Try to see it your way

1 12 2011

I am not, as you know, a particularly religious person.

An agnostic, I believe I have called myself on severaleventy occasions. A-gnostic, as in, I lack knowledge [about matters of God]; skeptic regarding claims of god/s would also work, as would unbeliever when it comes to the supernatural (such that if there is any kind of being who might be called a god, that being would exist within and not outside of nature, insofar as I don’t believe that anything exists outside of nature).

Hm, perhaps I should have included more brackets and/or parentheses.

Anyway, despite by a-skepti-gnosti-naturalism, I remain interested in many things religion, and for all kinds of reasons (none of which—look! more parentheses!—I’ll discuss here).

Which brings me to this little jewel of a thought, quoted by Kurt Frederickson, and re-quoted by Fred Clark:

Swedish Lutheran theologian Krister Stendhal offers us three guidelines for broader religious understanding. He says: (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its critics. (2) Don’t compare the best of your faith to the worst of another’s. (3) Leave room for “holy envy.” Recognize elements in the other religious tradition that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own. These suggestions change the conversation. It enhances the dialogue and our lives.

A fine set of guidelines, easily adaptable for any kind of conversation in which anyone seeks to understand anything.

Now, if I didn’t have a cold and my brain wasn’t fooked by microbes, I’d use this as a take-off for a discussion of John Caputo, Gianni Vattimo, radical hermeneutics, weak theology, and just what the hell is meant by the “hard” versus the “soft” sciences and why that distinction is fucked up and bullshit, but, like I said, my own brain is fucked up and bullshit, so there you go.

Anyway, understanding. Yeah.

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I’m lying by the road/because she cut off all my clothes

2 06 2010

Enough, already. Enough.

Enough with the rules, with the regs, with the rights and wrongs and victims and perps and goods and evils and innocent and damned. Enough.

No, I haven’t deliquesced into a moral puddle on the floor—I’ve got a fan in the window—or lobotomized myself with an icepick*. And I’m as cranky and squint-eyed as ever.

But I’m also finally, finally beginning to understand what Caputo and Vattimo are getting at with their radical hermeneutics and weak theology and the utter necessity of resignation.

A resignation of a particular sort, I hasten to add, one which begins rather than ends inquiry.

Part of this understanding began amidst my adjunct teaching, when I gave up punishing students for handing in work late. Just get it done, I now say. The work matters more than the date.

I could do that because the terms of my contract are clearly defined: I’m paid for x-number of hours, full-stop. I’m not trying to get tenure, not trying to impress colleagues with my dedication to departmental norms, not trying to impress students with how ‘hard’ I am. To get paid, I simply need to fulfill the terms of my contract.

But since I don’t get paid that much, I had to ask, So, why am I doing this? I’m doing this because I like it, because I think it matters, because I think the students should know this, because there is something more in the material itself.

I’m a pretty good teacher—not great, but not bad. But because I am finally learning to clear out the bureaucratic hedges which have occluded my pedagogical sight, I’ve given myself the chance to offer those students a glimpse of . . . of. . . of knowledge, of questions, of human being beyond those hedges.

Ahh, crap, this all sounds. . . woo, and I am most definitely not a fan of woo—metaphysics!—nor am I trying for some kind of vagueness as a way to avoid the hard edges of being. I do, after, still follow rules, still bitch when others don’t (is it really so hard to put your trash in the can?), and still impose rules on my students.

But the rules are provisional, practical in the most rooted sense of the term: as means to ends, not ends in themselves. Will this paper help the students learn something? Yes. Will punishing them for handing it in late serve any purpose? No.

And I’m lucky in my ability to dissolve some of these rules: I don’t have 150 students and two TAs who have their own work. Perhaps if I did I could work out something else, but, honestly, had I gone the tenure-track route at a large school, I almost certainly would have not only left those nice hedges alone, but planted a few more. The point, then, would have been to get tenure, and everything else would have been shaped to serve that purpose.

That’s not a rip on tenure-track faculty—some of my best friends have tenure—but a recognition of how one’s necessities get ordered, how my necessities would have been ordered, and without me quite realizing it.

Perhaps I would have come to it, eventually; perhaps, after earning tenure, I would have thought, Okay, so what was all that for?

This is what Vattimo means by nihilism: the shedding of the unnecessary, the recognition that almost nothing is necessary, so that one is confronted with the question, Now what?

I have resisted this, largely because I like the sharpness of edges, because I do hold to my allegiances, and because I not only do not want to let some people off their hooks, I actively want them to remain on the hook. I think there is a distinction between clear thinking and obsfucation, between teaching and manipulation, and between domination and liberation.

But these are, in the end, practical skills and political positions, and, as much as they matter, there is still that question beyond them: What for?

I don’t have the answers, don’t know if I even know what these answers would look like.

But, still, I am giving up: there’s too much to see.

(*Yes, there really was a type of lobotomy performed with an icepick: the transorbital  lobotomy. I’ve got pictures!)

h/t: J., for the 3pm walkabouts. . . .