Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Polemic for a Lost Love

In tragedy as in life the great envier of faith[1] once spoke that Greek tragedy is in itself, as is spoke of justice, blind. In his words in all tragedy comes recognition, and with such recognition “there is 'eo ipso' a question of prior concealment.” Tragedy in the most Hegelian of senses involves a unity of one man. And as The Philosopher[2] once spoke, “An infinity of things befall that one man, some of which it is impossible to reduce to unity; and in like manner there are many actions of one man which cannot be made to form one action.” There can be no unity in the action of any man who has yet to transcend the temporal by embracing the eternal. But that which is first concealed is only that of a single recognition. For the tragedy that is life, their must be that of a second recognition, of that which is the greater sin that has been concealed.

I have sinned. I have committed myself to the world of the aesthetic and sacrificed all honors I may once have had to claim as my own. That infinite chain of regression which befall me; the physical, mental, and emotional manipulation of so many past loves, has left me morally bankrupt. I know not what trust is, I have no faith left in the temporal. For that sickness onto to death that is which is being able to die. That despair which we are all capable, and as he who envies faith believes we should thank God himself for being capable of, can not lead to physical death or be escaped from in death. Death would serve as my last hope of escape from the horror of life, and yet in despair, death is no longer even an option. As has been shown even in the greatest fortune, “a womanly youthfulness which is sheer peace and harmony and joy”, despair holds it most “choicest dwelling place: deep in the heart of happiness”. But with out realizing the possibility of the infinite the self is lost with out any such notice. Imagination is needed to allow man such as my self to find faith, to rise up above the material world. But I have lost that great thirst for life which drives the imagination, for as I am lost in my own despair I trust no one not even my self. There is it seems now no way out, only darkness...

In the cold darkness of the early morning I tired legs carried what was left of my broken spirit across the soft ground. I wanted nothing more but to drop to my very knees and cry out, “Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison!” But I did not call upon the heavens, for I was carried forward; pressed onward, sweep towards a quite hill side. And their among the thick layers of fog streams of moon light pierced the heavy darkness to reveal one defiant creature, that youthfulness which is sheer peace and harmony and joy; discovered here once more in a simple flower. The flower was open and full of life and color. I wanted nothing more but to pull it from the ground and rush to your side to so as to lay with it before you and beg forgiveness. I could do no such thing. I had not the strength to end its life. Not the strength to deny this world its beauty or to in that final search for redemption risk keeping the light of your youthfulness from this world.

[1] Soren Kierkegaard

[2] Aristotle's Poetics

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Curriculum and the Liberal Arts College

When we examine the place curriculum in a liberal arts college we are confronted between the classic divisions of education between technical education which is occupationally driven and education for the life of citizenship and public life. This distinction was characterized by John Dewey in his article Education for labor and Leisure where he illustrated a view of education as a distinctive exercise in American Pragmatism. In this Dewey pushes the focus of education away from knowledge for knowledge’s sake to a more mechanical scientific approach to education. This was in response to Pragmatisms rejection of fixed truth values and focuses on the usefulness of a hypothesis as determinate of its truth value. With this shift to focused occupational and mechanical education Dewey hoped to remove the focuses of concepts of citizenship and fatherland which proved to be so disasters to German society in pre and post war Europe. In doing so Dewey wanted to make the flourishing of the individual the key aim in education by supporting equal access to public education, democratic control over curriculum of public schools, free discussions and debates with in the public sphere, and the general push for self inquiry.

Castell on the other hand, who having rejected the use of a liberal education as supporting a class of gentry as propose by Newman and purpose arguably Plato with his proposed philosopher kings, wished to also reject as it primary function ones professional studies. Newman in his The Idea of a University asked us to “imagine a project for organizing a system of scientific teaching, in which the agency of man in the material world cannot allowably be recognized, and may allowably be denied.” This would be a university with out any place with in the curriculum for the philosophy of mind, theology, or any other attempt at explaining the activities of the mind and it powers outside of neurological considerations. Perhaps this can be seen as preposterous as Aristotle’s attempt to break the mind and all human means to mere materialism. With this in mind Castell in his work The Teachers World makes a pivotal distinction between the activity of the individual being educated in respect to his flourishing and the process or scientific descriptions and systems used to educate. In doing so Castell points towards the use of Logic as the science of human rational.

