nov. 29


If you can read the whole thing, great.  If not:  be sure to read Socrates’s speech (198b to the end) and the short introductory dialogue; if you have time for one more dialogue then read Aristophanes’s.  Here are some notes on what I think are the main themes.

1.  The methodological distinction of Socrates’s speech. Socrates casts his eulogy to Eros as a total repudiation of his forerunners’ speeches.  Socrates rebukes his companions for taking the goal of their competition to be that one “should be thought to eulogize Eros, and not just eulogize him,” and consequently for “attribut[ing] to the matter at hand…the greatest and fairest things possible regardless of whether this was so or not” (198e).  Like the ritual of Agathon’s “victory sacrifice,” they take eulogy to involve a ritual of homage and thanksgiving, invoking what is greatest and fairest in praise and thanks for gifts whose particular character they do not pretend to understand.  This characterization of his competitors doesn’t appear altogether fair; but in any event it makes Socrates intention for his eulogy clear:  Socrates’s speech will play an altogether different game, it will not be mere praise for praise’s sake, a mere obeisance which maintains an absolute separation between divine and mortal, but praise that somehow responds to the specific nature of the object praised.  This responsiveness to the specificity of eros already implies the possibility of narrowing the separation between divine and mortal or, (to frontload the key term of Plato’s account) of a human ascent toward the divine.

2.  Eros defined by its indefiniteness (i.e., obscurity, sublimity). So Socrates intends his eulogy to demystify and secularize Eros, emphasizing that it is “about this very word” (199d).  Thus Socrates begins by pointing out its peculiar logical structure:  Eros requires a genitive object; it is always of a particular object.  The implication of this logical structure is that “the desirous thing desires what it is in need of, and does not desire unless it is in need” (200b) and, consequently, that “Eros is in need of and does not have beauty…is neither beautiful…nor good” (201b).  Eros represents the negative form of human desire, the fact that we want what we do not have, that we want to make ours only what is not ours.  The fact that Eros functions in this negative way opens up an intermediary space between complete knowing and ignorance, beauty and ugliness:  a middle ground of practical ambiguity which Socrates’ competitors’ hegemonic appeal to conventional religious authority tends to suppress.  In turn, Eros himself is not in fact a god at all but a demon, an intermediary between the human and the divine.  Indeed, the practical consequence of Eros’ logical negativity, his constitutive dependence upon what he lacks, is to make his fundamental function that of mediation:  “‘Interpreting and ferrying to gods things from human beings and to human beings things from gods’” (202e).  So whereas Socrates claimed his account would be distinguished from his companions’ by determining Eros’ specific truth, he does so only to reveal that Eros’ defining function is to inject a radical indeterminacy or ambiguity into human practical life, and thus to preclude such conclusive determination.

3.  Eros can’t be defined but only enacted. Thus there is a profound and characteristically Socratic irony to this account; an irony which tends to push the account from the exclusively theoretical onto the practical plane, such that we come to see Socrates’ claim to state a singular truth also, and perhaps more importantly, as an exemplary instance unto itself of the ubiquitous “interpreting and ferrying” that truth entails.  This irony is I think the key to understanding Diotima’s famous and odd formulation, “eros is not of the beautiful,” but of “bringing to birth in the beautiful” (206b).  Diotima claims that the activity of “ferrying and interpreting” “shares” in immortality without actually being “the immortal” (immortality itself does not share in erotic activity but “has a different way” (208b)).  As Diotima characterizes it, “the pregnant draws near to beauty,…becomes glad and in its rejoicing dissolves and then gives birth and produces offspring” (206d).  This reproductive activity manages to share in the divine, Diotima suggests, not in virtue of successfully seducing or capturing it and “ferrying” it home, nor of arriving at an interpretation so correct that it goes beyond interpretation and becomes simple truth; on the contrary, it comes to participate in the divine precisely in virtue of its own, eminently temporal and concrete self-propagation.  Hence the ultimate object of desire is always the regenerative activity itself to which desiring gives rise:  eros is “of engendering,” Diotima says, “because engendering is born forever and is immortal as far as that can happen to a mortal being” (207a).  The activity of bringing to birth is itself “born forever:”  birthing gives birth to birthing in perpetuity.  Consequently, we approach the beautiful object of our desire only to discover that it ultimately devolves to, or, in Diotima’s term, “dissolves” into the activity itself of our approaching.  (This is just what Shelley is getting at when he writes in the Defense that “[m]an in society, with all his passions and his pleasures,…becomes the object of the passions and pleasure of man; and additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expressions; and language, gesture and the imitative arts, become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and the harmony.”)

4.  The interdependence of comedy and tragedy. Socrates’ famous last words in the dialogue, according to Aristodemus’ hazy memory, are to the effect that “the same man should know how to make comedy and tragedy; and that he who is by art a tragic poet is also a comic poet” (223d).  The problem with Alcibiades’ love for Socrates can be characterized along these lines:  he only knows how to love tragically, which leads him hubristically to exceed his erotic means, and, falling far short of his aim, to confuse compulsive suffering, which he likens to a viper’s “burning poison,” with meaningful tragedy (218a).  Hence Socrates’ advice to Alcibiades is to “consider better:  without your being aware of it—I may be nothing.  Thought, you know, begins to have keen eyesight when the sight of the eyes starts to decline from its peak; and you are still far from that” (219a, my ital.); how far from that is measured according to Diotima’s account of erotic ascent:

From one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; and from beautiful bodies to beautiful pursuits; and from pursuits to beautiful lessons; and from lessons to end at the lesson, which is the lesson of nothing else than the beautiful itself; and at last to know what is beauty itself….[O]nly here, in seeing in the way the beautiful is seeable, will [a human being] get to engender not phantom images of virtue…but true….[O]nce he has given birth to and cherished true virtue, it lies within him to become dear to god, and, if it is possible for any human being, to become immortal as well (211c-212a).

Sustaining the “pregnancy” of desire is not a matter of disavowing the “phantom images” in which beauty may appear to us; on the contrary, the example of Alcibiades demonstrates the ‘deflating’ or ‘evacuating’ effect of such overweening pretense.  Alcibiades needs to acknowledge that he sees too well, Socrates says, to bear witness to the higher order beauty of thought he claims to love in Socrates.  Alcibiades thinks higher order beauty may be captured in the tangible physical forms of lower order beauty; in effect, he makes a fetish of Socrates’ body, attributing to it qualities that it is not in the nature of a body to have.  In doing so he emblematizes what Nietzsche criticized as philosophical clinging of clumsy lovers, and Diotima as a “calculating” and “enslaving” “contentment with the beauty in one” (210d):  Alcibiades needs to know he’s possessing the object of his desire in the same compulsive way a child needs to know he’s got his favorite toy in his hands, or an adolescent needs to know his love is reciprocated.  For Plato, growth or ‘ascent’ describes the way in which what formally seems exclusively tragic comes to assume a comic aspect as well:  part of tragic anagnorisis, of genuinely learning something from my tragic fate, is to become incapable of repeating the same disappointment in precisely the same terms.  The effect of such learning is to “bring to birth” a new person, for whom the prospect of repeating the same disappointment in the same terms would involve a comic misrecognition on my part, both of my self and my world.

5.  The end:  immortality and Socrates’s body. There is no denying that in her account of the ascent, Diotima appears to hold out the possibility of achieving immortality despite her claim that the immortal itself “has a different way” than, is not implicated in, erotic ascending.  Socrates’ impassive response to Alcibiades erotic advances clearly lends itself to the inference that Socrates is supposed to represent the actualization of this possibility. What is remarkable about the dialogue’s ending, however, is the emphatic way in which Plato nonetheless insists on Socrates’ abiding implication in the inexorable corporeal repetitions of temporal existence:  Plato’s provocative concluding sentence evokes precisely the inertia of Socrates’ sleeping body, its intransigent, mechanical “order.”  Socrates’ evidently extreme bodily discipline only accentuates the fact that the compulsion to sleep is no less involuntarily imposed upon him than Aristophanes’ hiccups:  in a sense, we may see Socrates’ sleep as merely the final iteration in the series of corporeal compulsions evoked in the dialogue, proceeding through hiccups, sneezing and laughing.  If we chose to see Socrates as pregnant with immortality, Plato insists that we understand that he is only pregnant with it, that he is pressing up against the limits of earthly existence, perhaps, but not pushing beyond them.  Thus Plato suggests that even the final stage of Diotima’s ascent is inexorably tragic insofar as immortality or beauty itself may be temporally ‘realized’ only at the cost of reducing it to an “image.”  The comic aspect of this scenario, then, is the flip side of the tragedy:  Socrates ‘loss’ of immortality simultaneously “brings birth to” new possibilities not for immortality itself, but for temporally “interpreting and ferrying” immortality.  If the tragedy is the way in which his seeming actualization of immortality was revealed as only an actualization of seeming immortality, then the fruit of this tragedy is a new perspective that is capable of retrospectively reconstruing it as a comedy of misrecognition, and that, consequently, may no longer be tragically enchanted by quite the same image of the one true immortality.  This is not to say that it cannot subsequently be tragically enchanted by another such image; but, having watched the prior tragic enchantment “dissolve” into a comedy of misrecognition, this perspective has ‘ascended’ in the sense that it no longer sees quite so much distance between the object of desire and the activity of desiring, the immortal itself and the mortal activity that merely “shares” in it.  By the same token, it no longer sees quite so much distance between tragedy and comedy.

