Filed under: affect, ambivalence, Attachment, Belonging, Detachment theory, emotion, Encounters, Love, optimism, supervalent_thought, teaching, Theory of this Blog, writing
1. So many scholars read anxiously, with a hope not to learn, not to be discomposed by learning. They fish in indexes looking for confirmation of not being trumped, they skim the surface hoping that no phrase catches them. The aversion to an event to which one nonetheless comes–like the vague sadism that Adam Phillips describes as a quality of intellectuals who come to the world hoping once again to be disappointed–is a frustrating part of being in this world. I am not invulnerable to this, but when I feel it I force myself to interrupt the desire to not have an encounter that is so often part of encountering’s activity. (See Lingis for a read of how this desire to protect an aversion to a potentially transformative encounter can be part of a rhythm of belonging.)
2. I read for my classes for days, and then make intense notes to provide infrastructures for the session (that become destroyed invariably by an aside or an intervention that creates unexpected folds in thought). But in the last hours of class prep, my teaching notes appear to me to be writing that came from the middle of a dream. Toward the shifted explanation of what was I reaching? The work of reattaching to an elaborate pedagogical intention that I had yesterday turns out to be a lot like reentering a transferential relationship after a break. A friend used to tell me that class prep was rote for him, a skimming over material. Sometimes reading feels like skimming, that Barthesian “abrasion” on the surface of the text. I tell my students that it takes me decades, sometimes, to enable myself to let in a new thought, to let it reorganize fully the way I encounter a problem. In the meanwhile, it’s managing being in the overpresence of a problem and yet at the kind of distance to which Primo Levi refers when he describes someone’s gaze at him as the deadly quiet staring of beings looking at each other through the wall of an aquarium.
3. The rubric of this series, A Teaching, was not even an implicit intention when I started thinking about Detachment Theory. I had thought to write another short book sometime containing my love essays plus a long piece on teaching, and maybe I will. But I had not thought of including teaching as one of the states one enters in which attachments to impairing objects (concepts or epistemologies) are dissolved. I had thought of teaching as providing infrastructural models for being in the room with something hard, as making new backbones assembled piece by piece for producing new shapes for problems. Yet I spend my teaching weeks hunched and tipped over and crease-eyed, somewhere within interest and the pressure to become clarifying and eloquent. If I knew the genre of a teaching better I could occupy this circuit with less emotional cost. Also I could be a better teacher.
4. Meanwhile, my students are writing criticism that many of them would have no interest in reading had they not written it themselves. I was like that too, once: but my undergraduate thesis advisor (Larry Buell) said to me, “Don’t worry, some day someone will say that your work sucks, too.” That completely life-changing exchange shocked me into developing a way of being in learning as critical solidarity and being in writing in a way that at least I could stand by. Otherwise it’s all like when you look for love and for the defense against its claim on your sovereignty at the same time. One must build defenses against the defense, at least.
5. In a previous post, I said that I wanted to make up new genres, and this scenario of the critic against criticism is one reason why. The other is that the normative frames are not good for gathering up and disseminating what I am processing. But one just can’t invent a genre ex nihilo: my readers need to be able to ride the wave of whatever recursivity constitutes the affective rhythm and shaping plasticity that a genre provides. That is why I have to learn how to write/teach. This will be a multipart post.
5 Comments so far
Leave a comment