27 June 2011

Imaginary Syllabi, Part II

I was thinking about Thom Donovan's "A Syllabi to Come" while participating in some "free school" classes at David Brazil and Sara Larsen's apartment this evening (I'm participating in a Spanish class and a reading group on "allegories"). Donovan writes,

"Imaginary Syllabi, the title of this anthology, implies to me that our syllabi may be somehow a- or u- topian. Not of real places, but places that may be able to exist were we only able to create the conditions of possibility necessary for their existence. By publishing our thoughts here, by projecting what we would want one day to be, can we conjure the future of our pedagogies and teaching practices as if they may one day exist or have existed? Can we alter the present as such in relation to any number of possible futures?"

It's interesting how difficult it can be to produce these "conditions of possibility" even with a room full of interested and thoroughly critical participants (far outside of the academy, no less). For instance, what does it mean to drastically rethink learning styles (and how we might respond to hitherto unimagined styles of learning) without reproducing a particular model of distributing or gaining "knowledge"? What does it mean to strike a balance of desire(s) in a room full of adult, intellectual equals without falling back on an arsenal of affect to protect ourselves from real or imagined psychic danger? What does it mean to trust one's cohort enough to really learn?

Some contributions to Imaginary Syllabi begin with the question of "conditions of potential" from the outset. Miranda Mellis's "Potential Heuristics" provides a "mutable, fractional grammar for collective use towards an evolving, collaborative heuristics...a drawer of queries and terms, assorted lenses, potential tools, and magnifying devices" intended to "stimulate verbal and written responses" in the writing workshop; that said, I'm interested in how her questions might prove particularly useful when treating the class itself as a narrative site. In other words, I wonder what happens when you apply her "potential heuristics" not to "writing," per se, but the drama of pedagogy itself:

*"Desire and thwarted desire are often described as the generators of conflict; which is in turn described as the engine of plot; how else might we conceive of the action of the text?"

*"Epiphany is often considered the telos of a storyhow else might we conceive of transformation, metamorphosis, politicization, surges of awareness, raised consciousness in the context of the story/storytelling?"

*"Figure/ground...how distinct/indistinct are figure and ground proximally? Where are delineations marked, where implied? How do you read/find/survey/understand surface/topology, locale/site, interiority/depth, the unseen/unsaid, density/permeability, mutability/complexity, pores/aporias, region/zone..."

*"How does the writer handle tempo, pace, repetition, duration, prosody, motion, waxing, waning, promise, failure, entropy, age, velocity, degrees of oscillation between registers [exposition relative to dialog, for example, or structural components relative to apparent transgression of same], consistency, direction, stops/rests, peaks, cadence at the micro-level as well as shape or [musical] score of the narrative entire?"

*"Where/when is the 'now' of the story?...How is cause and effect paced, or ruptured?"

*"What and how does the narrator/narrative perceive/apperceive? Does the narrator/narration have an explicit shaping affect?"

*"Can we change or question habits by changing syntactic or other aspects of form or structure? How can we use fiction to explore a set of ideas?"

Reading through Mellis's "potential heuristic," I wonder how we might construct a similar set of questions in order to rethink the "potential" of the "classroom" before we even begin?

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