The Ignorant Schoolmaster

1.  Why does “the logic of explication call for the principle of a regression ad infinitum” (4)?  How does this relate to what Ranciere calls “the singular art of the explicator:  the art of distance” (5)?  Note that this art is not just one of asserting distance but of alternatively asserting and eliminating it:  “The explicator sets up and absolishes this distance” (5).  How is this “art of distance” related to what Benjamin described as the traditional notion of art as something that takes place at two meters distance from the body?

2.  Why is it “the explicator who needs the incapable and not the other way around” (6)?  what is the explicator’s “double inaugural gesture” (6)?

3.  Why does Ranciere say that “before being the act of the pedagogue, explication is the myth of pedagogy” (6)?  How does this myth “divide intelligence in two” (7)?  and how does it “enforce stultification” (7)?

4.  In Ranciere’s claim, “this word [understanding] brings a halt to the movement of reason” (8), is the distinction between understanding and reason, word and movement, or both?

5.  What does Ranciere mean by saying “there is nothing beyond texts except the will to express, that is, to translate….to say what one thinks in the words of others” (10)?  So is translation the paradigm of non-hierarchical relationships among people?  how does this notion of translation relate to the translation and ekphrasis we’ve discussed in Keats?

6.  Why does Ranciere call “the true movement of human intelligence taking possession of its own power” the “blind” and “shameful method of the riddle”(10)?  explain the connection among all the terms he applies to this method:  besides a method riddle he calls it a method of chance, of equality “and above all a method of the will” (12).

7.  What does it mean to respond to language “not as students or as learned men, but as people; in the way you respond to someone speaking to you and not to someone examining you:  under the sign of equality” (11)?  do you find this distinction tenable?

8. What’s a master who isn’t a master explicator (12f)?  how can “obedience to another will” result in “emancipation,” and “the master’s domination result in an entirely liberated relationship between the intelligence of the student and that of the book” (13)?

9.  Explain Ranciere’s claim that Jacotot “was experimenting, precisely, with the gap between accreditation and act” (15); how does an act without accreditation appear?  does the notion of sheer action without (need of) accreditation help clarify Ranciere’s similarly enigmatic claim that “to emancipate an ignorant person, one must be, and one need only be, emancipated oneself, that is to say, conscious of the true power of the human mind” (15)?

10.  Hence Jacotot’s principle of “universal teaching:”  that “each ignorant person could become for another ignorant person the master who would reveal to him his intellectual power” (17).  Ranciere correspondingly heaps contempt on “progressive” norms of development, but does he go as far as Lacan and Benjamin’s equation of the notion of development per se with tyranny?

11.  Does Ranciere’s critique of the “stultification” of hierarchical pedagogy apply to the Platonic erotic ascent?  is Eros as Plato presents it implicitly hierarchical?  could Ranciere’s “universal teaching” effect Platonic eroticism?

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56 Responses to nov. 29

  1. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    These are just some preliminary comments”

    As a parent, this particular idea of “teaching” (according to no. 7) is entirely applicable and probably the better way to parent–or teach– (in my experience)– to speak to one’s child as an equal, not as an inferior. I found the article fascinating on a personal level in that it confirmed so much of what I have been slowly figuring out the (nearly) last 4 years– which is that 1)my children are brilliant and have a lot to teach ME and 2) that the real challenge of a parent is directing a child’s WILL towards the things we feel are most appropriate. And it is always better done, not through explication, but through example. My three-year old is better at using Daddy’s iPhone than I am– it’s directing his attention to more appropriate objects of interest, like books, that is the REAL challenge.

    It was so interesting to me that the real power of the intelligence, as far I I could make out, was in the will of the student. That if a student wants to learn French, they’ll bloody well learn it whether they are instructed how to or not. Which brings me back to an idea I’ve mentioned before– that is, that creativity is born of desire and that desire is symptomatic of experiencing a void– a distance between one human being an another. Whether it’s Elizabeth feeling the true distance (of understanding) between herself and Darcy, or Keats feeling the distance between himself (as the poet) and the nightingale– that experience of a distance sparks a creative effort, the attempt to speak a new language as it were, in order to bridge that gap.

    The real trouble for me (as a parent) is how the hell do you encourage that desire in the first place? I can only think that it must be by example. My kids will trash my kitchen playing with the pots and pans quite happily on their own. Or mess around with my computer. My daughter is obsessed with spilling things on the floor so she can clean them up. But neither of them will play with their damn toys unless I do!! (Which for me defeats the purpose of toys).

    I should know better though because of my background in theatre. I know very very well that the first thing children learn to do (after eating and breathing) is to imitate their parents. That we become who we are through the repetitive process of playing parts. First we play mummy and daddy. We dress up in their clothes and do things they do. Then we try playing at being other people in our lives. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends– God help us: characters on tv. And, be honest– we never actually stop this process of playing roles. But, like our self-identification with OUR classic– we pick one we like best eventually.

    SO for me the big question is what makes one person’s “taste” or particular affinity with whatever role he/she plays differ from another person’s? Why is is that my daughter is obsessed with playing “mummy” (wearing my shoes, pretending to put on make-up, carrying bags around) while my son is obsessed with playing Daddy (messing with electronics, organising things, rescuing things, taking things apart)? Is it genetics? Is it the difference between the sexes? Maybe partly both, but my guess is that it’s WAY more complex than that. So I’ll be interested to see where this week’s class discussion leads us.

  2. boearle says:

    “how the hell do you encourage that desire in the first place?” yes for plato that’s THE question and why he makes learning essentially a matter of eros or desire; educating’s about communicating a desire or love

  3. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    So to teach is to love then? Or is to love to teach? Are they actually the same thing??

    • boearle says:

      well read the plato and see what you think; i think what you say is probably right, but i’d say that even more important for plato is that *learning* is a function of love. teaching isn’t about transmitting your knowledge but infecting (“impregnating”) others with your desire

  4. Tina says:

    Just a response to what Rhiannon said~

    I do see how we spend our lives playing and perfecting different roles. That’s how we are socially conditioned to do girl stuff/boy stuff. I’m starting to discredit the idea that its genetics, since it’s just such a convenient way of dichotomizing everything that’s a wee bit trickier than we’d like it to be. I also think we finally start settling down to a ‘concrete’ identity when we realise that we’re no longer able to play any other roles – i.e. we become stuck to a certain role via stereotypes and/or social norms and expectations.

    I think that your kids would be inclined to like the things that you yourself would enjoy. If they were to see you read, they’d be willing to do the same. (but gosh they’re only 4! I only started reading when I was 6) I think desire isn’t communicated merely by gushing about it and drawing fat arrow markers to highlight one’s happiness, it’s much more subtle and implicit. Kids pick things up on their own terms, in their own special way. If they were to see you reading a book for leisure, I bet they won’t mind getting a book for Christmas very much!

    So I think it’s more appropriate to say that to love is to teach, because love comes before teaching.

    • Alyzee Lakhani says:

      Rhiannon and Cristina, some questions in response to your great posts about sexual categories:

      Since there are so many variations of sexual identity beyond the few widely-recognized categories (variations produced because everyone is “a potential prospect” as Rhiannon pointed out, what form does the paralysis take? Rhiannon I think you say that people being confused, “not sticking” to either camp is the paralysis of not knowing what you want, for those people who are undecided about their sexual preferences. If there were fixed sexual categories, do you think there would be less confusion, with more people being aware of their sexual preference?

      I’m a bit wary of this last possibility, because it implies that a sexual preference can only come into being if people are given the opportunity to experiment. I think this may no doubt be the case with some people, who experiment to figure out what they want, but then its hard to include those who identify as gay *inherently*, that is, even before their society viewed gayness as conceivable. (Though of course, I realize that there can’t really be a *rule* for sexuality as inherent or found/chosen, since that would violate the modern view of sexuality as a spectrum).

      I think jumping around between sexual categories might also be seen as taking action (rather than being paralysed) against catergorization of sexuality: if more people are professing to be “occasionally gay”, is this reaction against the given sexual categories indicative of people overcoming the paralysis of too many options, by creating even MORE options?

      Would professing “occasional gayness” take us closer to the Elizabethan set-up where same-sex friendship was a much stronger emotion? Were these friendships somewhat sexual relationships too? If not, wouldn’t it be even harder for us to regain the Elizabethan attitude where friendship was “the highest form of love” when our view of relationships is sexually governed? What do you think?

