Going to Extremes: TEACHINGLEARNING

An X-ray of the infrastructure of advanced liberal arts teaching (which is also learning) at the university level from the teacher's point of view)l.

There are at least two ways of being helpful as a teacher:

1. All-Acess Design

The teacher constructs a well-designed class. Give directions in the metaphorical sense (the class is going here--this is our destination, here's a map), be clear so that all meaning accessibility—as the teacher, you help make difficult texts accessible to your students—kind of a philological model of teaching (annotation, filling in what it is missing due to the passage of time —you help make it possible for them to read. Furthermore, you show them some possible ways, practices of reading—how to do it, here are the moves, here’s how to play the game.  You learn strategies, like in chess). Chess game analogy implies not only moves and strategies but also rules—there are rules of the game--so poetics and philosophy are reconciled, as are philology and hermeneutics.  You just learn the rules and then play better and better.  The text is saved, the reader is saved, the author is saved. No loss model, only more and more understanding.  The text is infinite, inexhaustible ready for take off, on call. The canon is secured, literary history is secured. Everything connects, makes more and more sense; you get a tradition.

Since reading is a game, there are various kinds of races between readers for prize of “best reader ever” or “best reading ever”: "I have read more broadly than you have; I have read the original, not the translation; I read the same book you did but I read it much more closely, so much more closely (and better) than you that you are left chagrined, wondering if we read the same thing)." Reading becomes rivalry (Harold Bloom's literary history as a map of misreading). Some readings are strong (close attention to form; strange), some are weak (thematic; additive, the equivalent of a footnote).

2. Disinhibition.

Permission to self-permit.  You want to do it but think you are not allowed. Or you didn't know that there was something you could do. Yes, you can do it.  It will be OK.  Do it.  You don't need to be pious. But then the question becomes: "How do I do it?  How do I do it especially when I don’t want to do it, when I resist doing what I want to do?"

A. Inhibition gets recycled as resistance, self-resistance.

Resistance as frustration for the student / reader--why can't this writer write better (more clearly)? Is this just b.s. / gibberish / nonsense masking as profound thought? Why was this text assigned, anyway? What's going on in this course?

Self-doubt--"Can I really do this?  Will I fail?  What will happen if I fail?  Will I die? "

Deja vu (didn't I already think this before?)

Beginning, beginning over: How to begin?

How do I know when and where to stop? 

OK, I’m underway. I have gone form being frustrated to taking pleasure in reading.   It's good being so high, but how do I get down now?

I read the assigned pages, but did I get the author's point(s)? Did I

comprehend the essay / book? Or did I miss it, misread it? Did I fail to

understand it?  What, am I stupid or something? Reading as anxiety inducing.

B. Resistance becomes philosophy / literary theory / psychoanalysis.

Schlegel “On Incomprehensibility” (you really don't want to

understand everything and that’s a good thing) and Paul de Man "The

Concept of Irony" (Friedrich Schlegel is right, but incomprehension includes

stupidity, madness and error).

3. Consequences:

A. Every Wo/Man Reads Alone. (Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone)

There are no Robert's Rules of Reading--no method as a step program. Teaching / studying literature and philosophy reading involves detours.

"To a considerable degree we have already said all we meant to say.  Our lexicon at any rate is not far from being exhausted . . . .  Since we have already said everything, the reader must bear with us if we continue on awhile.  We will come back to that only after a long detour." Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy” in Dissemination, 65

Editing and interpretation are split, insuperably so. There can be no harmony between philology and hermeneutics or between poetics and hermeneutics means that there us a danger in saving the text.  The vulnerable text in need of philological care, restoration, and repair is in the most danger when we try to save it.  Philologists and philosophers do danger to the text, and poetry is itself dangerous (in concealing itself, in our missing an encounter with it). Saving the text both for philology and philosophy becomes dangerous, a matter of not reading, of closing down what is open, or of damaging the text further in order to save it, a text that has been sliced, diced, and shrink wrapped in the process of being preserved (embalmed, mummified, put under glass). No touching the text, please.

Violence against philogists is acted out, performed even by critics who see themselves as philologists. Paul de Man as philologist and philosopher. Philology and hermenutics are in conflict. (See Paul de Man's chapter "Heidegger's Exegeses of Hoelderlin" in Blindness and Insight and Jacques Derrida on "internal reading" in "Restitutions" in The Truth of Painting.)

The ontology of texts (books) is a hauntology. Texts are singular and plural.  The essence of the book has nothing to do with books. The resistance to reading is reading. Formal materiality has nothing to do with matter. Reading involves not reading.

