The workshops which Jane Hedley and Gail Hemmeter set up for all College Seminar faculty during the week of May 29-31 2001 were very rich for me. What I enjoyed most was the way in which a series of @ least four of the seminars built on one another. These included the two I helped kick off, which Paul describes above; also the one on "visual texts," led by Kathy Rowe and Jonathan Kahana, and another on "non-textual experiences," led by Linda Haviland and Joe Kramer. I trace below some of what I learned, insights that I think will be valuable in my CSem teaching this fall--and for many falls to come.

I. "Transcending Two Cultures": Paul Grobstein, Anne Dalke

We began by laying out two claims. The first one had to do w/ identifying a broad range of different uses of language: from scientific texts, which intend-to-be-precise, through the sort of ordinary language intending to "communicate information," to literary language, which is intentionally more ambiguous, playful, productive of interpretation and dialogue. We proposed that this spectrum was a useful rubric for thinking about what sorts of texts we want to use in our CSems, as well as what sorts of writing we want our students to do, how we want to help 'em use language: how ambiguous/how precise do we expect it to be; how directive, how open to interpretation?

We also acknowledged that the distinctions between these various kinds of language--and the sorts of inquiry they enable--are proceeding apace not just between scientists, social scientists and humanists, but w/in all of our disciplines (we learned, for instance, of the differences between the "intuitive" and "numerical" economists)--which complicates the question of what sorts of writing we ask our students to read and produce.

But our second--and far more ambitious--proposal was that while most of the work we do in our college classrooms focuses on these matters of language, much creative work is not language-based, much understanding a property of the unconscious, a form of tacit understanding that is not expressed linguistically. More profound work might be happening in our classes if we were willing to expand them to include more interactive/multiple levels of understanding. Although many academics don't pay attention to such matters, because they are not well articulated in language, we wanted to open a consideration of learning that involved other dimensions than just learning to use language well (the vision of CSem as a "writing course"), but rather by acting and being acted on.

So we turned our attention to the creative spaces lurking above/below/around the spectrum of languages available to us, focusing more on "activities of creation" than on "languages of distillation." We asked how we could learn to model better, in our teaching, a sort of creative, engaged interaction. One way might be to think of all of our students as performers, "physically committed and interpretively engaged" (what happens, for instance, when they enact The Three Billy Goats Gruff in the class? Will they see that, on the other side of the bridge, none of the goats can look the other in the eye, each one having sent those smaller than himself off to death?)

All of us participating in the session then traced the narrative of our upcoming CSem ("what story would you like to be able to tell about the course, when the semester ends?") and were also asked to interrogate its shadow side. (The irony, for instance, that a course which traces a historical quest for certainty ends in modern uncertainty.) We asked whether we can be too facile in bringing texts together into a "package," losing the integrity of things in themselves. Does the organization of the course convey a certain message? Into what structure of experience will it invite our students? How can we construct that shape in anticipation of the experience? We need to give them plenty of struggle time, and the tools to struggle w/.

We ended by trying to imagine our "mission statement," our "advertising slogan," and came up w/ at least one: "Not preparing for disciplines, but reinventing them: creating new ones."

II. Interpretable Texts #1--Incorporating Visual Materials: Jonathan Kahana and Kathy Rowe

Kathy initiated this session w/ the claim that one teaches best when one knows one's aims. She gave us several historical images to read, to demonstrate the value of using a visual image rather than a text: because the students will have an immediate response to it, will think they can read it, a reading which the rest of the class can then complicate and build on. The pedagogical paradox here is that the image which seems immediately accessible @ the beginning of class will turn out not to have been so by the end: students will be led into an awareness of historical difference, of presumptions they have brought to the work of "consorting w/ dead bodies." Particularly when working w/ historical materials, students are quicker to see heteroglossia in images than in texts (where they have to work so hard w/ the language to get the message); they can't get past the linguistic forms to see the ways in which it is conveyed. The visual image activites that process much more quickly.

Jonathan suggested to us that an audio-visual text is "impossible to own," in the way visual texts are (one cannot write on it, hold it still in one's hands); in fact, the "ownership" mentality is antithetical to the sort of critical reading of film that he tries to model in his classes. When he teaches films, he attempts to make his students self-conscious about how they consume the visual, by teaching them the reading skills they need to analyze something that will always remain "unownable," "unindividualizable." He focuses on the ways in which film has been designed for mass audiences, for being experienced in a crowd, rather than appropriated individually. Because of the "playedness" of film, viewers tend to think of it as eternally present. Jonathan tries to disengage them from that by animating the class as a site of recollection, inviting the students to appear in the classroom as a collection of receptacles of memory of their viewing experiences.

To "read" a film, as Jonathan explained it in our seminar and again to me afterwards, means to treat it as a text: that is, to subject it to a process of re-iteration that it is usually *not designed for.* Writing out one's memories of a film is one way to begin this reiteration; creating a collective description of a film with the class (by asking questions, by writing on the board, etc.) is another. Classes can't avoid beginning with the commonsense responses to these media (on the one hand, treating the film as pure information, as with standard-order documentary; on the other, treating the film as pure experience, which we are entitled only to like or dislike) , but they can build on these commonsense responses by converting the viewer's experience to a form of writing. So if one cannot literally write *on* or *in* the film/video text the way one can make notes in the margin of a print text, it is still possible to convert the cinematic experience to other forms of language; possible, and, if we want not to lose sight of the relation between film and video and the earlier technologies of representation, necessary.

III. Hot Topics and [Un]Teachable Moments: Anne Dalke, Jody Cohen

We began by asking how to "start" and how to "stop" such topics in the classroom, whether we can/want to control their introduction, what the risks and payoffs are, whether--for instance--there are neutral ways, or disciplined/disciplinary ways, to set it up so that unconscious material can be elicited, and productively dealt w/, in a college classroom. We acknowledged some of the dangers of being "caught in transformation."

We played w/ various metaphors for our roles as instructors: performers, analysts (in line w/ Lacan's notion of "the one presumed to know"), ring leaders (in which the class becomes the perfect crime, w/ everyone complicit in its commision, "something stolen out from under the control of the instructor, who says, "rip me off: find ways of taking something from me that you can use"), or more collaborative images, such as that of player coach, band leader (first violin? lead guitar?), in which the class--like the brain--generates information not through a leader, but via a set of interacting parts modifying one another, bringing about a sort of "leaderless revolution."

We differed on whether we "believed in power," and speculated whether committing to a particular way of understanding might mean adopting a position of power. Do we walk into class w/ a particular offering, and invite our students to join us in a conversation, involve them in the ways we go about exploring the world? What might it mean, rather than reading the assigned images, for instance, if students produced an image of the class (by filming it), related to themselves as images, saw themselves as part of language? Is such an intervention an application of the methodology of the course, or a direct rebuke to it? Is reading a basic requirement we will not release them from, or something that can get in the way of our figuring out major issues before the class? What best enables our students to "own" the questions they bring and we propose? How much are our students' intuitions acknowleged in our courses? Is thinking not as interesting as doing? Doesn't theory have consequences (if we think this, then that will occur)? How much of this is an unconscious process? We teased out a relation between the unconscious and the linguistic: considering the former grist to be examined by the latter, which then generates new experiences for the unconscious, which needs material to work w/.

IV. Interpretable Texts #2--Non-textual Experiences: Linda Haviland, Joe Kramer (and briefly, Michele Francl)

Linda's observation (on the Two Cultures website) that "as a woman and a dancer" she had long been "removed as any sort of valid epistemic subject" from most academic culture was my initial introduction to, and major intervention in, the whole train of thinking traced above. So it was a delight for me that she conducted this last session, which reconceptualized us all as operating in a more bidirectional/interactive state than is usual in the academy. The session began w/ questions of how we know what we know, how can we learn to live w/ the uncertainty of not knowing, whether we can acquire knowledge through experiment, and whether, in repeating experiments, we can repeat the experience. Then Linda put us through a series of exercises, inviting us to be creative and intuitive enough to project what we knew into 3 dimensions, to experience the profundity of bodily experience (in comparison to which video is a "flattened artifact," ethnography a "self-consuming" one). As she instructed us to take certain poses and invent certain dances, we learned about the ways in which the "strategy"of choreography is supplanted by the "tactics" of performance, and began to imagine ways in which movement might intervene in CSem: by inviting in "bodied ways of knowing," bringing the body back into doing research, and providing mechanisms, distinct from discussion, for letting in the unconscious. Analysis will naturally arise from such experiments and discrete experiences. It is like the Montessori method: simply offering more ways of accessing experience.


This (not unrelated) quote, from Antoine de Saint Exupery, arrived via one of my students' signature lines:

If you want to build a ship,
don't drum up people together to collect wood,
and don't assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for
the endless immensity of the sea.