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Hm, those are all interesting questions Alyzee. I can’t profess to know any of the answers either. It is certain that some people feel inherently gay or straight– oddly enough, I understand the certainty of inherent orientation one way or the other is much more common in men than in women. Which I find interesting.

        I would suggest that paralysis from too many choices is partly the cause of people not really choosing at all- ie defining themselves as somewhat gay or occasionally gay. But it is only because all intimate relationships have been sexualised already that people see themselves as having to make those choices in the first place. If you had no context for strong feelings towards someone of the same sex it probably wouldn’t matter that there was more than one category of orientation. If that makes sense.

        So I would suggest that some people are inherently gay or straight, but that some “straight” people have incredibly strong feelings for people of the same sex that they misrecognise because they have no context for how to deal with since we’ve sexualised all intimate relationships. Those people may “turn gay” or called themselves bi-sexual or simply say that they are occasionally gay– depending on the choices they make.

        I don’t think we can return to the Elizabethan model because we no longer have a language for it. Generations of people have been raised to think that physical closeness is inherently sexual. And I think for a lot people it is and always will be. For a “free” sexual society we’re remarkably squeamish. Breast-feeding it still comparatively rarely practiced– and often, if it is, for way too short a time– and physical closeness with /parents/ is comparatively rare. Every child has their own room and nakedness within the family is considered almost inappropriate. We’re a very repressed society really.

        For the Elizabethans everyone slept naked in the /same room/–usually in the same BED. Sex was something totally different from physical affection which was practiced between friends and family all the time. Kissing, sleeping together– (just sleeping)–being naked, cuddling: all these things were normal and natural and NOT SEXUAL. I don’t think we can do that anymore. And honestly the only way we could- in my view– would be to have truckloads of kids we breastfeed, sleep with, and not be squeamish about family nakedness and physical love.

        I love the idea– personally– but I’ll be honest and say it makes me uncomfortable–it’s certainly not what my mum did. And I know when my kids go off to school– if they can remember the days of all of us hanging about nude or of breastfeeding– that they’ll be the odd kids out and feel confused by it. Being a teenager is confusing enough without being different and having to question your sexuality anymore than you already do as teen in this sexualised world.

  5. boearle says:

    tina i recently heard a survey that found an unprecedented number of young people today classify themselves sexually as straight but ‘occasionally’ or ‘somewhat’ gay. it’s interesting to think about what the difference is between this and saying ‘bisexual.’ my feeling is that it’s an indication that the attempt to strictly categorize essentially uncategorizable sexual orientation is just becoming obsolete, and that rigid categories of sexual identity will eventually seem just as immaterial and archaic as, arguably, clear-cut categories of racial identity will.

    • in response to: “my feeling is that it’s an indication that the attempt to strictly categorize essentially uncategorizable sexual orientation is just becoming obsolete, and that rigid categories of sexual identity will eventually seem just as immaterial and archaic as, arguably, clear-cut categories of racial identity will.”

      My first impression is that, to say that something is ‘uncategorizable’ regresses us back into simplicity, in the same way that using outdated categories does. The only solution then seems to be an evolution of language that reflects our complex experience of life. Because to me, sexuality -eventhough it’s complex- is something concrete: what we think, what we do. In the same way that our DNA is something concrete, and can be mapped out (arugably, Identity isn’t concrete.. i’ll come back to this). Young people today just seem to lack a complex language in describing their sexuality. Whats the point of being “aware”, if we lack the language to communicate our awareness? To say that I am “occasionaly gay” reminds me of 1984’s “ungood”…

      This ties to what Vlad was saying in class: I think that language and ideas is what impacts us, a “change of mind” is something radical. Even the fact that we are able to discuss the ‘sublime’ in this class, shows that a certain language has developed that has allowed us to talk about it. Most people experience the sublime but cannot articulate is as Prof. Earle does, etc. And for me, identity is what drives our existence…; if we make it ambiguous, or lack a somewhat definitive language to describe it, I think 1. we will either lose our ‘action’, or become unaware of what’s influencing us 2. we will be in a state of infancy.

      That being said, It seems to me that most of our advances in society seem to be driven by an obsession to specifically categorize everything, and every ’cause’…. I’m thinking about science here: The way we want to map out every gene, even ‘the God gene” (an article in Times In the sense that, we want a more concrete Identity: even if we say, my identity is this ‘set of genes’ i got from my parents. So my observation is that the “attempt to strictly categorize essentially uncategorizable sexual orientation” is in fact not going obsolete, but going strong in fields like science… and in fact, fueled by a lot of University money for research. I mean, in the sense that science is trying to come up with a new language…

      that being said, sometimes I am a fan of simplicity myself: I mean this in two ways. 1. To believe in ‘complexity’ would demand that humans have a kind of ‘infinite imagination’ through which they would avoid repetition, and thus avoid strict categories. But to believe that is to claim ‘god like’ powers for humans. 2. In terms of making choices, we operate better when we are faced with simplicity, than complexity. I am thinking here of Barry Schartz’s talk on “The Paradox of Choice” ( )… there is no freedom without boundaries. We become paralyzed by a multitude of choice… and i would link that to a multitude of ‘categories’… in the sense that, the more specific we are about our identity, the happier, or more functional we will be in our life.

      1. To expand a little more on point one: we cannot possibly be more complex than nature, because we are essentially, atoms, and carbon etc. Ex: they have now a database of all possible, known viruses, so they can take your blood test and tell you right away what you have (i got this from a talk on TED)… and what they figured is that, in all that complexity, there are specific patterns that are repeated over and over again, a sort of basic identity through which they can easily categorize all the viruses. That being said, I would argue then that, in all our imagination, in all our complex life experience, there is always a rhythm, a repetition, a ‘cliche’ that keeps coming back, and it’s safe to specifically categorize this concrete reality.

      2. Barry Scwartz proves that when we are faced with more choices, we become more paralyzed, and we are less likely to make a choice that benefits us. He talks about insurance policies, which seem to give us a lot of choice, but people are overwhelmed by all the options, and end up not having any insurance. I would say that it’s the same case with identity: the more free we become to ‘choose’ or define ourselves, the more paralyzed we will become, or confused about identity: like we talked about in class: the more aware we become of the complexity of the world, the more our only option is one of ‘resignation’ and almost ‘inaction’.

      conclusion: 1. Maybe we should not despise ‘clear cut categories’ because, 1. I think that they are not really going obsolete, and 2.they allow us to function (whereas, ambiguity, or complexity paralyzes us)
      2.instead of saying that ‘clear cut categories’ do not reflect the complexity of experience, i think that ‘complexity’ is the fantasy.”

      I guess essentially, that I am making an argument against the sublime as “uncategorizable” or ‘untouchable’…The reason why I sometimes think this argument is simple is because, to say that the “sublime is “TOUCHABLE” has much greater implications, seems to be a more radical notion, like a PUNCH IN THE FACE. To say that it’s untouchable seems to be a kind of excuse, a kind of “Pilot washing his hands.. while at the same time having nightmares about Jesus.”

      For anyone who has experienced despair, tragedy, sorrow, grief, loss, that can be a version of the sublime: something that we have lost and can never gain back: yet we almost get pleasure from constantly tormenting ourselves and trying to repair the past, to bring that person back to life… (in the same way that the sublime seems to sometimes resemble a ‘symptom of fallen humanity’… like the idea of walking around naked and not being aware of it.. something we once had… we somehow have that kind of connection with the sublime)

      • boearle says:

        beautifully put Cristina. I wonder if this brings us back to the importance of the experience of compulsion or what Zizek and Rousseau called forced choice…

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Yes very well put Cristina! I sort of think of the cliche that we come back to repeatedly– which you define as categorizable– as Keats’ notion of the spark of intelligence that grows into soul through the medium of experience in a world of pain.

        Clear-cut categories are definitely important and have their roles. I tend to agree that the current trends in sexuality in which people don’t stick to any particular camp– gay or straight– is partly a result of being paralysed by too many choices– as you put it– and partly because of the modern reification sexual pleasure as an end in itself.

        Not only that, but the attitude towards the differences between the sexes as being archaic and conditioned has eroded the Burkean draperies of life– in this case sex life. We’re now no longer aware of any categories of “love” that aren’t sexual: everyone is a potential prospect technically. And the media encourages this attitude continually.

        I remember watching an interview with Jeremy Irons about his role as Antonio in Merchant of Venice. As moderns we would have assumed that he was performing the character gay, but he insisted in his interview that he didn’t play Antonio gay at all– that for the Elizabethans love between same sex people– or friendship– was the highest form of love. It was anything but repressed sexuality: moderns don’t know the difference anymore.

        He said our experience of friendship is completely watered down. We don’t have anything like what it was for the Elizabethans because we are afraid that certain strong emotions for friends are inherently sexual. We keep them at bay– or as Professor Earle pointed out, people are starting to allow them, but as they have no context for those emotions between friends they assume they must be sexual. Hence this straight but occasionally gay thing that a large number of people are beginning to profess.