Self-Education: Learning is not a linear process that precedes teaching as in "I learned, and then, if I wish, I may instruct," even thugh the university bureaucracy says it is (ideally, you get a Ph.D., then are appointed an assistant professor, then tenured and promoted an become associate professor, then a full professor, sometimes a full professor with a named chair (a mark of major distinction). Instruction is learning, "TeachingLearning," not only because the teacher may learn from his or her students, but because teachers learn more about what they are teaching as they teach it--teaching is doing (learning).

Frustrated pleasures are the best kind and produce the best criticism and teachinglearning.

Reading has no certain direction, no final destination. it has only what Derrida disinterrance, detours, straying, wandering off, sometimes on tangents. As Friedrich Schlegel writes in Ideen, philosophy and poetry are extremes. The trick is to find an opening into the text (not the same thing as beginning), but the text will never be totally open (pellucidly transparent).

"A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible.  Its laws and rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into anything that could rigorously be called a perception.  Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy” in Dissemination, 63

At best, you are turning a screw when you "open" the text; hence you always read with a screw loose (strong reading is eccentric). See Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

B. Reading Becomes an Act of Mourning. But Reading is also always Subject to Irony (and humor).

The scene of reading is a scene of indebtedness, of guilt (not reducible to a psychological lapse, a failure to pay attention) or a moral failure--"My dog ate my homework"). The guilt of (not)reading calls for answerability, responsibility (What does it mean to answer the call of reading?).

Typology and Its Discontents: Vincent Van Gogh, "Still Life with Open Bible," 1885

The Bible belonged to Van Gogh's father; it is open at Isaiah 53 (visible at the top of the upper right page). Below the Bible is a copy of Emile Zola's novel, La Joie de Vivre (The Joy of Living).

Is this painting an invitation (come closer and you'll be able to read the text because the text will become legible)? or is it an indictment of a failure to read, a "J'accuse" directed at the spectator for being guilty of not reading (understanding) a text that is impossibile to read, that remains illegible even when open and is no more accessible than the closed book (the open book itself being a closed because illegible book, whose leaves cannot of coure be turned). Both books are painted showing legible print in the same manner. The books have been read (the candles have been used; they are now out and almost used up) but there is no reader in the painting. What is the source of the scene's illumination?

The painting is itself about the uncanny within Christian theology, here represented in inverted form. If Christian does not forbid the image, as Judaism here, but attends instead to a hidden G-d through script, here Judaism returns (Isaiah) as a prophecy that is illegible--the text becomes forbidden. Zola's novel is important because the painting of the two equally unreadable books is about the failed secularization of he work of art as much as it is about the failure of he work of art to amount to theological revlation. Theology has to be understood through the detour of secularization--you can't read the sacred text except through the more legible secular text, even though though the latter is a closed book and the former is open. Butthe sacred text is also to be read "through a glass darkly": it is not a transparent text but an unintelligible, incomprehensible one. Perhaps this is too simple, but one could read Van Gogh's painting as an allegory of the repression of Judaism (text, hidden) in Christianity (image, revelation). Since secularization is closed off (we can only read the paratext of Zola's novel), then Van Gogh's work of art can only reveal its incapacity to "read" the theological and, by extension, reveals the need to return to the text while suggesting that the text to which we may return is itself not transparent, unreadable (or always defering its reading as understanding, renewal) in a figurative sense; that is, the sacred text is not a naturalist novel, not mimetic the way Zola's novel is, any more than Van Gogh's painting(s) is (are) totally a neoclassical painting). To paraphrase Heidegger, we may understand this problem of reading the sacred text (or of being forever unable to read it is an impression, not a print) only by looking at the painting (of books). But if in the case of Van Gogh's painting of the shoes that Heidegger discsuses, we see their equipmentality revaled, the traces of hteir use by a pesant woman, what do we see here about books and reading? Are bookks for use? Is reading, because it is immersive, the same as equipment disappearing in its use?

If we take the illegible book as an image of The Book (the Bible as singular), it would be a mistake to take Zola's novel as legible and plural, one of many books, and oppose books of fiction to the Book of Truth. Zola's title contradicts the contents of his novel: the title is satirical, and Zola's novels are inspired by idea of justice (moreover, the Bible is literature). The literary text (taking Zola's novel as a metonymy of it) is not transparent. So the painting ironizes reading text as image--either the illegible book (sacred) or the misleading, errant, indirect, parabolic fictional text (which is socially engaged, calling on the reader).

 

"Let's reread them [two paragrpahs] first, in German, in French, in English.

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It's done."

Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting,