03 January 2014

Tentative First Thoughts . . .

In his book Going Sane: Maps of Happiness, Adam Phillips at one point says that if we acknowledge that the universe is essentially meaningless, and that there is no teleological purpose to it, then to be sane requires that we ignore this reality. I recall the secene in Annie Hall when a depressed young Alvy Singer responds to the doctor’s query concerning his despondency, Alvy answers that he had read that the universe was expanding, and that “someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!” Why should Alvy do his homeworkor anything else for that matter given the ultimate fate of the universe? Alvy suffers a type of madness: he is depressed. He has a point!
            Phillips links sanity to a certain almost willed ignorance. Better not even to think about the fate of the universe at largeor many other things, I suppose, because to ruminate upon such subjects would drive one into insanity. Hamlet says of the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude, “Let me not think on’t, it would make me mad.” I think that this is the case in Waiting for Godot: if Vladimir and Estragon stop speaking for even a moment the reality of their situation would crash down upon them. “In the meantime,” says Estragon, “Let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent.” And Vladimir responds, “It’s so we won’t think.” Ignorance allows for bliss.  Renee once said that a good relationship depends not on what you can forget but on what you can ignore. Sanityand perhaps the ability to exist in a relationship depends on sanitydepends on ignorance.
            Now education is the antidote to ignorance, but it might be that it is the knowledge we offer that would drive us mad. There is a sense here that school knowledge is meant to preserve ignorance for the mental health of the universe. Hence derives the refusal to teach evolution and to read difficult, disconcerting materials. The question arises: how do we in schools offer knowledge in such a way that it maintains an ignorance that preserves a sanity. Or is it the function of school to disturb the sanity upon which so much of society rests. Thus the schools become responsible for graduating the insane. What does it mean to be sane?
            School is meant to aid in the child’s development, but as Phillips asks, “What is supposed to develop in development?” It is the received wisdom (to many but not A.S. Neill) that school means to tame the “the most intense feelings and  . . . fearfully acute sensations” that are available to the unrepressed and “insane” child. In this sense, school deprives the child of a certain wildness and original experience of passion: that moment of the splendor in the grass. School promises to replace gratification with mastery. Or rather, school will suggest that mastery can lead to gratification though pleasure will be delayed. The mad want their pleasures immediately satisfied.
            In the “Intimations Ode” Wordsworth suggests that the adult can ‘in thought’ recover those moments, but then the function of rationality is to retrieve moments of insanity!
            I’ll return to the questions: as a teacher what sanity do I offer? As a teacher what do I think I’m developing in the student/child in my effort?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh do serve me up some more of this delectable dish...for these are the things I ponder upon.

05 January, 2014 22:37  

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