February 05, 2013

Professor's opacity as a productive principle

The Uttarpara speech was made after deep God-realization, although it has been misinterpreted and appropriated for sectarian purposes by those who do not understand the universality of Sanatana Dharma. I don’t think he ever rejected the speech, because the same theme is repeated in the “five dreams” message he gave when India became free in 1947.

Jabberwock: Divine savages and “real” truth 17 Oct 2011 [Did a shorter version of this for my Sunday Guardian books column]
There is no such thing as an “objective” reader or reviewer – our feelings about a book are shaped by many things working in conjunction: personal experiences, biases, genetic makeup, level of engagement with a subject, and so on. The best a reviewer can do is to admit the necessary subjectivity of his perspective and then tackle a book as honestly as possible.

The Other Tale of Indian Modernity: Savita Singh by Pratilipi Blog January 30, 2013
As an interpreter invariably does while understanding the truth, I too do not presume that the entire truth lies in the text itself. For, after the truth has been communicated to the readers, and some clarity has been brought to the text compared to its previous reading, the truth still remains. Truth perhaps is a remainder. In the light of this position on ...

It was Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx who taught us that the subject is split or barred, and that our relationship to ourselves is characterized by a fundamental meconaissance. In the Freudo-Nietzschean constellation, this split is between the conscious ego that takes itself to be the one calling the shots, and those acephalous unconscious desires or that unconscious will of which we are but an effect. It is this unconscious desire or will that is calling the shots, not the sovereign ego. In the case of Marx, this split nature of the subject is located in the way we are caught up in social relations that exceed our conscious intentionality, functioning as determinants of our action…
Hume begins with an obvious “common sense” thesis about how we come to know– “all knowledge originates in sensations” –yet in holding fast to this thesis he unsettles all our common sense about knowledge and the world. Husserl begins with an obvious thesis– “look at the things themselves!” –yet in executing this project he unsettles our assumptions about what it is to experience the world and objects, opening a vast domain that continues to challenge central assumptions in cognitive science, psychology, the social sciences, etc. 5:27 am

Great Moments in the Classroom from Larval Subjects January 31, 2008 Students shuffling out of the classroom after a discussion of Platonic realism and the possibility of transcendent, objective values independent of culture, history, and individual determination.
STUDENT: “This class is impossible.”
ME (Alarmed): “Why?”
STUDENT: “We come in here thinking we understand the world and now we discover that everything we think might be mistaken.”

I think what was most important in the comment was the statement that “everything we think might be mistaken”. That is, the conditional. The world becoming questionable or mysterious is a condition, I think, for practicing philosophy. In the philosophy classroom– especially at the introductory level –I believe the production of this space of the question is the most important and significant thing to be accomplished. That is, the teaching of philosophy shouldn’t be about demonstrating a particular doctrine, nor is it simply about acquainting students with a variety of different philosophical positions (though that’s important), but is rather about opening the space of questionability as such.

I go back and forth on the question of whether anything should be pushed in the classroom. In part I think about Socrates and how you can never pin down what his position might be or if he even has one. In part I think about the nature of the analyst’s position in the analytic setting, where the analyst sets his own desire to the side so that the analysand might discover his or her own desire. It seems to me that this opacity of the professors own positions can function as a sort of productive principle where the students progressively discover their own thought as they try to figure out what it is that the professor thinks or wants. I guess in my own teaching I try to advocate fully for whatever material it is I’m teaching. One moment I’ll be vigorously defending Kierkegaard or Augustine, only to shift to Lucretius or Nietzsche. I’ll bring critical tools to bear on one tradition from another tradition, and so on. I can’t decide whether there’s a principle behind this or not. I would like to think that part of the aim is to undermine attachments to the professor as “master”. Here I always think back to Deleuze’s remark that “the best teachers are never those who say ‘do as I do’ (representation), but who invite to ‘do with me’”.


  1. [@loveofallwisdom: To say something is to negate something

  2. [In general, I am sceptical of any solution that relies on people’s character rather than structures and incentives.] Posted by Ravikiran Rao on 2/14/12