On Socratic method

Just quick, it’s late, and I’ve a torrent to watch. Witch.

I was made sad beyond all reasonable bound by a student’s complaint. “He has a great sense of humour but he doesn’t teach.” Someone I admired and respected so was open to feeling hurt by.

I guess in a sense she was right. You know that guy Obama? Whom I aspire to be when I grow up? And who got mocked for saying something about leading from behind? I sort of teach like that. Want you to be your own teacher, and poke you till you find it.

Times I want to say, some students, smart and shallow, young and coddled, they aren’t up for being poked. Entitled brats.

Times I want to say, it’s me fucked up, poked when I had no okay to, missed the cues, all my bad. (I’m leaving out all the lovely times it went bitchin’ fine.)

Seems to me, as of this now, it’s neither this nor that.

There’s no telling how the combos, one person and another, or 20, are going to work it out. We like to think our sciences can say, but no.

All there is, is, I do my most honourable best, you do your most honourable best. And if we fail to meet – no harm, no foul, okay?

I like to think, when I’m feeling sympathique to Plato, that that’s a premise to all his dialogues (just as all his dialogues are together a premise to all our universities). If we fail to meet, no harm, no foul, okay?

It happens to the best of stars, too. They fly on.

The bit I’ve put in my syllabus newly, with that student’s, and another’s, negations in mind.

I work by Socratic method. I ask questions meant to sharpen distinctions, shed light on unexamined premises, and enhance a student’s own capacity for inquiry. It’s a messy, improvisational process that sometimes falls flat and makes everyone (me included) feel awkward. Sometimes it looks sort of inefficient. And yet it’s the oldest teaching method we have (older than the university, as an institution, itself) and has survived this long for a reason. It makes the student her own teacher.

If it causes discomfort sometimes that’s why. Or I think so anyway. Being asked to be your own teacher is not easy or comfortable.

They’re growing more tender by the year. What’s the bearing we need to meet them rightly and kindly? I want not to do harm – want also, not to let up.

Note to blog self

There are nouns one might hear as verbs rather. Living processes we make things of. Reify. Not that there’s anything wrong with things. Some of my best friends are things. But things are just actions sitting still a moment.

Life as a verb. Okay.

Death as a verb. Oh shit.

Self as a verb. Oh my.

Peace as a verb. “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”

Blog as a verb. Oh get over it.

Ernest Fenollosa, in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry:

A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature. Things are only the terminal points, or rather the meeting points of actions, cross-sections cut through actions, snap-shots. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature.

Is nature a noun or a verb. Yes.

But we of the West weight the noun. BEING, eternal forms, ειδοσ, Plato, that crapola, so to recover the living act, transmutation, you and me in flux, Heraclitean, who knows what comes in the next instant – terrifying, marvellous, necessary –

Let’s get it edgier. Benjamin Lee Whorf, in Language, Thought, and Reality, with some composting.

[A member of the Hopi nation] has no general notion or intuition of TIME as a smooth flowing continuum in which everything in the universe proceeds at an equal rate, out of a future, through a present, into a past. At the same time, the Hopi language is capable of accounting for and describing correctly all observable phenomena of the universe.

The Hopi metaphysics has its cosmic forms comparable to those of the West, past, present, and future, in scale and scope. It imposes on the universe two grand cosmic forms, which we may call MANIFESTED and MANIFESTING (or, UNMANIFEST) or, again, OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE.

The objective or manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future. The subjective or manifesting comprises all that we call future, BUT NOT MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental – everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the HEART, no only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature.

Don’t know how good this is as anthropology. Could be Whorf’s wet dream of an escape from Plato’s noun. Or a projection of Heidegger onto decimated tribes. But there is at least dimly an intuition of alterity in it, salutary.

Shadow w/o the slick

Okay, trying to get that shadow effect, without the slicky quality. Good people (or bad people, I like bad people, too) tell what you think.

SI 6 (90V)

The diff? Paled it with the photocopier, instead of by MSWord’s “wash out” filter. More imprecision, gets more imperfection, gets more texture. Mistah Plato, he dead.

Why the poem’s so affirming, the main face so scary, I dunno. Am not in charge of the contradictions. Source text, for those to whom such matters:


Ship is nailed, shield bound
in staves of light linden wood –
her love comes to the Frisian
wife, keel draws near,
breadwinner home
                                        she cries
out to him
                       rinses the sea
from his shirt, finds him clean clothes,
offers on land what his love asks of her.

Have not, as yet, taken up Theresa’s totally solid suggestion to free the shadow man (or free the shadow, man?) and am curious as to my resistance. Am I yet beholden to M. Plateau after all?

But there’s something persistent in this project about doublings. All the characters are made, e.g., by filling in the gap between a letterform and an imperfect iteration of it. And something compels me about one of these glyphs, broadcast large and pale, being the landscape the mind that thought it gets to wander a while.

Maybe the shadow ain’t ready to be quite that free just yet. Interesting. As I believe Wile E. Coyote said to the air rushing up below him.