January 30, 2007

RE: [iDC] wrapping up: "new media" education curricula/potentials


The Negotiatior and the Knife

[Tiffany Holmes asked] "Would anyone wish to volunteer a story about an influential teacher or mentor who impacted their development as an artist or scholar?

There are two contrasts which taught me more about education than listing syllabi -- that between the negotiatior and the knife.

First, the knife. In the third year of my undergraduate education in English Honours (an underground mafia of critical theorists, marxists, feminists, and continental philosophers) I ended up in a two term seminar simply titled "Theory." A somewhat notorious seminar for its drop-out rate: this seminar went from a healthy bunch of 25 to about 8 within 30 days. Many students received failing grades on their first paper. They were not encouraged to return. Those of us who were doing well were pushed even harder: the comments on our papers were brief and penetrated beyond the paper itself, a kind of samurai incision to the work that reduced it to nothingness. The professor was like a zen master: the comments were koans, the lectures parables of emptiness. The professor in question was highly trained in deconstruction and psychoanalysis, a feminist and lesbian, expert in law, computer technology, James Joyce and senior faculty. She was a product of the critical '60s left.

It was a taste of what university might have meant: if we were to assume a certain mantle, we had to work for it by questioning the desire and all desire itself, beginning with our desire to be there. Thus the course dismantled the fragile structure of our fledgling intellectual egos. This was not a course in deconstruction, but a course deconstruction of our psyches to the point of trauma.

That such discipline manifested by excluding 80% of the class wasn't something I reflected upon until much later: one simply had to struggle to breath. Nonetheless, it was a kind of trauma that inspired a dedicated work ethic and fostered an intensive critical approach. She openly posed the question, like Brian and Luis, if university was at all a worthwhile path for us, as students, and if in general the system held anything for us. She wasted no time in attempting to hold everyone's hand in a grand gesture of all-inclusive pedagogy.

Second, the negotiator. Much later, as a graduate student, and perhaps more common to many of us: the professor who enlivens the seminar by negotiating each perspective, summarizing and catalyzing the movement of thought. An easygoing flow, an inspiration, a wit and ready-access knowledge that flows from all corners. Yet the program is somewhat deceptive: the generosity came first, now the marking will be rigorous and the comments detailed to the point of editorial overview. Excellent preparation work for the "real world:" here, the knife is hidden behind the overcoat of the smile. Encouraging nonetheless, but the knife remains. One learns how to perform and negotiate in the seminar, the academic environment, and the work.

There are other models too -- but these two, the negotiator and the knife, are archetypes, certainly not opposites, but rather movements in what education requires if critical pedagogy is to persist: how to sharpen the blade, which arteries to cut, and the time to slice.

tobias c. van Veen
McGill Communication & Philosophy


iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity iDC[at]bbs.thing.net http://mailman.thing.net/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/idc

List Archive:

Posted by jo at January 30, 2007 09:06 AM