows, to get the hayseed off well enough, although they do not become much less mean. There’s that long passage about how EVEN M. Verdurin has at least one halfway decent characteristic, so presumably everyone must.


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  19. Dadburned estheets. It was odd when, Odette having gone away on the Verdurins’ cruise and Swann finding himself completely recovered from his obsession within the space of a few pages, as if the magician had clapped his hands and the hypnotized subject had suddenly awakened from a trance that had held him captive for years, Proust emerged from his own immersion in the Odette-Swann affair just as abruptly, leading us into remembered fantasies of his own anticipated Pascal voyage to Florence and Venice (interrupted by long and elaborate parenthetical meditations about the two moments of Giotto and how names might best be thought of not as inaccessible ideals but as real and enveloping substance), as if the entire narrative too had been a dream within which that other dream, that tormentedly doomed affair, had unfolded, not unlike Calderon de la Barca’s lyrical… erm, ben, where was I?


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 6:40 pm

    • hee hee…the aborted trip to Venice really is quite something, such extreme sensitivity causing an overexcitability that made him sick. And the real Proust knew all about that. I don’t know how physical he ever was, and know little about his affair with the composer Reynaldo Hahn.

      I remember accusing someone of treating my like ‘Swann, when he wouldn’t give Odette the money to go to Bayreuth’–not that she had the slightest interest in the Wagner. And even the aristocratic Oriane is a total Philistine when it comes to the arts, as with her own absurd statment about Wagner, which was that ‘Tristan und Isolde is really quite charming’ (which sounds very Park Avenue dowager remark about something meant to be unbearably painful even if you get to cum at the last moment…) and ‘The spinning song in Flying Dutchman is simply delightful’ (it is, but chic types such as she were supposed not to sound so fatuous as to like something that easy.)

      Your ‘estheet’ thing is what my brother hates about Proust and me as well, of course. He tried like crazy to get me all sentimental about a ‘peanut field’ that he and my other (nicer) brother were having a reverie about me in (“how wonderful if Anonymous could be here with us”, etc.), and I promptly retched and went to the NYCBallet to get over it…

      Actually, that last was just for humour, this gives me the opportunity to really strongly recommend Robert Flaherty’s old ‘Louisiana Story’ about the Cajun bayou boy. This is such a well-done innocent simplicity that it’s one of the few things that really can restore me to a sense of decent innocence (my grandfather’s peanut field doesn’t hold a trace of sentiment for me, gawd…). He’s the one who did ‘Nanook of the North’, also great, and it’s a docufiction about the ‘peaceful entry into old environments of industry’, here Standard Oil. Of course, with the oil spill, it seems as if all prophecies about such perfect harmony are off, but this was 1948, and the Cajun boy is a marvelously beautiful young boy, but authentic, his parents are played by simple and kind amateurs as well (I don’t think any of them ever did any more acting), and the ‘good ole boy’ drillers are marvelous too. It also has a Pulitzer-Prize winning score by Virgil Thomson, whom I knew casually, at dinners early on–and HE was an outrageous old queen! and not the least butch either. I have no idea how he wrote such a gorgeous score. Also strongly recommend the 1940 ‘Our Town’, this is another that can make me remember the ‘homely virtues’, but it has to be a really well-made vehicle or I usually can’t see it. This was an accidental discovery, also regarding the score, here by Aaron Copland, and the performance by Martha Scott is astonishing: She was the original Emily on B’way, and there is something about when she comes back as the ‘Emily ghost’ which is unlike any perf. I have ever seen: She is somehow able to combine joy and anguish almost at the same time. And this is probably the single play done more by high schools and amateur theatricals than any other–for me, it doesn’t work on paper, it has to be seen in either play or this truly great movie. Wm. Holden is Geo. Gibbs.

      So not all of us ‘effete snobs’ are posing when we like a lot of the more stereotypically ‘high-toned’ things. I would say Proust is pretty urban, though, in his outlook, which may have a lot to do with the fact that my brother could read almost all of Faulkner (which can be a lot more difficult to read) and Joyce (which is definitely more difficult to read, including the French, although my French is not good enough to read a big chunk of prose: I read parts of the Guermantes Way after reading it in English, and have done that with Robbe-Grillet and others.) So the resistance to Proust may be a resentment of these characters, and Proust’s attitude is that they definitely are legitimate to be all that cosmopolitan. It works the other way too, but not usually among intelligent people: I’ve known a number of poseur-popinjays here who rule out all country music, but because it doesn’t suit their image, not because they have probed it at all.


