Imagination, Experimentation and Budding Scholarship

I spent the weekend in New York City in a surreal blend of parents’ weekend and its crowds at Barnard, (which apart from the fact that Nora’s class is both far more diverse and far more female than any at Middlebury, felt an awful lot as though I had never left my own campus); intense shopping experience with two ultra-opinionated and experienced shopping daughters undaunted by shopkeepers or shoppers or their I-hate-to-shop mother in their quest for the one must-have thing, bizarre moments in our hotel that was like a Star Trek set from its fixtures, ceilings, rooms, lighting, music to its characters; and an extraordinary array of typical New York experiences with cabbies, restaurants, street moments, an almost all-Indian audience at Bombay Dreams, and a visit to Ground Zero…
I came away filled with awe at the compendium of human experience and interaction. How to capture it? Talk about multilinear narratives–talk about the stuff for a hypertext novel!

On the long car ride back north to the brilliant color of fall and the quiet of space filled with trees and fields rather than people and buildings, movement taking the form of leaves scattering like birds in a gust of wind rather than taxis and lights restless and darting–I thought about Janet Murray’s visit to Middlebury and her response to a student who asked about whether computers were taking away from books because they interfered with the imagination—she said that she didn’t believe in a moral hierarchy of media, that all forms had the potential to stimulate the imagination and to capture a piece of our human story.

And it reminded me of Maxine Greene and the many extraordinary and wise things she has had to say about imagination and the arts–take this exchange she had in 1999, for example, about the role of the arts and the state of arts education.

And now I also think about today’s wonderful new blog posting (his first post in a while, but well worth the wait) by Héctor Vila about how Derrida touched his life as a young scholar, and now how he uses the lessons gleaned from the philopher to teach his young student Emily about why technology:

Philosophically, Derrida and his circle were the theoretical foundation for my interest in computing in the humanities. If, indeed, the sign represents the present in its absence, then our “interface culture” is profoundly immersed in a metaphorical relationship with truth(s) because these only manifest themselves in metaphor, images that parade as the absolute. We look through signs–screens–and we work through signs–desktops–and we communicate through signs–IM, Outlook, Entourage. Ours is a world filled with unseen rules, hidden rules; rules that proport to make our lives easier, more sustainable and connected, more fluid. Seldom in this world of the bouncing curser are we in the present. We reside in metaphor. We are urged forward–add, edit…more…more…more: link, connect, network. Always network: at all costs network. Networking as a sign functions like this: we put something forth–say on a weblog–unsure and hopeful, with trepidations, but only to be reminded of the abyss that’s out there in the network, in the matrix. Herman Melville looked out into the deep, dark span of the ocean and saw nothing–only death; we look out into the foreboding span of zeros and ones and we see hope: images, chatter, pornographers, news. But if we look deeper, the notion of network as sign function resemble Melville’s menacing horizon: we too see the disconnectedness of our realities, the misfortunes, the superfluous gloss of deeply held convictions (these don’t really exist, except for programmers, do they?). So in answer to Emily–this is a start, anyway–“Why technology?” suggests that I have to find reasons for its existence; I have to find meaning where meaning is challenged by the vastness we experience in our anonymous networking; we have to find how be can Be in such an array of “differences.”

These three educators (all with long, enduring relationships with NYC) touch upon pieces of what I felt and witnessed in NYC and want to keep fresh for my students– the importance of reading the past while learning to see. They need opportunities to look and to imagine INSIDE THE CLASSROOM AS WELL AS OUTSIDE; to question, and then to play with these lessons and resist them, to turn away from them, even, as they explore their own ways of making the world, or talking back to it. This is the hard part, to get them to feel what Degas was getting at when he said, “Only when he no longer knows what he’s doing does the painter do good things.” And it takes a long long time to reach that point.

Going to New York this weekend has cleared my head, and given me some ideas about balancing the deep, sustained inquiry with the improvisational dance of ongoing discovery, of moving and emerging and becoming. And seeing how this medium can help us to express these multilinear narratives with power and iimagination.