4.15.2011

Teaching Thinking

To continue in this vein for a moment — that's a phrase I've rarely written and, all of a sudden, I am quite drawn to it and repulsed by it — I love writing and thinking as visceral but the hypochondriac in me wants out of the vein — as I was saying, to continue this line of thought — a line that I hope suggests other lines, a line that meanders and twists and turns, a line that refuses to go straight except when straight is called for — so, yes, this line of inquiry: the academy remains premised on the silo which, in an age of the network, seems rather anachronistic.

Thinking today — and maybe thinking always — is about forging connections, not piling up facts in a closed domain. This is not to say there is not a pleasure in facts, a knowledge to be enjoyed in facts. Foucault would spend hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks, in the archives, discovering a peculiar erotics of the information splay. (Me, I've never been a fact guy. Even as an undergraduate history major, I found facts achingly boring and hence wrote my thesis on Foucault and models of historiography — anything to avoid facts! Which, alas, is not a critique of facts but a critique of me — not in the sense of criticism but in the true sense of critique. I like to move fast in my thinking and facts slow me up; I'd rather make shit up. But many of my favorite thinkers enjoy a very different speed. It all depends on your metabolism.)

How does one go about teaching thinking? How does one go about teaching the skill of making connections? Well, it's through example. See how Foucault makes a connection between jails, prisons, and schools; look how Deleuze makes connections between calculus, architecture, and Paul Klee; look how McLuhan makes a connection between the assembly line and the alphabet. These are not examples we can copy; they are not examples from which we can extrapolate a concept. No, they are examples that show how thinking can happen, the possible directions it can take, the types of leaps and bounds it can make.

Which is to say, it takes practice — practice in linking, assembling, deconstructing, proliferating, meandering meaningfully and not.

Writing, at its best, takes the reader on an unexpected tour of such lines of thinking, such veins of thought. The very movement of the words takes us along a ride through uncharted territory — and, in the process, lays claim to new domains — domains that may very well be sui generis.

One might say — am I saying it? Well, yes and no — that thought is the art of metaphor as metaphor, etymologically, means to transfer, to carry over (doh! a fact! a fact I love, relish, and deploy often). Which might explain the long historical ties between philosophy and poetry and why Lucretius calls himself a poet.

In any case, I wish the kids today learned more of this and less of that — or both this and that.

7 comments:

Linz said...

Metaphor "might explain the long historical ties between philosophy and poetry" — it might also explain the long historical ties between teaching and seduction (are there any? or am I making this up? well, if not a fact, it's certainly a cliché, and one you've written of before).

Teaching as seduction, philosophy as poetry...I like that these are metaphors about things that are themselves, in essence, forms of metaphor.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, if metaphor is the transfer, the carrying over, the movement from one place to another, then pedagogy is the act of inciting metaphor. And seduction, methinks, is an excellent way to move bodies from one point to another. But it's not the only one — there's violence, too, which is the most common mode (exams, grades, repetition: all police actions).

There is, methinks, an intimate connection between eros and pedagogy — the love of ideas, the lust for knowledge. Socrates, of course, was a notorious horndog.

Linz said...

So if metaphor is the movement from one place to another, could you also say it's the becoming? The way someone moves through the world, the way you say Foucault makes connections between this and that, these are his becoming. And the way you teach, violently or seductively, violence or seduction is your becoming.

So then is there some relationship between the act of living, and metaphor, if metaphor is another word for becoming?

This metaphor stuff is really exciting to me for some reason. Did Nietzsche write about it anywhere?

Daniel Coffeen said...

So I don't think we can equate metaphor with becoming. I think tropes in general are operations of becoming. Some have argued that metaphor is in fact the trope of Being and dialectics whereas metonymy is the trope of becoming (I argued that in my diss, sort of).

And, yes, of course Nietzsche wrote about metaphor and tropes: on his early lectures and essays on rhetoric — he was a rhetoric professor — and most famously in "On Truth and Lies in their Non-Moral Sense" — which I taught in Rhet 10, had you taken it avec moi. Should be easy to track down online.

Lauren said...

Have you, by any chance, read Joshua Foer's new book on memory? I'm part way through it and this post spoke about thinking in ways very similar to the way Foer discusses the creation (and use) of memories. If you haven't read it, perhaps it would interest you- and if you HAVE read it, it would interest me to hear your thoughts.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Hey Lauren — Nope, don't know it. I thought at first it was Jonathan Foer. So that tells you how much I know. Tell me to read it and I will. I like being told to read things.

Lauren said...

I'll let you know once I've finished. So far I've found it engaging, but a lot of that has to do with the way it's gotten me thinking about memory as a whole. Foer spends a lot of time talking about tricks to cement things in your memory, and while frankly I don't care much about learning how to memorize grocery lists or other mundane shit like that, his discussion of why we remember the things we remember is fascinating to me. Mostly (so far) it seems to come down to the fact that humans are very good at remembering things that are either disgusting, things that are lewd, some things that are both disgusting AND lewd, and things that are unusually humorous. Sounds about right.

And beyond that, I'm interested in the overarching question of why memory is important. I mean, apart from basic memories that keep you running day to day, like where you parked your car or that you need to buy toilet paper. More like how memories are something based entirely on networks of associations and are constantly evolving and how it is through these ever changing associations that we shape our sense of self and our place in the world.

Anyway. I'll cut my rambling here and tell you to read it once I myself have finished it.