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 7:17 pm

  20. Peanut farmer? That alternate reality is hard to envision, Anonymous. Extreme sensitivity: I certainly don’t find it repulsive, but it’s too fine-tuned for my sustained attention (except of course when the subject is myself). I feel like I’m reading Recherche in a foreign language even though it’s an English translation. However, it turns out that World War Z, the zombie novel written by Mel Brooks’ son, isn’t grabbing me either: takes itself too seriously. Returning to the original topic briefly, I feel confident that I would recognize Recherche as an exceptional work even if I just happened to find it without ever having heard of it, and I’m aware that my resistance has more to do with taste and personal circumstance than the aesthetic merits of the book itself. But I shall persevere for awhile longer at least on the Proust, maybe at some point I’ll have a breakthrough.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 10:43 pm

    • 20.Peanut farmer? That alternate reality is hard to envision,

      Alas too much to hope for…ho ho ho. He grew peanuts as well as cotton, cattle, dairy, the whole big farm, melons, veggies of all kinds, fig pear and pecan trees, you name it. I barely remember a peanut field myself, except I used to pull up some of the plants, I rather liked the peanuts raw. There were lots of woodlands on it too, he and his brothers all hunted as well. We lived on part of it, and it has since been mostly divided up into much smaller parcels, with my uncle having becoming a very rich farmer with an extremely mean and bossy wife and a near-autistic son who had to have psychoanalytic treatment because he went into a rage in truck on the farm about 10 years ago, and tried to kill one of his workers by running over him. They’re perfectly unbearable Baptists. One of my sisters still lives on 30 acres of it, and tolerates the uncle and his wife with great displeasure–but as a provincial beauty queen, she was able to fetch herself a hung Army man, who lets her act as if the Civil War never occurred–she’s pure heaven. I actually had to pick cotton as a child, but I thought it was fun and you got paid a little. It was a wonderful childhood, because I was protected until school from the drear smells of the schoolyard. I even had one of Granddaddy’s tenant farmer’s sons as my first ‘lover’, so you see just how Proustian it all was.

      “I feel like I’m reading Recherche in a foreign language even though it’s an English translation”

      Exactly what I meant, and I’m sure that’s what my brother feels. You’d feel the same way about Auchincloss too, but it’s not such great literature. Right now, I’m reading one of the novels, called ‘The Golden Calves’, which is about NYC museum administration and rich collectors, so that’s provincial in itself. One of the things I find most interesting is that once you get to the local version of anything that seems more ‘international’, it’s still provincial–including Wall Street, where I’ve worked a good bit, and it operates just like everything else at some point, which explains how the ratings agencies (I’ve worked at Moody’s and S & P) could be easily enough pushed despite the international reverberations of their lesser positions vis-a-vis the Goldmans and Merrills.


      Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 11:24 pm

      • http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/15/nyregion/15sandralee.html?pagewanted=1&hp

        Oh god, I really am with the purists on this one. Well, it was bound to happen: Somebody making millions from singing the praises of packaged foods and putting juices in cake mixes and complaining about chopping mushrooms. I thought the Cuomos ALL had class, but she really IS the one who must have already written the execrable pieces of shit about MTV and cookery.


        Comment by Anonymous — 14 May 2010 @ 11:44 pm

  21. Anne used to subscribe to Southern Living magazine. It seemed that most of the recipes included ingredients like canned mushroom soup, canned french fried onions, bisquick, lime jello mix.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2010 @ 11:55 pm

    • you’re just being beastly, in fact they are very good recipes. A couple of Thanksgivings ago, I made their giblet gravy and also this rich Chicken and Oysters casserole. People all over America use this packaged stuff, I would imagine you’ll be able to quit using it when you stop bleuging…

      Actually, Andrew Cuomo is a remarkable man, has worked the Spitzer and Thain circuits, and may have learned his lesson by marrying too ‘up’ to a Bobby Kennedy daughter who didn’t like it when he didn’t win the governor’s race, and thus fucked a polo limey with few, if any, morals. Sandra Lee is much prettier, I’ll admit.