    • Natassia Orr says:

      Professor Earle: While I think there’s definitely a certain amount of truth in the proposition that the rejection of bisexual as a sexual identity is “an indication that the attempt to strictly categorize essentially uncategorizable sexual orientation is just becoming obsolete,” doesn’t the political component also have to be considered?

      In an article titled simply “Biphobia”, Robyn Ochs discusses the potential problems that come with identifying as bisexual. At one point she argues that “The word bisexual itself may be seen as a product of binary thinking and, therefore, problematic. Many people struggling to understand bisexuality can only imagine the concept as a 50-50 identity. […] Using this measurement, they will find very few “true” bisexuals.” She also says later that “Because of these potential difficulties [of identifying with a community], many people privately identify as bisexual but, to avoid conflict and preserve their ties to a treasured community, chose to identify publicly as lesbian, gay, or straight or to stay silent.”

      • boearle says:

        this totally makes sense to me but the implication seems to be that political or communal solidarity comes at the price of a certain distortion of (i.e. dissolution of the ambiguity of) the individual’s actual personal experience.

      • Natassia Orr says:

        Sorry, that’s my fault: I was trying to keep my point brief I don’t think I explained myself (or Ochs) properly.

        I think that how you present yourself in any situation has the potential to be a political act, especially with respect to sexual orientation, which is so politically charged to begin with. I also think a certain amount of distortion is inevitable–language is distorting, so the language used to communicate the self is distorting as well. So, yes, that’s a totally valid reading, although it wasn’t really the point that I was trying to make.

        All that I’m trying to point out is that the study mentioned above, which could potentially have a major political impact, is itself potentially influenced by politics. This in itself is a rather inane statement, but forgetting it could lead to serious problems.

  6. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    It has always seemed to me that sexuality is fluid– that there is generally a *straight* inclination (in most people), but that ultimately sexuality is a choice.

    Having said that, I completely reject that idea that sexual roles are totally conditioned. Not just with the evidence of my own experience, but there is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that some differences between the sexes actually are inherent.

    In my own experience my children follow sexual stereotypes with no encouragement from my husband and I. We provided both our kids with cuddly things from birth. My son developed an attachment to his bear past the age of two, my daughter before she was six months old. My daughter cuddles her cuddly things– my son just hoards them. My son and my daughter have both had the opportunity to play with my make up bag. My son took everything out and lined them up and then put it back methodically. My daughter pretended to use every item and left them lying everywhere. We’ve never restricted our children to gender specific toys–they chose their gender roles all on their own.

    And occasionally they will do things that are more characteristic of the opposite sex. My daughter is more aggressive and reckless, my son is more sensitive and cautious. But my daughter is more expressive of emotion too. Which suggests that sexuality and gender types are fluid, not rigid, but that they are not entirely conditioned.

    I’m not saying conditioning isn’t a part of it, but it’s just plain wrong to suggest that gender roles are entirely a matter social conditioning. There is a LOT of scientific evidence to suggest that male and female brains simply work differently from the very beginning regardless of social conditioning. Suggesting things are entirely a matter of genetics is really an excuse– you’re quite right. But it does play a significant role and denying that is just as authoritarian as suggesting that it’s entirely responsible for who we are.

    I should also mention that my son loves books– he knew his alphabet, upper and lower case, before he was three. I used to spend an hour every evening reading every book on his shelf. He’s totally excited when his granny brings a huge granny-bag full of new library books every three weeks.

    The real trouble is finding time to sit with him. Books were much more interesting to him before his sister was born and I had more time to sit and read with him. Without undivided attention of a grownup, however, he’s much more likely to go entertain himself with the easiest source of entertainment. We don’t have tv so the next best thing is electronics.

    Children don’t– in my experience–simply do what you do. As well as observing and imitating you, they want interaction with you. My son does like to dig out his books and “read” them to himself– or to his sister. (He’s got them memorised you see– he’s 3 1/2). But if what he wants it interaction, a book isn’t going to cut it.

    I did read the Plato btw– I was just throwing the question out there for discussion. And the idea that *learning* is a function of love is, I think, another way of saying the same thing that we discussed when we read the Zizek analysis of P&P. So I would argue that example is one way to “impregnate” someone with your desire, but that interaction is much more powerful. Right?

    • Tina says:


      Now to be fair, you’re just putting words in my mouth – “gender roles are entirely a matter social conditioning” No, this is not what I meant. Nobody in their right mind is going to reject that almighty mountain of research and statistics.

      Also, you’re really confusing ‘gender’ with ‘sexuality’. I clearly had gender in mind, but you’re bringing in sexuality and thereby mixing everything up (and might I add, padding yourself with extra weight in your argument). If it is gender, than my argument still stands – who you are is largely determined by social conditioning and the CHOICES that you make to reaffirm your gender. Gender is a social designation, it’s not fluid, it’s a rigid categorization of male and female, yin and yang, the feminine and the masculine. Gender is what you see in the big washroom debate. It is by no means fluid.

      But if we are talking about SEXUALITY, then obviously we’re heading into murkier waters.

      Still, I’m happy to see that there’s an intelligent discussion going on about sexuality that’s resulted from our little miscommunication.

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Ok yes fair enough– Professor Earle responded to you on the subject of sexuality so I kind of took off from there.

        I would agree that our gender norms– ie what we view as masculine/ feminine– is rigid. That we consider certain behaviours feminine and others masculine. I would still argue that the tendency to act in accordance with those stereotypes is not conditioned at all.

        Conditioning can be a part of it for sure. Teaching your boys to like sports and your girls to play with dolls is certainly going to alter the choices your child makes and therefore help them reaffirm those gender roles. Interaction is a powerful teaching tool as I’ve said. But how your children behave from the beginning is not at all conditioned. I know this from personal experience. My son and daughter have always exhibited certain stereotypical behaviours characteristic of their sex– occasionally some that are not. But for them most part my daughter behaves like the stereotypical female and my son like the stereotypical male– that’s not conditioned. That’s just how they always behaved. From birth– no exaggeration.

  7. going off on a tangent… but still related to sexuatliy, here is a video that i saw a while back, about people in love with ‘objects’, in this case, the eiffel tower. Somehow i think this really relates to our class, and I wonder if anyone has ever hear about this “Objectum – Sexuality” ? Kind of on the same idea, I am also reminded of how popular “polyamorous” people are becoming… ( such as reality tv shows like “Sister Wives” (speaking of reality tv. shows, I prefer 19 kids and counting myself (;

    I will say though that, if intimacy is even possible (into-me-see), it is probably limited to very few people, and probably a lover would be the most intimate. I think Vlad said something like “we only have so much time”, and i think that’s exactly right: we are constrained not only by time, but by our emotional/mental capacity…

  8. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    “I will say though that, if intimacy is even possible (into-me-see), it is probably limited to very few people, and probably a lover would be the most intimate.”

    If you mean that intimacy–or intimate love– is only the most intimate between sexual partners– think I would have to disagree. Sex is very powerful, and in spite of what modern feminists would encourage us to think– very difficult to do “casually.” Emotions almost always get involved at some point, regardless of the attitude or intent of the participants. But that doesn’t mean that sex is more intimate than other forms of “intercourse” between people who love each other.

    I think it is because of the assumption that sexual intimacy is the ONLY way to be intimate with people that we have this multiplicity of orientations cropping up at all. We’ve lost the love languages with which we used to express love and form other kinds of intimate relationships. The only way we know how to express powerful emotions of love now is through sexuality. Thus powerful affection for a fighter jet– if objectified seriously–may appear to an (I think, very confused) person as sexual attraction.

    I found it very interesting that the woman in the interview about “Objectosexuality,” when asked how she can have a meaningful relationship with an object, referred completely to herself– it was all about how the “relationship” affected her and what it did for /her/– since of course she can’t do anything for the Eiffel tower. It’s a /tower/– not a person. It sounds ridiculous of course, but I think this attitude towards relationships is becoming much more widespread among all western-style love relationships– even straight ones.

    We are raised in this reified society to believe that even our relationships are really just commodities to acquire– extensions of ourselves and our personality– and we change them like hats every season. It’s not about what we can do for the other person– it’s what the other person does for us. Sadly the kids are the real losers. I don’t know what I found more disturbing– the woman who “married” the Eiffel tower– or the idea of making your enormous family of 21 a spectacle for tv viewers.

