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Notes Towards Day 24: Believing and Doubting

mlord's picture

I. welcome back...

mixing up our seating...
any (deep or critical) "playful" stories from Thanksgiving?
any "live creatures" encountered?

II. when we were last together
(a long week ago...)
we shared our experiences @ the Barnes,
and then "revised" those accounts through the lenses of the movie,
and several essays about the move of the Foundation downtown;
I thought some very interesting ideas emerged:

* how "busy" the walls were--> for some of us, rich/delicious,
for others (w/ ADHD), totally overwhelming/not helpful

* for all his positioning himself as an iconoclast, Albert Barnes
created another institution w/ the aim to instruct us in how to see/
what to do--> to ignore our initial emotional reaction,
to ignore the narrative and the thematic connections we might see,
in order to follow the lines, colors, shapes: that is,
to pay attention to the formal qualities, the geometry of the paintings.

* we ended w/ a great question about how to find "the live creature" Dewey talked about:
how can we extract a "living encounter" from all the packaging that is a
museum, or a school, or...whatever else intends to tell us what to attend to?

* and it was in that context that I asked you to re-think your first Barnes paper,
in which you described your encounter w/ a single work

II. based on your Sunday night postings, two of you expect
to do this by using Barnes' ideas to sharpen your lens:

Yancy proposed to re-write her paper focusing more on the picture itself, rather than on the story of it;

said, likewise, that she'd "look again, focusing more on what Barnes and Dewey thought were important."

But the rest of you said that, if you could re-visit the Barnes, you would look beyond your single painting:

said that Barnes would have been "extremely upset" with your assignment to spend time with a single piece of art, since he envisioned the foundation as a place of learning about connections among objects;

& most of you intended to rectify that oversight:

promised to "move more into the three neighbouring portraits that surround her painting," using them to ask "Who's a figure? Who's an image? Who's a person?" (--including Barnes as possible answer here)

Several of you actually proposed to "read" the whole museum:

Frindle wants to focus more on how the design of the Barnes Foundation affected her encounter w/ the painting

Nightowl wants to look at the new Barnes as a piece of artwork in itself, trying to read it using Barnes’s principles

Cathy also proposed to "focus on the museum itself instead of a single painting,"
trying "to imagine what Barnes expected when the visitors see the building"; and

Everglade thought she could write about the different experiences one would have in the new building.

Several of you wanted to think about questions that extended WAY beyond the scope of the Barnes,
to reflect on questions of what art is, and how we value it:

Tessa, who's "not very keen on trying to unravel Barnes’s expectations and wishes for us,"
is interested in how all the legal tangles make the works more profound

thought she could argue that a focus on the monetary
worth of great paintings violates Barnes’ key principles

(who noticed how lavish a showcase the Foundation was for her painting),
wants to think some more about how welcoming museums are--and who art is for; and

wants to focus on questions of intellectual property and human rights: if art should be accessible to large groups of people, how can it be the property of the person who buys it? Shouldn't it be human property?


Overall, I really appreciated this trend toward the larger picture/scope/questions/assertions;
a recognition that you really can't read a painting in isolation--that it has a larger context
that affects what you see and value.

And  it also seemed to Mark and me, when we reviewed your proposals y'day afternoon, that
many of you are still struggling w/ how to generate your own topic, and design a paper to pursue it.
We've been asking all semester, "what are you curious about? what do you want to understand better?
be analytical about that curiosity...follow that breadcrumb trail..."

But (since most of you have spent your learning lives being told what tasks to do,
and doing them well), designing your own project is a new and hard thing to do.

So we decided to spend today walking through this process; heads up:
it's likely to be the most useful thing you take away from this class
(i.e: to have the most impact on your grades hereafter!)

III. We're going to do this as a form of the doubting and believing game

A. Write down now the deepest question you have,
which has arisen from your experiences in and reading/viewing about the Barnes:
what is the thing you are really most curious about?