Castell comes to show us who really needs a liberal arts curriculum. These are the students who are to be educated, graduate schools seeking well prepared student to purpose professional studies, and society which seeks the civilizing force of such an educational system. It became the task of a liberal arts curriculum to provide students with the larger picture of knowledge, the more micro level understanding of the human condition, a basic background in a selected professional track, and the most fundamental ability of all; being able to think and rationalize effectively. With these goals in mind a fundamental struggle ensued at the University of Chicago over the role of what would become known as the ‘Great Books.’

Dewey in his book Democracy and Education had pushed for a position opposite of Jefferson’s where all individuals, “[where] to lead lives in which they would earn a living, act as intelligent citizens of the republic, and make an effort to lead a decent and enriched human life.”[1] The ‘Great Books’ movement posses Dewey’s Pragmatism against the resurgence of the history of human consciousness, ideas, and pre-pragmatist metaphysics; but most importantly the use of classic literature as a instrument in developing individual flourishing and development of human reason. Hutchins, future president of the University of Chicago, and Professor Adler would develop a list of books created by John Erskine which purpose was to expand the discussion of critical ideas in classic literature. In doing this they pulled the liberal arts university curriculum back from becoming to specialized and helped achieve many of the goals outlined by Dewey himself, which had been lost with the dramatic focus placed on pragmatic education within the university system.

Strauss and Bloom to the post-modern movement as a whole worked to defend the ‘Great Books’ movement as restoring some essential aspect to human quest for knowledge. Strauss’ radical interpretation of texts such as Plato’s Republic lead to the miss use of such movements by groups such as Neo-Conservatives who attempt to support a new established gentry or class of philosopher kings. The post-modern movement, radical by nature, went to far in attempting to defeat all scientific truth and in the end leaving us with nothing more then empty and meaningless existential ramblings. The true defense of the ‘Great Books’ movement and the push to reintroduce the study of the history of human though through literature is far simpler and two fold in nature.

First the failure of the reductionivist position possessed by the Logical Positivist tradition in which human psychology and all forms of intentional statements where proposed to be reducible to extensional or mechanical descriptions of the world. This attempt to reduce psychology, anthropology, history, and even literature down to more fundamental sciences or physical descriptions failed in many ways from the indeterminacy of brain states to the failure to capture intentional meaning with extensional statements. The details of theses failures are well known and show that the sciences can in no way completely replace or explain away the deeper meaning literature and its place in the liberal arts curriculum.

Secondly we need only ask the simple question of why we study literature in the first place. Such a question forces us at first to question what literature it self is? Confusion arises as we are look at proto-scientific work of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the religious works of the Hebrew Canon, the Hindu’s philosophical and religious works of the Upanishads, the bright colors of Dick Tracey comic books, the Cynical yet at times deeply philosophical works of Douglass Adams and Jack Kerouac. In all of these we see everything from technical scientific writing to fantastic fiction and philosophical questioning of the worlds oldest mysteries. As C.S. Lewis told us ‘we read so as to know we are not alone.’ In Shakespeare’s King Richard the Third it is in no way necessary, although interesting, that we know that such a play was written with the biases of the Tudor kings, but only that we feel moved to question the world as it was and could be.

Litature belongs in the liberal arts education because it gives meaning and purpose to human life. The ‘Great Books’ movement should be a guide post, a list of books to be used and sampled and supplemented by those who use them. The list must change as it can not be universal in the special since of covering all of man kind’s great literature nor can it be temporally universal and must change with the times. Although some books will play a important place in a liberal arts curriculum for centuries to come, as students and teachers we must effect change in the list to represent or own struggle to understand the world. Even the list it self must become a place to battle over the finer points of human understanding and at time a form of rebellion against the outside world.

[1] Adler, Great Books, Democracy, and Truth

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