Friday, June 29, 2012

A Bad Taste for French Postmodernism

In the second semester of my second year as an English lit. undergrad, I begrudgingly enrolled in Practical Criticism and Research Methodology.  It's a convoluted way of saying, "This is how English Lit. People do research."  Hardly anyone likes taking it; it's a necessary evil.  Besides just taking the class, I had the misfortune of having to take it with a new professor.  No one knew what his teaching style was like, and that was a double whammy for a class such as "Practical Criticism," as it was abbreviated by all the students in the department.

He was a small, short man.  I put him at about 45.  Although his dark-brown hair was graying and thin at the time, I suspected he was once a very hairy man; it might've been his thick, unruly eyebrows that tipped me off.  He had an accent that sounded like one I'd heard before.  New YorkIf it's not New York, I'm sure it's close.  He mentioned some things we'd be learning in the course, and then . . .  Then his voice got loud as he went into a diatribe against the modern classroom.  He spoke of Michel Foucault when he explained that education is not about the teacher giving knowledge to the student.  "Knowledge is power, or so the saying goes," he explained, "but Foucault subverts that idea by pointing out that 'knowledge' means something different to different people."  He went on:  "Foucault's philosophy was to show that people with knowledge unduly exert their power on others who have seemingly less knowledge than they.  In education, the professor stands at the front of the classroom, displaying his power as the Knowledge Giver."  My professor, however, would do no such thing.  He subverted this Western notion of power and stated that we would learn from him, and he would learn from us.  As such, we would rearrange the classroom.  Hmm.  This should be interesting.  For the rest of the semester, we would not sit in rows; we would sit in a circle.  In a circle, everyone faces each other.  Everyone is on equal physical ground to reflect their equal intellectual ground.

So we rearranged our desks.  After about five minutes of pushing and shuffling and getting settled, we sat in a circle.  A circle of faces all looking at each other.  But where was the professor?  Where was the professor who would also play the role of student?  He was standing.  In the middle of the circle.  But only for a minute, of course.  After that minute and for the rest of the semester, he sat on a chair.  With his backside on the top of the chair's back and his feet on the seat.  Higher than everyone else.  Higher than the students he was "learning" from.  The Giver of Knowledge.  Right.

It was one of the worst classes I have ever taken.  It put a bad taste in my mouth with respect to Foucault and Derrida and the rest of the French postmodernists.  Perhaps that is why I've never had the inclination to see France.

Thing I'm thankful for: Aubrey and her awesome yoga skillz.


Blogger cardlady said...


2:39 PM  
Blogger mlh said...

I always hate this pedagogical lie. There is TOO a professor--it's the person who has the power to GIVE YOU A GRADE. To pretend otherwise is to be power-driven AND insincere.

But I will talk you into France:

Musee d'Orsay.
Cream puffs.

9:02 AM  

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