Thursday, January 8, 2009

Learning to listen and not talk

There is a scene in Pulp Fiction – I think it was a deleted scene – in which Uma Thurman asks Travolta: “do you listen or wait to talk.” He responds that he waits to talk but is trying real hard to listen. I think I need to make this my goal this term. I should probably also resist the urge to “teach” as I normally define the task.

Typically I am placed in the role of “expert” – or – at the very least – someone who knows more about the subject than the students. After all – I picked the readings, I put the syllabus together, I am “in charge” of the discussion. Bob’s notion of infrastruction is that we are actively working to alter this paradigm. Courses generally have leaders – someone in charge – an arbiter who makes decisions and controls the flow of information. This can be through the selection of readings, questions asked in class, cutting off discussion, reiterating topics or ideas, testing skill sets, etc. We are conditioned to respond to this type of authority.

In The Empty Space Peter Brook talks about his role as “director” – another one of those supposed “experts” or authority figures. He says that while the director may want to be fallible there is an instinctive conspiracy of others involved to make him or her the judge because we seem to want that all the time. “In a sense the director is always an imposter, a guide at night who does not know the territory, and yet he has no choice – he must guide, learning the route as he goes.” My goal with this class is to actively work to reveal the imposter mask – to – as Roland Barthes points out in Writing Degree Zero underscore the idea of Larvatus prodeo, "I advance masked," that in a deconstructive gesture, "the writer draws attention to the mask he is wearing."

Today was the second day neither Bob nor I picked someone to start the conversation or the presentations. There is a gap where we wait for the authority to say “now – go.” We also waited, partly, I am convinced, out of respect, but also partly out of conditioning, for the presenter to tell us when their presentation was done. At times it was clear, other times it was open ended. One of the things that attracts me to this generative subject is that it sort of forces the hand – one has to either dive in or not play at all. I was quite pleased with the results - some very interesting solutions to the question. But an hour and 20 minutes is just not enough. The projects, for me, really become a prelude to the discussion and provide ready examples. Clearly to be continued on Tuesday.

The most oft repeated question to me at the end of the class was if there would be more time for the rest of the projects. I like the quickness of this one – with wide ranging results. You are forced to make a decision and go with it – there just isn’t enough time not to. This tends to produce a certain type of result. One of the drawbacks to this is that people often choose to do something they have either already done, or something safe – something they feel that they can accomplish quickly. This may not be true of all, but I do know that it is true of some. (Of course I say this using quotes that I have used dozens of times - yea that is part of the mask). We need to embrace the idea of “failure” – or simply diving into things – perhaps even court it – and simply watch to see what happens. John Cage one said that he used chance as a discipline. Yes, he set the parameters, but by having faith in chance – or abandoning oneself to chance – which would extend to the notion of trying to listen rather than wait to talk – or trying to suggest rather than teach – I hope to learn the route alongside of others.

Which, of course, begs the question - why take a class with an instructor (or at least one instructor - I don't want to speak for Bob - he has his own blog) that is reluctant to teach? Why explore a work of art in which the creator has only minimal input on the process? These ideas provide a container, a frame, a reason to pose certain questions - but should not be defined only by my notion of container or frame. Despite the fact that in a geeky, scholarly way I have amassed a number of articles, links, works that help define "generative art," I can not possibly assume that my knowledge exceeds the collective knowledge of a room full of interesting people. I do talk a lot. Time to listen - comments encouraged.

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