  9. What’s the point of having sex with someone, but being emotionally, or spiritually connected with someone else? I don’t mean to say that sex is the most intimate experience (as a christian, a spiritual connection would be more intimate) but in my observation, we tend to spend more energy and time for intimacy into the person we are sexually involved with, and thus, spend less time on intimacy with other people. I was trying to point out a kind of ‘pyramid’ of intimacy, at the top being a spouse, and the level of intimacy getting lower in our extended levels of relationship. Like the woman in the video, once she got over her “archery bow” she moved on to the eiffel tower. I like your observation though, about ‘self’ centered relationships!

    p.s. I would disagree with you about the ‘spectacle’ of the Duggar family. On one level, there is nothing different about watching their tv show, and reading a biographical book, or watching an athlete. On another level, there is something sublime about them too, like when China (? i think) made a documentary about them and how many kids they have. And for someone like me, without a mom, she is this embodiment of what I have always thought a mother should be. ()

    • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

      Ok yes– fair enough. I think ideally– according to more modern standards– our sexual relationships can or ought to be the most intimate. I meant to point out two things. 1)They weren’t always considered the most intimate– the medievals believed friendship to be the highest form of love relationships. And 2) that the assumption that sexuality is the MOST intimate act or love language leads to the modern multiplicity of sexual relationships. You have read Lewis’ “The Four Loves” right? I’ll lend it to you if you want…

      And I can see your point about the Duggar family. Honestly part of what saddens me is that they should be such an oddity– that anyone would want to /make/ a spectacle of them in the first place. My husband is one of 10 kids and my MIL doesn’t think there is anything weird about that. For her, children are the whole point of marriage–why stop? SHe doesn’t brag about it.

      I can appreciate why that wouldn’t be everyone’s point of view, but on the other hand, it’s kind of sad to me that marriage is never about kids anymore. People talk about wanting “a boyfriend” or “girlfriend” onra “partner” — no one talks about wanting a family– and when they do it tends to frighten off potential partners.

      But then again, I should say that there is a lot more privacy for the family of those who write a biography than for those that televise their lives. And athletes are there to BE a spectacle for the world. What’s the point of winning a race or a game if no one knows about it? I don’t think that parenthood should be considered a competitive sport– and believe me plenty of mums these days do. Frankly, they can bite me. 😉

      Should mums be honoured for their hard work? Hell yeah! But I’m not sure that televising what an awesome job they do counts as honouring them unless the whole audience is composed of lovely folks like you. My advisor sounded scandalised to hear that I wanted more than TWO kids– somehow I doubt everyone thinks those with 19 kids are the most responsible or sensible people. They watch in morbid fascination– not out of a sense of adoring amazement.

      • Vlad Cristache says:

        Oh dear this is an interesting conversation, and one that I’ve thought about for a while. Plato just had to bring up bisexuality, as always.
        This is a really interesting topic. And for the first time so far, I’ll delve into some overheard conversations. The other day on the bus two straight guys in their late 30s or early 40s were talking about one of their co-workers who is gay. I won’t mention the lack of education that these men’s appearance betrayed because it will be betrayed even better by their dialogue. What they were discussing was basically centered around their disgust with their gay co-worker for hitting on one of them. The main point was ‘as a gay guy you just shouldn’t hit on another guy if you know he’s straight, because who knows how he’ll react and you’ll just screw him over because you’ll provoke a gay bash.’ This, of course, reminded me of the latest gay bash on Davie a few weeks back, when a man celebrating his retirement at the Fountainhead offered to buy another man a drink and the man punched him in a head, stepped over his body (which had fallen), and walked out, where he was accosted by others. The man retiring is now in the hospital with brain-damage.
        What I’d like to criticize here is this idea of “I’m not gay.” Straight people with straight people, gay people with gay people. We come back to the question of genetics: no, sexual desire is not in our genetics. It’s a matter of being more open-minded or less open-minded. The categories of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ (which were created in the 19th century) are obviously the creations of a closed-minded culture – the Victorian era. It’s not a matter of ambiguity. It’s not a matter of subverting categories. It’s a matter of feeling as though you can’t accept them to begin with, which we always do, but not reverting to the norms, forcing yourself to ‘fit in,’ but rather asserting your queer desire, which we all have. My desire merely cannot fit into ‘straight,’ or ‘gay.’ I love beauty, I desire beauty. Period. The difference of course lies in the sexual activity that we take on but I really don’t think we can reduce ‘sexuality’ to ‘intercourse.’ Sexuality is everything, it’s all around us, since everything is made of desire. A dialogue is sexual: hence the change of the term ‘intercourse’ (dialogue) to ‘intercourse’ (penetration of vagina by penis). The first definition is still carried forward into the second. And vice-versa.
        The point here is not ‘go have sex with everyone.’ I hold to my point that there isn’t enough time. Maybe the point is that it doesn’t really matter what sexuality we have. The huge focus on it in our culture is the problem. As Foucault would say: just cause we’re talking about it all the time doesn’t mean that we’re any less repressed than the Victorians. Rather, let’s just stop trying to define ourselves when it comes to sexuality. You don’t have to remind yourself every day that ‘i’m straight’ or ‘i’m gay’ or ‘i’m bisexual.’ You can just go with the flow of your emotions. As Zizek puts it at the end of his introduction to “The Parallax View”: “for a true philosopher, there are more interesting things in the world than sex” (13). So let’s focus on those other things. Therefore, yes, I agree that the recent popularity of saying ‘i’m bisexual’ or I’m ‘polyamorous’ is just shallowness and plays into our category/ambiguity (perhaps this dichotomy itself should be broken down) obsessed culture.

        And again, to Rhiannon’s argument that her kids took gender roles when they were infants, this is absolutely normal! Just because they couldn’t talk or think rational thoughts that doesn’t mean that they weren’t ‘in’ culture. That unconsciously they hadn’t already taken in gender-roles. Try it with dogs. Even they understand the notion of gender-roles. If a dog is called a ‘he’ then when another ‘he’ (a man) walks into the room the dog will be intimidated, etc. I’d also like to remind those of you making claim to ‘scientific evidence’ that the scientific method itself is a cultural creation; and that the way it works is: 1. I have a hypothesis, 2. I get some data, 3. Most of the time i cross out data that doesn’t work with my hypothesis and walla! My hypothesis is right! The hypothesis, of course, is always-already based in the assumptions of our culture.

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        “no, sexual desire is not in our genetics. It’s a matter of being more open-minded or less open-minded. ”

        Vlad, are you suggesting that people who choose to engage only in gay or straight lifestyles are narrow–minded? Because I think that’s a very unfair assumption to make about MOST of the world.

        However I have to agree with you on one point partly– which is that we’re all too focused on sex (and sexual categories) in general. I would not say however that “sexuality is in everything” because “everything is made of desire”– defining all desire as sexual is ridiculous and seems to me a result of the problem you identified above: we’re all too focused on sex.

        However I would suggest that gender IS a part of all human interaction. That’s why straight people don’t want to be hit on by gay people any more than married people want to be hit on by single ones– or anyone but our spouse really– we simply don’t WANT that mediating our interaction.

        Sexual preference and orientation is impossible to ignore when interacting with someone. It’s there whether we like it or not and it will partly govern our behaviour. It’s natural and unavoidable. So assumptions about sexual boundaries are important in social interaction. If I started hitting on you in class you’d feel pretty uncomfortable and rightly so because I’d be violating a boundary which you have a right to. Since I’m married (and theoretically unavailable) you’d make certain, very fair, assumptions about what constitutes appropriate behaviour between us. It’s called MANNERS and refusing to acknowledge them is rude. It makes people uncomfortable and for good reason.

        I’m not suggesting gay-bashing is ever acceptable of course–punching someone in the head because he’s gay and offers to buy you a drink is despicable– punching a guy in the head for almost any reason is despicable. Clearly the reasonable thing to do if someone crosses a social boundary is to GO AWAY. Or at least tell them that you feel uncomfortable– that’s completely fair and just as beyond your control as a gay man’s attraction in the first place. (Although one wonders why on earth a straight guy who feels uncomfortable being hit on by a man would go out to a bar on Davie St.)

        If someone turned up at the door to sell me a vacuum I’d be annoyed– obviously if I wanted a vacuum I’d go out and buy one. The assumption that I might want one if they turned up at the door is unreasonable and rude–I’m not shopping, so don’t assume I feel like buying something. But if I punched the guy in the head for it I’d hardly be justified. If I told him never to come back however, I would be.

        I would also reject the declaration that categories of sexual orientation are Victorian. Sorry– that’s just not true. Though I take your point that we aren’t all that much more enlightened now than then…

  10. Carmel Ohman says:

    Re: Ranciere #3…

    Before exploring how “explication is the myth of pedagogy” (6), we must first recognize the underlying assumption which informs both concepts. This assumption is that the highest form of reason involves “an ordered progression, from the most simple to the most complex” (3). At the risk of imposing “reasoned order” (3) on the elements of the pedagogical myth… this fundamental belief seems to manifest itself on a number of hypothetical levels. First, the pedagogue identifies himself with this approach to reason, thereby filtering his thoughts through a kind of ordered matrix. The pedagogue then structures his classroom according to this principle, presenting the material to his students in the ordered manner of simple to most complex. Exposed to the “reasoned order” (3) of pedagogical material, the students begin to expect a linear progression of this kind. In informing their expectations, this underlying assumption infiltrates their belief system, however unconsciously, thus perpetuating the assumption that underlies the pedagogical myth itself.

