Thursday, July 23, 2009


To students of linguistics,

fiction and the transcendental

romantics of the 19th c.

(Bring your laptops to class.)

PRELUDE (literally: “before play” )

Former students advise me that I might

try and indicate to you the Frame of

Minding, Attitude, Context, the

Environment, really, that might help

sustain you in the way I try to do education.

A Sustainability concern.

Or better: ENVIRONMENTAL-ism

—not your polar bears and steep slopes,

green cars or Leeds- certified-eco-dorm

environmentalism many of you major in;

but rather the mental, psychic, affective

& intellective environment that characterizes

communication, the atmosphere that shapes

play of mind, habit, classroom culture, custom,

do’s & don’ts of school room, Take-A-Course

dominant paradigmatic traditions

We swim in a school-room environment,

that is essentially dominant-submissive,

true? It’s transparent, invisible—feels

like nature and natural because we are

used to it. Do I overstate? Not saying it’s

bad, just describing what-is.

40 years ago no one I knew would have waked

in the morning and said: damnit, it’s about time

I go get my navel pierced, nipples studded or

nose maybe; tattoo the American Flag or the

Rose of Sharon on my rear-end for a couple

or more hundred bucks.

There was no ENVIRONMENT for it.

I wasn’t living in an ENVIRONMENT

where that would not only have been

an option—but seemed attractive &. desirable.

Inside my environment, I could have thought:

guess I’ll buy me some white buck shoes and

get a crew cut for crying out loud.

Environ Mental Studies &

Leadership Programs

I’m interested in this—but not in terms of

recycling, golf carts, organic gardening,

bottle-water concerns—not that there’s

anything wrong with THAT.

But it’s the Other Environ-Mentalism

that strikes me as neglected if not

ignored: the collective frame of mind.

that determines whether tattoos are

cool or poodle skirts, smoking in

restricted areas or all over the place,

and the notion 2nd hand smoke hadn’t

even been invented yet—not to mention

ADD and ADHD and Body Dismorphia

and Restless Legs Syndrome; bi-polar

was still called manic depression, small

kids roller-skated and biked without

helmets, and date rape had not yet been

diagnosed; dogs were allowed to run

unleashed in the neighborhood, etc

barking all the time. .

The Other Environmentalism

What I do depends on “argument”

in the best sense (“argo”—the shine,

Jason and the Argonauts, Argentina:

City of shining lights): the word initially

signified building up a shared understanding.

Edification. Back & forth, discussion,

questioning assumptions, putting IT in


“Without Contraries Is No Progress,”

says Wm Blake. Without opposition,

no game.

Or like jazz—improvised call & response,

getting in the swing.Or like old time music:

jammingon the back porch: hodge-podge

of instruments, some good at it,some just

breaking in—who cares?

“ Whisky Before Breakfast,”

“Soldiers Joy,” “Over the Waterfall” —

nothing new here, fiddling with old standards.

Can you imagine?

8 in the morning?

School & Be Schooled.

Play & Be Played.

For me : it’s the play-of-mind itself, not

the getting something done that counts.

IN all them other classes—get something

done, and good for you: cover some ground.

In my courses: play & be played. School & be


(In my dreams, at least: I can’t claim to pull

this environment off: it’s like trying to build

an ice cream parlor in hell without doing

injustice to either hot or cold. )

School: L. schola- leisure, a leisure time.”

School” is at least “literally”

a leisure-time activity.

(You can say whether it is actually.)

Student ( Study): from Indo-European steu:

“ to be hit with a stick,”



stupor and


all etymologically related: signifying just the

right frame of mind for Liberal Art

(if not liberal arts) study.

Imagine: “stupid” as primary resource for

scholarship—getting smart & smarter.

School & be Schooled. Stunning!

Goose that lays the golden eggs—

our individual and collective

stupidity. Renewable energy as

sustainable as wind turbines, local

food & better than clean coal.

What? What the? What the hell?

What the hell is that? What the

hell is that kind of a deal?

Astonishment (also linguistically

related to “stunning,” “stupid,” “student”

and “study”)—let that word stand for the

proper state of mind prerequisite to the

student of liberal art. (Not to be conflated,

collapsed, and confused with the liberal arts

—those disciplines you major and minor in,

for credits, & grades and degrees)

I introduce these notions in an effort to

FRAME my courses, contextualize and

environ-mentalize them so you won’t

confuse them with those other guys: the

dominant educational paradigm & it’s values:

what you are used to.

You are used to playing something like

hard-balls & mallets croquet, say:

some indeterminacy in the game,

but a clear structure that generates

predictable outcomes—stuff you can

measure, assess, evaluate. Deadened alive.

My courses (a central chunk ) are more like

Alice in Wonderland croquet: playing with

upside down flamingos & hedgehogs where

indeterminacy reigns, unpredictability is

predictable—and all of it alive alive-o so as

to seem deadly to the orderly and holy hello

to the conscientious. .

My courses aren’t for every body but

maybe you aren’t for every body either.

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