I have no desire to make people experts. I never want to be the teacher that professes mastery over a subject (of course, I am not a master over any subject, so, well, there's that). I don't give a flying fuck if my students are down with every pedantic point of Deleuze's critique of phenomenology.
Of course, I don't want to simplify the material for them—and I don't think I do—but I sure as shit don't care whether they grasp every fine point. I am not training 19 year olds to be scholars, to be academics. Undergraduate education is not professional training for the academy—that's what grad school is for. Fuck citation.
No, what interests me, what I try to teach, is a relationship to ideas, to texts, to the world. The focus of my teaching is not as much the material per se as it is how one stands towards the material. I want people—my students, sure, but everyone—to enjoy reading Nietzsche and Borges and Nabokov. I want them to be generous towards the world, to find the best thing in this or that film, this or that book, this or that work of art.
I don't want to create a bunch of nay-sayers, hermeneutic cops who roam libraries in search of ways this or that text fails. I want them only to read texts that set them on fire, that get their hearts pounding, that twist their brains and bodies into new postures, origami-like.
I never taught a text I didn't feel was great. Why would I have students read anything I didn't think was astounding, something worth at least one hurrah, a hallelujah, a wooopeeee or three—or at least a wow and perhaps a huh? Why read the shit of the world? Why read the mediocrity of the world? Life's too short—or too long, depending on how you look at it.
And so I've always tried to teach a way of going with ideas, with books and film and art. Ideas are not distinct from a life lived. When I teach, I invoke my life, often. While this may be narcissistic I do it purposefully with a certain pedagogic goal: to show how an idea plays itself out in a life—how ones talk to his wife or child, how he interacts with family, friends, foes. Ideas are not distinct from life (I learned this from Kierkegaard—thanks, Soren).
College is not a job. College is not training for work—even for work in the academy. College is the time to take on different approaches to this life. When I was in college and first read Nietzsche, then Foucault, I was liberated from the contraints of myself—from my banal understanding of politics and power, from my staid assumptions about how the world works. Reading these texts, life yawned with opportunity, with possibility, with excitement. This is education.
A tip from McLuhan: education is exposing, and perhaps destroying, one's environment, the invisible structures that keep us doing the same old shit.
For many students, undergraduate life is their one concerted exposure to inellectuals, to the life of the mind. So when I have them in my classroom for 16 weeks, I want to show them a lit up life of the mind—a life that not only is not dry but, on the contrary, is passionate, sensual, practical, personal, that the intellectual life has rewards that exceed getting a fucking A.
And, of course, I want to change my students—irrevocably. I want them to see the world, see themselves, see school, see ideas in fundamentally news ways, in ways they never thought possible. I don't want to let them keep ideas separate from their lives; I don't want to let them segregate their lives between school and life, as if class was something they had to clock in, clock out. I want the ideas I teach to bleed across their classes, across their lives.