    Belief in this progression allows for the conception of two forms of intelligence, as described by Ranciere. The first form is perceived as “superior” because it “knows things by reason, proceeds by method, from the simple to the complex, from the part to the whole” (7). Not surprisingly, this is precisely the intellectual approach that the myth of pedagogy advocates. It is an approach characterized by control as opposed to chance, composure as opposed to confusion, and seems to function in praise of the human capacity for rational thought. Arguably, this conception of intelligence is partly fear-driven, as if relinquishing control of our mental faculties might send us spiralling back to a realm of purely visceral experience… as if we must cling to order as a way of asserting our status as humans.

    At the heart of the myth of pedagogy, also, is the assumption that “the important business of the master is to transmit his knowledge to his students so as to bring them, by degrees, to his own level of expertise” (3). This belief works in concert with that of “reasoned order” (3) to justify the need for explication, which assumes an inability on the part of the student to be the master of his own education. The process of explication establishes the pedagogue as master, as the only one qualified to judge the relative success of a given explication and the only one qualified to halt the sequence of “regression ad infinitum” (4). Explication assumes the superiority of the “ordered progression” (3), thereby putting into action the myth of pedagogy as described by Ranciere.

  11. Natassia Orr says:

    And now for Question 8:

    If I were to try to pick out a single theme or lesson from my first two years of university, it would be “think for yourself.” Teaching this is something of a paradox. How do you tell someone to not simply accept what you are telling them with any real meaning? Along that train of thought, something that one of my professors did was assign problems in class, but refuse to tell us if they were right (at least, until we got the answer key back from the next homework assignment). The rationale behind this was that we had to learn how to question out own thought processes and our conclusions, because if you’re trying to prove something that hasn’t been proven before, you won’t be able to look up your answers in a solutions manual. To a certain extent, he also expected us to question the derivations that he showed us, because that showed that we were thinking critically about them. In that respect, he took on the role of master without taking on the role of master explicator.

    At the same time, refusing to show us how to solve the problem was a way of showing us that we were capable of solving it for ourselves. The main goal of the course was not merely to teach us a certain number of formulae and how to use them, but how easily one can use relatively simple logic (if not simple math) can be used to construct complicated ideas. The logic he used was the kind of logic that we already possessed: if not the mathematical derivations, we could potentially have figured out the basic ideas had we known we were able to.

  12. Lauren Weatherdon says:

    RE: Ranciere #4 (… and others.)

    As I see it, the process that Ranciere describes is one which—like the Socratic method—exists as a dialogue between the “master” and the pupil. Explication may lead to understanding, but it bypasses the crucial development that occurs through reasoning. This dialogue is not only essential for the effective growth of the pupil’s confidence and ability to reason, but is required for the teacher to grasp “the distance between the taught material and the person being instructed, the distance also between learning and understanding” (Ranciere 5). The teacher must establish this distance in order to ensure that it is his pupil’s reasoned understanding, not his own, that he is perceiving. For me, this rhythmic dialogue conjures up the image of a pendulum: as the explicator “sets up and abolishes this distance” (5), he functions as the gravity which guides the student to the eventual point at which reasoning meets understanding. Most importantly, Ranciere seems to indicate—and I would agree, if so—that true understanding can only be reached through one’s own reasoning, not through the appropriation of someone else’s. Understanding may be appropriated (with little benefit), but not reasoning: “Understanding is never more than translating, that is, giving the equivalent of a text, but in no way its reason” (9); the language must be derived from the process of self-determined reasoning. If the student were to learn from the text itself, as Ranciere suggests, the text would operate as an “egalitarian intellectual link between master and student” (13), offering an equal opportunity for both to derive meaning from its intelligence. The moment of true understanding necessarily “brings a halt to the movement of reason” (8), as reasoning is no longer required; however, (as mentioned) I would argue that true understanding is impossible to achieve without the initial process of reasoning (with, perhaps, the will of a master to prevent the student from procrastinating).

  13. Aron says:

    I read part of the online discussion, finished the readings for this week, and then finished reading through the online discussion and was sort of surprised by the directions it has gone. But I’m happy to throw my two cents in about a couple of these ideas. I don’t know that what I have to say very directly confronts the trajectory that being explored, but it does relate, especially to the ideas you’re exploring Cristina.
    However, as the Ranciere article and the Wordsworth poem seem to assert, what’s important is that you gave me a space in which, as a peer, I’ve been allowed, compelled, (and yes, assigned, though that doesn’t work with my argument) to pursue my own sense of things based on my life experiences. (It seems like that’s the benefit to having a gay lover? “…when he makes contact with someone beautiful and keeps company with him, he conceives and gives birth to what he has been carrying inside him for ages.” (Plato 57…209C)) The explicated, on the other hand, can always only be meaningful while its devoured as a secondary source. So don’t take what I say as if your symbolic network framed it, even though it may mean everything to me.

    First, about sexuality as something that may inevitably outgrow rigid classifications, I think that I have to agree. From experience, as a young kid, I had lots of gay experiences with boys who grew up to be regularly straight. So, I agree that the reality before societal nurturing is more complex than the identities available. Consider various other cultures that have more than two genders and more than three sexuality identities.

    Responding to Cristina’s concern issue with the sublime as representing that that resists representation, I met a boy and he is beautiful and quite generic looking; he is strikingly similar looking to a dozen boys who I’ve known in the past and so when I’m with him I’m rarely, if ever, experiencing the non-reified version of him: just him, not all these other boys. That this excites me about him (as opposed to upsetting me) seems to suggest that there is something to the idea of being intimate with a buddy’s body while inevitably having a spiritual or emotional attachment to others body/personality combinations. The idea that I could have an entirely effective, as in singular and isolated, experience of this boy is impossible, and not desirable (it seems to me). The more honest way would just to let the other be, which would take a lot of nuanced and idiosyncratic explanations to hardly capture, not only in all their personal alterity but also in all their impersonal connotations. Which isn’t to say that discourse approaching or processing another’s identity or the nature of surroundings isn’t valuable, even necessary.

    Approaching the issue of the sublime as flawed representations from a related, perhaps more facetious angle, a boy I’ve been hanging out with a lot lately told me today that he thinks I’m cool. Then, to clarify, added that by cool he meant nice or kind. I said that I think cool people aren’t usually very nice because they’re too cool and hate on people who aren’t as cool. Then the boy said that from his perspective of the word cool, from which it does mean nice, he thinks I’m cool.

    So I said then that from the boy’s perspective of the word cool, I think he’s cool. He asked if I didn’t mean that from my perspective of the word cool, he’s cool. And I said I didn’t; he wouldn’t understand what my sense of the word cool was.

    But neither could I, he responded, understand what cool means from his perspective. I replied that that was exactly why I meant that he was cool from his own perspective: that was something he could understand.

    The important part here to my argument of why there can’t be something behind his word isn’t a matter of intention but possibility. His sense of cool couldn’t mean anything to me, explicitly. However, it did mean a lot to me implicitly, but it was necessarily sublime and resisting symbolization.

  14. Aron says:

    (the second example is the same boy, haha. Though that’s probably obvious, just worded awkwardly)

  15. Tina says:

    I don’t wish to spam your emails by replying to every comment so I’m compiling everything into a single message:

    @Aron – That is beautiful. In situations like that, I would typically have just accepted it without further questions, perhaps to maintain my usual appearance of humility and composure. Foolish as it may sound, it almost feels as if any further talk would dampen the spontaneity of that single moment. Then afterward I’d torture myself by replaying the scene over and over again in my head and aching to figure out what the person could’ve possibly meant. It’s sad how you can never return to that moment, never fully understand what that person truly mean, and most of all, you can never ever ever get him to repeat those same words to you in the exact same context, but then again, I guess I just enjoy torturing myself.

    @Prof Earle – frankly that sounds very frightening. What else are we aside from our race, gender and sexuality? (as well as a host of other social terms and key phrases) Surely we’re not just bits of skin sticking on flesh, with perhaps a cloud of sticky soul-stuff wedged between our lungs? But I see your point – it is foolish to have to keep inventing new terms just to fit every new phenomena that’s going on – “CBC/ABCs”, “Object sexuality” etc, when clearly this just goes to show that our current way of looking at things is deeply flawed. Yet again, you have given a good deal to ponder over.

    @Rhiannon – You are making me increasingly aware of the ticking of my biological clock … :p

    Now, on to Ranciere’s Qn 8:

    I believe that Ranciere is highlighting the dangers of fetishizing the master into the book when we claim to be able to derive our learning solely from a book. A master explicator would, in this sense, replace the book, especially since the master has the privilege of “speech over writing, of hearing over sight.” (5) Lauren mentioned earlier too that the master explicator would merely be transferring his own perception of the book onto the student, thus stripping the child of his own language.

