Sunday, January 6, 2008

What it IS to be an Eng. Major (II)

Diametrical if not Diabolical

(more of what-it-is to be an English Major)

The only hope
or else despair
lies in the choice
of pyre or pyre
to be redeemed
from fire by fire

Who then devised the torment?


Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
the intolerable shirt of flame
which human power can not

We only live, only suspire
consumed by either fire
or fire.

(T.S. Eliot: from a
reformatted “Little Gidding”)

Dear Colleagues,

You may wonder why Eng Majors talk funny like this.
That's because they didn't major in sociology or chemistry
etc. What they learn is not molecules, statistics or the history
of the Red Army and such, but hyper-critical thinking, an
exquisite sometimes snobbish sensitivity to nuance in language,
irony, school room grammar, love of metaphor and a tendency
toward contradiction and paradox unless you put an industrial
gun to our heads, make us pay efficient attention and full-cost
account-ability in which case we can generate thesis-driven,
clarity-addicted essays on poets and fiction- writers, novels,
movies and non-fictional-but-never-the-less creative work
like anything, or even proof proposals and funding requests
for replicable projects across the universe.

Our approach, outlook, orientation, frame-of-mind-set, values,
& attitude toward this business we’re in, call it liberal art,
liberal arts, hire education, institutionalized, industrialized …
is diametrically if not diabolically opposed to what appears to be

X ) the GIVEN (Egypt, say):

the dominating paradigmatic ex-official authoritative course-driven
syllabi organized grade-gun regulated, quality point assess-mental
infra-structured yadda yadda yadda without which the whole less-
than-sum of parts would come tumbling down, baby, cradle and all.

Subject matter major discipline content—mere variations on a common
ruling infra-structured scaffold. We “study” Chemistry, Sociology,
Religion…but it’s THE COURSE we learn, the habit we walk away
with—senior letters & awards & Arthur C. Vining not with standing:
a degree in COURSE, careen and career and so forth redundantly.

I keep trying to put all this in play—my act of community service:
local fool’s-rush.

The medium is the message but so transparent it looks like subject
matter we are studying. Who knew it was “The Course” we just
paid to learn and carry away with our bachelors, masters, and
phdegreed. Plus a resume.

Inconvenient Troops
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuitry lies…

Z) The Promised Land (call it). Can you imagine an educational
environ-mentality where the following notions ALSO make Good
Descriptive Sense—and are embraced by the players?

1) Clarity is not a virtue. If everything you say is detailed and explicit,
you won’t give your collaborators room to run. Put ideas out there that
are half-baked, ideas where you're not even sure what it means yet.

2) Put yourself in an environment that rewards failure.

(my favorite seemingly diabolical, antithetical antagonism to industrialized
academics & environmental studies—mothering invention, harvesting
news from noise: local food.)

3) Creativity is risky; successful creative people are also the ones who fail
the most often. Creativity is inefficient. Don’t expect every idea and every
project to pan out. Know when to cut your losses and move onwhen to
holdem, when to foldem.

Etc. I’ve run these Keith Sawyer CollaborativeGenius notions 3 times in past
spam as an act of citizenship. They have the impact of a Surgeon Generals
Warning on a pack of Old Golds; rice hurled at a rhino.

4) Innovation emerges from the bottom up…

I.E.upo: “uproar” Germanic: ubilaz:
“exceeding the proper limit”
Old English: yfel:
“ evil”
“up from below”

…& will be mis-construed by me in my 3-little-pigs mode (sustaining my
local sustain-ablities) as an in-convenient spoof, thief in the night, or terrorist
cerebral suicide bomber. And it’s only after the innovation has occurred
every one realizes what’s happened.

Innovation can’t be planned; it can’t be predicted:
it has to be allowed to emerge.
Like successful improvisation.

Key to understanding innovation:
to realize that collaborative webs are more important than creative people.

Y) The Wilderness (in between any Egypt and Promised Land):
how does a collaborative web emerge?

The power of this collaborative web …is what companies must tap into
if they want to create a culture that encourages significant innovation.

Ok Ok Companies are not the same as academies.
The business of academies is not so much to innovate as disseminate seminars
and seminaries. Pass the torch.& tradition. But the potentially complementary
opposite of Torch-Passing is Gathering Wood & Starting Up a Fire & the 2
activities are always—bottom-line—incompatible, irreconcilable: like thesis
& antithesis. If kept in play (not conflated, collapsed, & confused): prerequisite
for synthesis.

Need we argue? Someone please—any good citizen:
improve my terms and images, or what’s a college for?

Where there is much desire to learn,
there of necessity
will be much arguing,
much writing, many opinions;
for opinion
in good myn is but knowledge in the making.

J. Milton, Eng. Major

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