      Comment by Anonymous — 15 May 2010 @ 10:18 am

  22. Elaborating on the original post, Ranciere doesn’t decry expertise, only the structural imbalance of power between master and student. Why doesn’t a book impose the same power differential as does a teacher? Ranciere invokes a sort of Derridean argument against the metaphysics of presence: the reader is free to engage the written product of the writer’s expertise without having to encounter the masterful writer directly.

    “the two functions that link the practice of the master explicator, that of the savant and that of the master, had been dissociated. The two faculties in play during the act of learning, namely intelligence and will, had therefore also been separated, liberated from each other. A pure relationship of will to will had been established between master and student; a relationship wherein the master’s domination resulted in an entirely liberated relationship between the intelligence of the student and that of the book — the intelligence of the book that was also the thing in common, the egalitarian intellectual link between master and student. This device allowed the jumbled categories of the pedagogical link to be sorted out, and explicative stultification to be precisely defined. There is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another. A person — and a child in particular — may need a master when his own will is not strong enough to set him on track and keep him there. But that stultification is purely one of will over will. It becomes stultification when it links an intelligence to another intelligence. In the act of teaching and learning there are two wills and two intelligences. We will call their coincidence stultification. In the experimental situation Jacotot created, the student was linked to a will, Jacotot’s, and to an intelligence, the book’s — the two entirely distinct. We will call the known and maintained difference of the two relations — the act of the intelligence obeying only itself even while the will obeys another will — emancipation.”

    Per Jacotot/Ranciere, if the master assigned the student a book which the master had already mastered, the disjuncture between will and intelligence would presumably fail. The book and the student are allied as equals in being subjected to the master’s will, but the master and the student are allied as equals in their ignorance of the book.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 May 2010 @ 3:52 pm

  23. “He terrorises Albertine because he is physically weak, of course. It is like someone I knew with M.S.”

    Yes, I think that’s right. All his fantasies about Albertine, and her consequent imprisonment, are all to do with the things she might be getting up to sexually, bodily. He is an wheezing outsider. I agree that his adventures are not as interesting as Swann’s or other characters.

    What did I mean about Proust setting us adrift? Er, I don’t know. I heard someone say once that you had to jump into Proust like you jump into a river. That’s how I felt. His river of words (ugh! bad phrase, I know) carries me along much more successfully than Finnegans Wake, where one feels like you’re bobbing disoriented in the wake of some vast ocean liner… or in a washing machine. Um.

    The absolute variation of viewpoint, yet the recognition that it remains the narrator’s own, is what impresses me. Even beats Shakespeare.


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 9:27 am

  24. “Per Jacotot/Ranciere, if the master assigned the student a book which the master had already mastered, the disjuncture between will and intelligence would presumably fail.”

    I get it! And I like it!

    But had Jactot chosen the Telemachy out of the blue, or had he already read it, and mastered it (or at least had what he thought were valid opinions about it)? I think Ranciere is being a bit guileless here about what Jactot chose. But maybe the point is to be a bit guileless…


    Comment by NB — 21 May 2010 @ 9:39 am

  25. I can’t remember how much Jacotot knew about the Telemachus sections of the Iliad, and having returned Ranciere to the library I can’t investigate further, though I suspect he had some familiarity. He chose the book because, upon his arrival in Brussels, he discovered that a bilingual version of the Telemachy had recently been published, and for that reason alone he selected the book for his students.