    However, the master who isn’t a master explicator is the Emancipatory Master. By removing himself from the room, he is enabling the child to nourish and develop his own way of thinking. Instead of the usual barter of the master’s knowledge in exchange for school fees, we are now able to bring the book back into focus. The knowledge available from the book, which is a common good, can now be read and dissected by the student himself. He absorbs it like the master himself when he was just a student. This effectively frees up knowledge in such a way that it is no longer a regurgitation of the same old interpretations. Knowledge becomes a free good that is enjoyed over and over again. The emancipatory master frees his student from the bonds of the education system and enables him to engage in a learning that is perfectly suited to his own (student’s) style. The master will merely exerts his will upon the student by willing that the student persists in his struggle to understand and comprehend the book no matter how difficult it may be.

    I also think that it will be interesting to see how this can be reflected in our university education. Are we merely memorizing the works of the scholarly giants and reproducing perfect replicas of the professor’s opinions, or is the education system honing our own abilities to think creatively, intelligently and personally? Are Ranciere’s noble pedagogical philosophies are definitely put to work in our courses?

    • boearle says:

      yes it can definitely be disorienting and frightening. but i think one general theme of this course has been that there is a third or middle way between rigid, reified concepts, on the one hand, and the chaotic void on the other. the aesthetic experience of the sublime is something we can communicate about: it’s a way of *responding to* the chaos without necessarily reducing it to reified concepts. but regardless what you think of the sublime, i think it’s safe to say that racial and sexual categories can violently circumscribe the rich ambiguity of personal experience. when you consider that humans share over 98% of their genome with chimps (and for that matter over 30% with daisies!) then all the meaning that gets imputed to differences in race and sexual orientation appears quite specious. to realize how little really separates you not just from other races etc but also from other species isn’t to see all life forms as reassuringly similar but to realize how strange you actually are to *yourself*! this strangeness can be frightening but it’s arguably also what makes life rich and rewarding and so to speak sublime: much better to negotiate this strangeness on your own terms, or in collaboration with intimate companions, than to find yourself prescribed by a generic category. i’m not saying that we can ignore the categories of race and sexuality any more than we can those that distinguish among species, but just that we should be perpetually dissatisfied by them, and push back against and problematize them, because the cost of failing to do so is huge.

      • @boearle: “when you consider that humans share over 98% of their genome with chimps (and for that matter over 30% with daisies!) then all the meaning that gets imputed to differences in race and sexual orientation appears quite specious. to realize how little really separates you not just from other races etc but also from other species isn’t to see all life forms as reassuringly similar but to realize how strange you actually are to *yourself*!”

        Can I point out that a ‘small’ difference is actually a big difference? “2%” means nothing to me, because numbers themselves are a reification of a sort. As in, 2%, to you, seems to mean what ‘little seperates us’… but i see “look, with 2 %, we are just about to destroy the world… what would have happened if the gap was bigger than two percent?”

        2% makes all the difference….

      • boearle says:

        2% both “means nothing” and “makes all the difference”? this thread topic is obviously tangential, and i’ve raised it just as provocative food for thought; specifically as an illustration of what it might mean to get beyond this kind of dichotomous (all or nothing, black/white, us vs. them) thinking that recognizes only utter reification on the one side and utter chaos on the other. how would a third way or middle road work? i’ve suggested it might work something like the sublime aesthetic.

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Yes Arin– trying being up all night too– well I don’t have to do that anymore, but believe me. Losing sleep to study does NOT compare to getting up every two hours because your spine is collapsing due the noise your colicky baby makes when it wakes up. Not fun. But she’s angel nonetheless…

    • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

      Haha! Yes that tick-ticking. What it doesn’t tell you is that you really don’t know what TIRED is…not yet. 🙂

      • Arin Vaillancourt says:

        I know what tired is. I’ve been a nanny running around after two year-olds all day, and it is EXHAUSTING. I don’t know how my parents did it, seeing as my mom had me when she was 36. It amazes me that you have TWO kids and somehow manage to be so prolific in your online posts. I’m simply baffled.

      • I was trying to specify ‘means nothing’ by giving the two perspectives: in the sense that, I don’t get a self evident, absolute explanation of difference just from a number. A number by itself means nothing. (science can tell us what was, but not what should have been… facts mean nothing by themselves) We have infused it with meaning, and especially science wants us to think in a certain way. I think “reason” is very arbitrary. So it’s not self evident to me that us sharing 98% percent of our dna is at all significant. So, i was trying to show how, shifting focus to the 2% could also be a valid perspective, because it’s just as arbitrary.

        Why I find it important for me to talk about science, is because I find that a certain kind of science (like Richard Dawkins, Militant Atheism, etc) is what our society holds up, and as long as that is the case, the middle road doesn’t even have a chance…

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      The problem that I see with Ranciere’s whole argument that the second master is Emancipatory – while the first is oppressive and fetishized, as you describe him – is that it still relies on a neutral ground. That is, Ranciere is assuming that the very withdrawal of the professor doesn’t have a signifier, isn’t a mode of saying something to the students that the students will struggle to interpret. In a more vulgar way: as students, if we were faced with an Emancipatory Master, we wouldn’t understand who he is, what he’s doing, etc. We’re so used to the first master that we would project our expectations on the Emancipatory Master and thus not allow him to fulfill the role which he wants to fulfill. Ranciere is assuming that the only person with power in the situation is the master, who chooses how to teach either based on his own desire or on the University’s desire. Not on the audience in front of him’s desire. In other words, Ranciere is already taking the point of view of the Master Explicator (do I have to mention that his own text is explicative?) in that he sees the audience as not having any power to begin with. I would say, rather, that despite a Master Explicator attempting to teach you how to understand a certain text and how to read it, a real student, with a real willpower, would reject the very method put in front of him. The student has just as much power in the Master Explicator situation, if he wants it.

  16. Aron says:

    ‘Only the Sith deal in absolutes…’ and I don’t think the Sith had profound intimacies.
    I really like how things seems to come together in the concept of the sublime; that which resists symbolization seems to be the main thing worth attempting to symbolize. Cause it’s comfortable to fit roles. But comfort isn’t my main goal, it’s my secondary one…

  17. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    Ok children, this will be our last week posting online and I see that everyone is already giving themselves arthritis with all this key board clacking. I can tell you right now I didn’t read the questions because they were too long, but I did read Symposium so I feel like that counts for something at least. Anyways, I’ll try to get right to the point. A friend of mine has recently ended a very serious two year long relationship and all I’ve been hearing about these past two weeks is how Jeff Buckley (who is a singer/songwriter) has written the soundtrack to his life and that he doesn’t believe in love anymore. Well, I’m chalking this up to him being completely melodramatic because obviously Jeff Buckley did not sit down and think, “gee, I’m going to write these beautifully tragic songs so when this kid gets dumped by his heartless girlfriend he’ll have something to say ‘look someone knows exactly’ what I’m feeling”. However, one of Jeff Buckley’s songs is very applicable to Socrates’s questioning of Agathon and the speech of Diotima. Love in someone who is in need, and desires all that is good and beautiful. Love is also someone who is caught in the inbetween of understanding and ignorance, and mortality and immortality. He is the son of Resource and Poverty, so that fact that he exists in the in-between makes sense since he was created from two extremes. Now this song, seems to me at least, to emphasize the “Need” of love and the hunger that it causes. The line “too young to hold on and too old to just break free and run” also hearkens back to the fact that love is continually caught in an interstitial space. Anyways, I also think the song is really beautiful and deliciously tragic, so if you’d like to listen to it and then read the lyrics and tell me I’m completely off my rocker, I’m always up for a good argument.

    “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”

    Looking out the door i see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners
    Parading in a wake of sad relations as their shoes fill up with water
    And maybe i’m too young to keep good love from going wrong
    But tonight you’re on my mind so you never know

    When i’m broken down and hungry for your love with no way to feed it
    Where are you tonight, child you know how much i need it
    Too young to hold on and too old to just break free and run

    Sometimes a man gets carried away, when he feels like he should be having his fun
    And much too blind to see the damage he’s done
    Sometimes a man must awake to find that really, he has no-one

    So i’ll wait for you… and i’ll burn
    Will I ever see your sweet return
    Oh will I ever learn

    Oh lover, you should’ve come over
    ‘Cause it’s not too late

    Lonely is the room, the bed is made, the open window lets the rain in
    Burning in the corner is the only one who dreams he had you with him
    My body turns and yearns for a sleep that will never come

    It’s never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder
    It’s never over, all my riches for her smiles when i slept so soft against her
    It’s never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
    It’s never over, she’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever

    Well maybe i’m just too young
    To keep good love from going wrong

    Oh… lover, you should’ve come over
    ‘Cause it’s not too late

    Well I feel too young to hold on
    And i’m much too old to break free and run
    Too deaf, dumb, and blind to see the damage i’ve done
    Sweet lover, you should’ve come over
    Oh, love well i’m waiting for you

    Lover, you should’ve come over
    ‘Cause it’s not too late

  18. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    Lets try this again…

    <embed src="http://www.yo

  19. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      I must commend you on the song choice. Jeff Buckley is an angel.

