I like it when students vandalize with purpose. I’m not religious or affiliated with any related cause, I just noticed this little post-script on a poster in the Humanities building on campus and thought it worth taking a photo of.
The above quote is a line from The IT Crowd, a very funny British comedy series. But it made me laugh because we recently worked on Emmanuel Levinas in my Contemporary Philosophy course. I do not always find myself aligned with his ideas, and actually generally dislike his disposition and writing style. (Another French philosopher, hmf.) If I had to align myself with an ethical philosophy, it would (obviously) be that of Arthur Schopenhauer. I would like to maybe someday compare Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics of Ethics (where the premise is recognizing sameness) with Levinas’ concept of the Other. My lecturer however, objected to this idea (among many others). It wasn’t really a fun module… Nonetheless, I still learnt a great deal.
My university is hosting an event this summer that invites various disciplines to take part.
“Our dream is to allow artists, musicians, thespians, poets, scholars, and others to engage with and learn from one another.
The nature of the event is in the hands of the participants. We imagine an eclectic coming together of all the Arts in an explosion of creativity and a synergy of ideas.
The event is scheduled for 30th September and 1st October 2011 in the Visual Arts building on Main Campus. We welcome participants and attendance from all disciplines.
Are the Arts simply governed by a trendy elite; a “Cult of In?” Or are the Arts in South Africa meant to articulate political understandings in our “Culture of Difference?” Are South Africans “indifferent” to the Arts for any particular reason, if they are at all?
These and other questions were the motivation behind the title. However, we welcome all interpretations of the event since the organisers were few, and the participants will be many. This is a postgraduate initiative; we aim to give postgraduate students who touch on the arts a space in which to express themselves. However, this by no means excludes everybody else.”
“The technique for dealing with men whose opinions are disliked by certain groups of powerful individuals has been well perfected, and is a great danger to ordered progress. If the man concerned is still young and comparatively obscure, his official superiors may be induced to accuse him of professional incompetence, and he may be quietly dropped. With older men who are too well known for this method to be successful, public hostility is stirred up by means of misrepresentation. The majority of teachers naturally do not care to expose themselves to these risks, and avoid giving public expression of their less orthodox opinions. This is a dangerous state of affairs, by which disinterested intelligence is partially muzzled, and the forces of conservatism and obscurantism persuade themselves that they can remain triumphant.”
– Bertrand Russell, Freedom and the Colleges
For sometime last year I considered enrolling for a second BA degree in Communication Design (Graphic Design) at the University of Johannesburg. To be considered, an applicant has to submit a portfolio consisting of certain items. One of the required briefs specified a comic strip consisting of five frames, without captions, that illustrates the day in your life you are most proud of.
The photo above, is my unfinished representation of the day I gave my first tutorial in philosophy. It remains unfinished because I abandoned the entire portfolio project when the political situation at UJ disrupted their administrative process and they botched my application. (In retrospect I’m glad it didn’t work out.) The first frame shows me having a cigarette outside the Humanities building, the second shows me nervously biting my lip and the third is me preparing myself in the lady’s room in front of the mirror. The fourth would have been another close-up of my face with my glasses after I had tamed my wild hair into a business-bun (my general work-look) and the last would have been me in front of a smiling class from my back perspective (mirroring the lady’s room frame).
I chose this day because it represented the fruits of all my years of studying something no one knew what to do with. The most popular question people ask me when they hear I study philosophy is, “What do you aim to get hired for with that?”. And I never knew what to say. I still detest this question, people still feel compelled to ask me even though by now I actually have two jobs. In truth I hope to encourage and facilitate the process that taught me to think critically. My first year philosophy classes changed my life, they actually literally redirected the course of my life forever. It was epic man. I idolized my first lecturer, he made bold statements and parked his motorbike right in front of the building. He introduced me to Socrates, Epicures, Kant, Nietzsche, Frankl, Camus and most important of all he introduced me to Schopenhauer. Sparking a life-long academic love affair.