As you write this question, think about the standards of "deep play":
what is the riskiest, most stretching question you can think of/feel your way towards?
This should be a real question, not one you have the answer to.

(Mark's class came up w Zadie Smith's talk here, on "Man vs. Corpse,"
as an example of "deep play" in academic writing.)

Write these on the board. Read them (all this in silence, please).

B. Re-seat yourselves, and now write down an assertion that you would like a response to.
This could be one possible answer to your question
(or to somebody else's question, if that now interests you more than your own):
think of a statement/a belief you have/a claim you want to try out,
on which you really want the imput of your classmates:
do they think this is true or false?
Do they believe or doubt it?

As w/ your question: this needs to be something edgy,
w/out an obvious answer, or one that we're all likely to agree on--
it's got to push against common sense, yet be grounded in this world...

Go 'round, make your assertions,
let's vote...
then discuss....

C. If time: how might we structure a paper about these topics?
How can we "welcome" these ideas (a la Elbow's essay)?
What lenses could bring them more clearly into focus?

D. We will spend some classtime on Thursday in small groups,
working on the structure of your papers,

(since you're going into the city this Sunday, the paper's not due til Monday @ midnight...)

IV. other homework:
on Wednesday night,
sign up for your OpenArts membership (if you haven't already),
AND post
your plans for your final trip into the city alone:
when-and-where will you go, in search of what, using what
modalities/methodologies/lenses/p.o.v's --& forms of simple, critical and/or deep play?
doubting or believing...what?

we will cover the cost of the train tickets (I have bought them already...
and/but how many of you have already used the SEPTA tickets Res Life offers for free...?);
and/but if you chose an activity that costs money, that comes out of your own pocket...

for Thursday, also read Walker Percy's essay on The Loss of the Creature
(don't forget Dewey's "live creature" as you do so....)

Reading Notes from Elbow’s essay,
“The Believing Game—Methodological Believing”

“no arguing”— > an intellectual scandal to
outlaw a central practice for good thinking?

doubting game = “critical thinking” = the methodology/disciplined practice of trying to be
as skeptical and analytic as possible with every idea we encounter, to discover weaknesses,
find faults, test for validity = the scientific method, an act of intellect and of effort or will, debate

for a richer culture of rationality, we need also to play the

believing game = the systematic, disciplined practice of being as welcoming/
accepting as possible to every idea we encounter, seeking hidden virtues =
reading/writing poems & stories, inherently collaborative

3 arguments for the believing game: to
1) find flaws in our own thinking (hard to doubt what we live inside of)
2) choose among competing positions
3) achieve goals the doubting game neglects

from a fear of being changed or polluted, doubting teaches us
* to fend off/guard ourselves/spit out, not to welcome or swallow
* to extricate or detach ourselves, not to enter into/invest/insert/”dwell in”
* to use the rhetoric of propositions, vs. that of experience
(to understand from the inside)
* to pause and disengage, vs. engage or act (debating, not doing and inhabiting)
* to be masculine/aggressive/competing, vs. being feminine/compliant/listening

* both games promote both individualism (listen to unique p.o.v)
and social interaction/groupishness
* believing helps make reading/discussion/writing less adversarial

most lack the ability to dwell genuinely in alien ideas
[using the doubting game here to undermine faith in the doubting game itself]

from “The Rhetoric of Assent,” College English 67, 2 (March 2005): 388-399
to enter a new point of view in the classroom:
* tell a story of someone who believes it
* imagine and describe someone who sees things this way
* tell the story of events that might have led people to have this view of the world
* what would it be like to be someone who sees things this way?
* write a story or poem about the world that this view implies
* where doubting thrives on logic, assenting or believing thrives on the imagination

the ability to experience the rhetoric of assent provides leverage
for helping us work out larger/better frames of reference

are you a doubter or a believer?
which is your general habit?
your intellectual methodology?
which are you inclined to do?
which have you been trained to do?
what might you work on, to balance things out....?