      • Arin Vaillancourt says:

        That seems to be the general consensus. I had someone tell me that Jeff Buckley is the tear that rolls down an angel’s cheek, so you’re spot on there Vlad.

  20. Vlad Cristache says:

    Also, speaking of Ranciere and teaching and the Master, this video betrays a few things:
    1. Zizek wants to make things (Lacan specifically) easier to “understand,” he refuses the enigmatic mode of writing typical of Adorno.
    2. The absolute weirdness of the different between the host and Zizek. The host who is this ‘idiot’ trying to sell Zizek’s books, and Zizek who is trying to make a serious point to the masses in the little time he has. Aren’t we, as intellectuals, instantly repulsed by the Host? And doesn’t this show the perversion of serious philosophy that mass culture attempts to induce? At the same time, it’s almost the naivete of the Host, the idea that we as spectators can realize how stupid he is, that draws us into Zizek, that makes us want to buy the book that the Host found so difficult. There’s a play, in the video, to our egos, which is perhaps deliberately done by the Host, and even if not is done by the producers who knew something of the like would come about. It is this complication, this way of subconscious commercialism, that Zizek tries to counter in his anecdote of the grandmother.
    3. The anecdote of the grandmother is perfect when discussing the Ranciere reading. Zizek is basically claiming that when someone orders you directly, it’s less oppressive than when someone tells you that you have a choice when you really don’t have one (trying to mask their power). This is the difference between totalitarianism, when you know where the power is and you can resist. And liberal-democracy where no one claims to have power, and therefore you have nothing to resist, and just participate in the power. Ranciere’s argument is a complicated version of both of these. On the one hand he’s claiming that the Emancipatory Master lays out his power by telling us to read this or that (and is therefore totalitarian), while the Master Explicator is more “liberal” insofar as he tries to direct us through our reading, never imposing anything on us except his interpretation, and therefore while not making us obey, trapping our intelligence. But first of all I don’t see any distinction between “obeying the rod” and “applying one’s intelligence” that Ranciere seems to hold to (8). That is, even in applying one’s intelligence one is obeying the rod in some way, just on another level. Therefore the truly Emancipatory Master is the who not only tells you that you have to read this and that, but also tells you that “this” is the truth of the book, what it’s saying, how you should understand it. Then you have all the power in the world to resist, to add another interpretation. In other words, and going back to the anecdote about learning French, isn’t your intelligence more expanded when: 1. you have to deal with both learning it systematically and learning it by intuition and trying to somehow reconcile the two, 2. you therefore know more than one way of learning a language, whereas if you just learn it by yourself than you only know how to learn a language in one way, and you have a sort of an egotistic way of thinking about the world, as though only your interpretation matters and you shouldn’t attempt to reconcile it or oppose it to anyone else’s: solipsism.

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      And to conclude, what I mean here is this:
      For Ranciere there are two types of masters that employ their power at different levels:
      The Emancipatory Master who employs power on the level of FORM but NOT CONTENT,
      and the Master Explicator who employs power on the level of CONTENT (understanding) but NOT FORM.
      These are quite obviously two sides of the same coin, then. Isn’t Ranciere’s defense of FORM over CONTENT in mastery the same as Zizek’s coffee without caffeine in the video?

  21. Aron says:

    But people drink coffee without caffeine Vlad, even profound people.

  22. Aron says:

    Also, it seems like Zizek and Adorno readings complement each other (as they have in this course). I’m still confused by your conclusion. Are you suggesting that there is hardly a meaningful difference between the emancipatory master and the master explicator?

  23. Aron says:

    (I just backtracked and read your earlier posts Vlad, in which you go into more detail about your sense of the masters, so you don’t need to worry about the question if you don’t feel like it. [Not that you had to worry about it before…])

  24. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    Woah Plato, Zizek just totally threw down…

  25. Raquel Baldwinson says:

    I want to talk about Vlad’s second point: “the absolute weirdness of the difference between the host and Zizek” (based on I agree, this really seems like one of the most hostile environments possible for the translation of Zizek’s ideas and for Zizek as a person.

    Zizek is a Socratic-philosopher in that he loves philosophy, and that his love for his philosophy inspires his students to take on a love for philosophy for themselves. Zizek’s student winds up loving his ideas, probably philosophy in general, and maybe even Zizek himself, just like Vlad did this semester. The clips Zizek that Dr. Earle has posted over the semester are chemically charged… they show this passionate erotic bond he has with his ideas and how he speaks almost in desperation, seeking to catch sublime ideas.

    The host, instead of inheriting Zizek’s eros, resists Zizek’s plain language messages and distances him by depicting a towering statue of “Lacanian theorist.” He quips that his is the only talk show brave enough to have a Lacanian theorist interviewed, but the interview is anything but an interview—it is a spectacle that performs the distance between Zizek and the host.

    Vlad comments:

    “And doesn’t this show the perversion of serious philosophy that mass culture attempts to induce? At the same time, it’s almost the naivete of the Host, the idea that we as spectators can realize how stupid he is, that draws us into Zizek, that makes us want to buy the book that the Host found so difficult.”

    And as I found myself agreeing withVlad, I began to realize that this is where the cut-off tends to occur between the us and them, ignorant and learned dichotomy. The host refuses to look at Zizek as a person, and instead holds him up in his untouchable position all interview long. This means that he gets nothing out of Zizek’s message. And frankly, if we students (the more-learned?) remove ourselves from “mass culture” too much in our academic work, then we risk becoming rapidly irrelevant and totally intolerable.

  26. Mandy Woo says:

    With the explicator “setting up and abolish[ing] the distance [between the text and the pupil]” (Ranciere 5), they take a stance that is separate from the text and ‘teach’ it and by doing so, are engaging in another form of spectatorship, that is, in the creation of “kitsch” (Benjamin 4). In “the art of distance” (Ranciere 5), text “yields to his uncertain grasp and ultimately fashions its figures in his interior” (Benjamin 4-5). But without emancipation (“I must teach you that I have nothing to teach you” (Ranciere 15)), kitsch becomes forcibly co-opted into one version and one version only. Indeed, “[w]hat brings an end to the regression and gives the system its foundation is simply that the explicator is the sole judge of the point when the explication is itself explicated” (4). The act of judging prevents the creative process of kitsch and re-establishes “the traditional notion of art as something that takes place at two meters distance from the body” (Dr. Earle).

    The key for Benjamin here is that an emancipated explicator has an “uncertain grasp” (5), not a certain one. This uncertainty means that this “new man bears within himself the very quintessence of the old forms” (Benjamin 5), that is, has the old “method of powerlessness” (Ranciere 16) but “recognize[s] it and pursue[s] the open verification of its power” (16). After all, as Ranciere points out, “explication is the myth of pedagogy, the parable of a world divided into knowing minds and ignorant ones” (6). This “myth of pedagogy” (6) fails to recognize its own status as constructed fiction as it believes its own hype about itself as truth. And so it is “the explicator who needs the incapable and not the other way around”(6) to sustain the “myth” (6) of truth. By doing so, however, the act of explication inflicts damage (8) with its invocation of a “double inaugural gesture” (6) or an assumed intellectual binary-ness according to its own value system of absolute “enlightened” (7) intellectual authority by presuming an equally absolute and complete state of knowledge which does not exist, for anything at any time, is only our guess, at best.

  27. Lindsay Vermeulen says:

    How on Earth do you all have time to post like this in the last week of term?!

    Attempt to say something mildly intelligent about “Ignorant Schoolmaster” #7…

    I think the difference between responding to someone speaking to you and someone examining you is crucial. The examination doesn’t have to be formal or even intended, but if you are intimidated by the person to whom you are speaking you tend to get defensive and anxious. Then you worry so much on sounding intelligent, getting the right answer and looking good that it is impossible to focus on what the other conversant/examiner is actually saying, and all possibility of a true conversation is lost. This phenomenon is part of what makes job interviews so awkward for shy people; the interviewee is typically focussed so much on getting the “right” answer that they are unable to express much about themselves.

    This is also true of shy people in general; speaking to members of the socially elite makes them feel like they are being examined and not that the other person has any actual interest in what they have to say, and this prevents natural social intercourse.

    • Arin Vaillancourt says:

      Oh Lindsay, I gave up trying to say anything intelligent on this blog a long time ago, as for the others, I secretly think they have a magic time turner like Hermoine had in The Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s got to be witchcraft, there’s no other way.

    • Carmel Ohman says:

      Re: “How on Earth do you all have time to post like this in the last week of term?!”

      I am so glad you asked that, because I was very much wondering the same thing.

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