My first tutorial class represented my first chance to do the same for other students. I was incredibly nervous, and in actuality I couldn’t stand up from my chair because I didn’t want the students to see how violently I was shaking. But although my body was failing me, in my heart I felt like a superhero. I still speak to some of the students from that very first class, and maintain a close friendship with two especially bright girls who are already changing the world (I swear to Spaghetti Monster). I still work as a tutor, but in another division of the department; Business Ethics. Which is an entirely different post of challenges and rewards all together.
English literature was one of my majors, and everyone in my personal life knows what a battle that has been for me. Not so much because of the course work but because of the department. I enrolled for a proper English studies degree. But at the end of my second year I felt I had worked too hard at and enjoyed my other subjects (Visual Communication and Philosophy) too much to drop them with only a year to go. The English department did not agree with this and would not let me register for those subjects! The course coördinator believed that english students should focus only on the set work in their final year. How boring!
I ended up having to change my degree to BA own choice (doesn’t that sound nice) in my final year just to be able to finish all my subjects. That’s why I have three majors 🙂 and although it took me four years instead of three I’m really proud of myself for seeing it through. What I learned in Philosophy alone that year has proven invaluable! A good friend of mine once said that it’s good karma to finish what you started.
Since that day the department and I have not see eye to eye – we took every opportunity to prove the other wrong. It got so bad there was a time that I refused to go to class, set on proving that I could do it all on my own. I conceded that point quick enough though…
Last year, November, I wrote my final english final and I was stressed, I could not fail! It would have been a personal failure as well as an academic one. As I sat waiting for the exam to begin I envisioned obscure extracts and pages of dense poetry…but instead I saw question 1 was this poem by Emily Dickinson:
They shut me up in Prose-
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet-
Because they like me “still”-
Still! Could themselves have peeped-
And seen my Brain – go round-
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the Pound-
Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Look down upon Captivity-
And laugh – No more have I-
How appropriate! Needless to say I passed.
A colleague of mine wrote this on our board in the office last year. Although I by no means see myself as a capitalist, I’m starting to understand the quote more and more as each day passes.
I have been on holiday since the 23rd of November! Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fun, but I am itching to get back to work. One of the advantages of tutoring at the varsity is I can enjoy the academic breaks along with the students. One of the disadvantages however is that I work on contract and my contract only ranges from February to November, in other words, those are the only months I receive a salary. Makes for a cheap Christmas…but luckily I love my job so it’s a small price to pay. I feel at home at work; everyone gets along like family and as well as being colleagues we are all still post-grad students so we constantly challenge each other and ourselves. The environment is never stagnant, if there aren’t students who need help, there is always a conference to write a paper for, or personal studies to catch up on. I miss the stimulating and encouraging atmosphere…
I’m not nearly as motivated at home. It sucks but after a month of no work the couch potato in me takes over. I lounge around, read only fiction, doodle never draw and sleep till past noon everyday. What will become of me, will I whither away or merge with my unmade bed? I only register on the 12th of February! It feels like ages. I’m running out of things to keep me busy with and I’m so excited about my course work, I feel I might burst if time passes any slower!
English is actually my second language, my first language is Afrikaans. The University of Pretoria, where I study and work, is a bilingual institution. Which offers all courses in both languages.
And as one should do at an institution of learning, I learned something very interesting about my favorite subject. And about my home language no less! In Afrikaans “Philosophy” is “Wysbegeerte“. Which directly translates as a “desire for wisdom”. Now, isn’t that simply wonderful?
Although in modern speech we’ve watered the concept down and use a direct translation from English: “Filosofie“. But I’m using the pretty name instead.
I love my students, and more so for their mistakes! And this one I particularly like. I am currently grading first year final exams, and the subject is Philosophy of Science.
One of the questions they could choose to answer was:
“Do you think there is an inevitable conflict between faith and science? Discuss critically with reference to the theory of evolution.”
Considering the cultural background of most of our students (the breeding ground for prejudice and fundamentalisms – remote and culturally isolated small towns) this question is a friggin nightmare to grade.
And then Mr. Hildebrandt made the mistake of writing “Revolution Theory” instead of Evolution Theory in his introduction.
I wish I made mistakes like that…