    I may be having a Proustian experience with Recherche. Having at last unburdened myself publicly about my inability to penetrate it, and acknowledging that my admiration of the book must always remain that of an outsider, suddenly I find myself being seduced by it, drawn to it. I zoomed through the end of Swann’s Way, and now I find myself oddly compelled by young Marcel’s theatrical disappointment with the fabulous Berma as well the dinner of jellied beef and pineapple-truffle salad enjoyed with M. de Norpois.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2010 @ 11:36 am

    • “Having at last unburdened myself publicly about my inability to penetrate it, and acknowledging that my admiration of the book must always remain that of an outsider, suddenly I find myself being seduced by it, drawn to it. ”

      LOL! Who says everybody doesn’t realize that you must admit to social climbing, if for only the purpose that those determining the climb may not know that’s what you want, instead of always determining to keep the needy locked out… Tha’s mighty white of ye…

      Seriously, though, once you’ve gotten to BERMA and ‘Within a Budding Grove’, you probably will go on through to the end, and the aristocratic characters in the Guermantes Way are frankly not nearly as irritating as Marcel waiting for his mother’s kiss in the Combray opening (that’s enough to drive anybody off). Charlus is early homo camp, and you can almost see the ‘colours of the Rialto’ in his speech. He does a hilarious comparison of high divas, saying that Oriane is inferior to her sister, I believe that’s right, but you must understand that even Oriane is far more than you could ever realize, etc. It is like Jack and me discussing Martha Scott and June Havoc and Pola Negri today in the film ‘Hi Diddle Diddle’.

      ‘jellied-beef’, oh yes, those are nice even when done by the Chinese, whereas ‘pineapple-truffle salad’ does sound rather like a clinging Ye Olde Home Demonstration Agent.


      Comment by Anonymous — 21 May 2010 @ 5:55 pm

      • Oh yes, I think it’s Marie who is the Princesse de Guermantes, I can never remember her easily, because she’s a very minor character in terms of appearance in the text. She’s Oriane’s sister, and you may or may not have been talking about when Marcel first spots them together at Berma’s performance, and Oriane waves at him. Much is made of their hats, as I remember (always sounded like some of that crazy Diana Vreeland’s bird or paradise hats–that’s going too far, killing birds of paradise, but then, I know my eye should be on the sparrow…)The Prince de Guermantes is also fairly minor, but is one of Morel’s lovers. Basin, Oriane’s butch husband, is totally the cock, and is always trying to arrange liaisons for himself at the opera with beautiful ladies of ill repute. But Oriane appeared early on, I believe, in Combray, long before you know how worldly she is, at the church, that’s when Marcel first has this ‘Hollywood star fantasy’ of her, and the doctor(can’t remember his name) indulges in a ‘carnal flush’, I think it’s called in the translation, but I’ve never been able to envision what the movement was like, since Oriane was some social stratas higher than he was. I do remember that it reminded me of two old townhouse owners on my street: The woman was not so old, but had once been a model and her figure was by then not really perfect anymore. I was sitting on my stoop, and the old art gallery owner (whose orange-haired wife still lives next door to me in a 4-story townhouse with a nurse) was just outside, and D—, the ex-model was crossing the street, all of a sudden sees another property-owner, and starts really pulling her ass together (literally). I never saw anything like it–what an interesting idea of social-climbing, to decide to swish your tail for a fellow ‘real estate owner’–and it was instantaneous that she changed her gait upon spotting the esteemed gallery and home-owner (who was pretty drear.)


        Comment by Anonymous — 21 May 2010 @ 6:38 pm

  26. Here’s a news item from Georgia about a rural school district, strapped for cash, that went to a 4-day school week. The results? Standardized test scores went up, along with student attendance and teacher attendance. Other schools aren’t as happy with the 4-day school week, but it doesn’t appear that systematic evaluations have been conducted.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 June 2010 @ 9:18 am

    • I was listening to NPR a month or so back, and the expert seemed to disparage the four day school week….though I cannot remember why…..I’d favor such a move…..or what about a hybrid learning process? Spend a few days each week in the classroom and a few days each week learning online at home?


      Comment by Erdman — 4 June 2010 @ 9:37 am

  27. It’s an interesting experiment: what impact does dropping the hours of in-class schooling have on student learning? French public schools have been on a 4-day week for two years now (MTuThF), but I don’t know what their evaluations have shown. Most schools formerly held half-day sessions on either Wednesday or Saturday mornings. This change reduced the school year from 936 hours to 864 hours of class time per year, which is still higher than the European average of 800 hours. In the US the average is somewhere between 950 and 1100 school hours per year — quite a bit more than Europe. From international studies that I’ve seen, US student achievement is about middle of the pack in comparison with European schools.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 June 2010 @ 11:39 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: