Sunday, December 18, 2005

Taking part

  Sometimes, I see the human project - the task of being alive - as fixating on some problem and attempting to find its solution. The dowdy cousin of this particular idea is the sad psychological 'truism' that we are all coping with the effects of being alive, but this does not impress me so much. Of course we must cope, but if life is to do nothing but cope, what about when there is nothing to cope with? What happens then?
  So this is what I believe, in many of my spare moments: that we are beset with problems, and we find some especially vexing, and we either unravel them or let them unravel us. Coping only comes in at the moment when we decide to destroy or be destroyed, it is not our main fixation at all.
  This is an interesting idea as it helps me continue in the face of adversity, for it is some sort of moral and spiritual ideal to tackle these problems; it is what being alive is about. And also it helps me explain to myself the limits of my own perceptions and possibilities. I do not find much of the world particularly edifying - much literature and fiction, much music and art (actually, pretty much all art), much cinema and culture - it just does not enlighten me or endear itself to me. It is often that I worry that either I am missing out by ignoring these vast facets of human existence, or everyone else in under the spell of something pointless. Perhaps the problems that are being tackled by much of fictional literature, by art and etc., do not meet up closely enough with my own? I am not interested in beauty and its representation, in visual aesthetics. I do not care about the technical demands of directing cinema, or the possibilities presented to us through the medium. I have my own interests.
  All very well and good, you think, he has interests. The real point I wish to make is that, without these interests, I do not know what I would be. What if I cared about and for nothing? What would life be then?
  My students, I fear, do not often care about much. I see them in class, bored. I ask them about their lives, and their lives bore them. They feel sad and lonely and oppressed, everywhere oppressed, their main feelings ones of dislocation. They do not know where they fit or why, or for what reason they are here, or the reason they have been brought here. Their rebellion is fuzzy and weak but tries to repel almost everything.
  How can I make them care? How can I make them think, life must be solved, I must be solved, there are problems out here and I can make something of them for myself and others? What is the secret of this alchemy?
  I feel very sorry for them. They seem so lost, and in my job I do little to help them. All I can tell you is this - if you are put in an unhappy world, such as ours, problems seem so insurmountable that we do not see the value of attempting to solve them, we merely wish to cope with their demands. And so we slide into our sorry, self-flagellating states, needing to boost our 'self-esteem' - as if we are not selfish enough already! - needing to submit to therapies and interventions, needing the approval of others as we have not found how to give it to ourselves. We willingly give up the possibility of our understanding of ourselves if others make it easier for us, so we can slide into a young senility of inaction and steadily consume.
  But you cannot consume understanding and meaning, you must find it. My students, overwhelmingly, have not learned this. They have been hurt, so many of them, and they are bored and listless and traumatised by what this world has done to them, and they do not want to take part in the human project anymore.


Blogger Atum said...

As far as I can tell it takes a certain amount of self belief to see the world as problematic (including the notion that we can work everything out and that it is valid on a personal level [what other level is there for most of our problems?]). These students, I am guessing, already know how the world is wrong (the media is good at this) and how they are wrong (psychologically they are better placed than most to get this information), but they lack the courage of their convictions even in thought. This is what I have found of those I spend time with in any case, and I think it probably applies more universally. The students of which I speak, and I think those of which you speak, do not trust their (mammoth!) conclusions even in thought, but it is difficult for them not to feel some sort of bubble of sanity around their thoughts, some individualist dogma in fact that they have consumed and reproduce in all their encounters with themselves. I don't know what it takes even for the legitimate scope of people's ideas to have some justice in their thought, and I think it is extremely difficult for ideas that intend to point at invasions and formal structures of thought to actually upset and dislocate as much as perhaps they should. Indeed we are psychologically constituted to resist being so damaged. An important part of education is however masochistic I feel, and we need to be able to be personally vulnerable in order for this to even threaten happening. As for your students and how to encourage this is impossible for me to say, especially when the world is such a shitty place (even domestically) and the struggle to cope is an all-consuming, self-constructing exercise.

4:42 PM  

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