Link to What's New ThisWeek A BOOK ON THE PRACTICE

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Answerability

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Soka University Japan - Transcend Art and Peace
Created: October 25, 2003
Latest Update: October 25, 2003

E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

Index of Topics on Site A BOOK ON THE PRACTICE

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, October 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

We're learning from those who write in with simple requests that there is something compelling about trying to talk directly to real people, and to respond to them as real people. In one request, from which I learned a lot, S asked for help on the role of art in "chanage in societies." She had a signature on her e-mail that I was unable to copy directly with my programs, so I copied it quickly in gif. I guess I should have known from that signature that I would learn as much as she.

On Saturday, October 4, 2003 the following e-mail dialog took place:

S: I am writing a paper in sociology and am interested in art as an influence for change in societies. Do yo have resources you can recommend?
Thanks--
S.

jeanne: yes. Look at the recent issues. The archives for the issues are at http://www.habermas.org

jeanne: Sorry, sent wrong URL. Look at the recent issues: http://www.habermas.org/jcls.htm We use art to discuss answerability, transparency, many social issues. jeanne

S: Thank you! Your writing makes sociology a lot more interesting. Our course here in College Land is via PBS taped shows and no lectures or class interactions. Thanks again! S.

jeanne: Thank you, S. If you enjoy the Dear Habermas site, you're welcome to join in the commentaries, just like our own students. Send your comments in. I'm sorry it took so long for me to answer you, but earthlink has screwed up and sent all my e-mail for the last couple of weeks down a deep dark hole. I just located your request today. We're trying to straighten out the e-mail. Pat just sent me one and it came through, so we're hoping it's OK now. jeanne

S: You are a smart person. I am boggled by the amount of thinking you have done and do. There seem to be so many topics I have never heard of that connecting them is not for the sociology novice. I like the art for peace project. Thanks. Have you written a book about the practice of habermas.org's progress? Are there any summations of the practice?

jeanne: I'm working on putting together a summation of the practice. Glad you enjoy it. Join us. jeanne

And here is a part of the writing that S asked for. I can't write a book about the practice yet because the practice is still happening. But WE can keep up my lectures and our communication so that the aesthetic process of the practice goes on, and we can look at the bits and pieces of it as we live through them. S played a big role in this semester's understanding. She said "Your writing makes sociology a lot more interesting." I know I try to write the site as though you're here and we're face to face. But I also know that our face-to-face time is very important to our aesthetic process. We laugh, and come to know each other then. Some times the pain comes through; sometimes the joy explodes. Sometimes we join in a giant gripe about the school. Students made so much noise about next week's meeting over the proposed fee raises I was afraid someone would think we were having a riot. I hadn't thought much about the writing of it all, except so we could share across the country, sometimes even the world. But S's reference to "the practice," almost like we were real, I mean, really real, like Susan says, made me realize that part of the reason there isn't a BOOK yet, is that a book about this aesthetic process will have to be a collective book we've all put together. The BOOK will be an aesthetic product of our practice of aesthetic process. Got it! Why didn't we get it before? Hans Mauksch would say that: "Jeanne, it's so obvious, why didn't we think of it before?"

Well, Hans, I think that S's interesting signature had something to do with it. It was something some of us might have done. I think we didn't get it sooner because of dominant discourse and normative expectations. Marx would say it was exploitation by the industrial and owner classes, and their failure to allow us any control over our own learning.. Durkheim would say that inequality is a natural part of the functional system, and that some will learn and some will not in spite of whatever the system might be, and Weber would say that bureaucracy would be the end of us all, drowning out verstehen. Hans, we didn't get it because we were caught in the middle of an educational system that spends more time nurturing, claiming, and marketing its existing products than it did in delving into the aesthetic process of creating learning. We didn't get it because we were trying to make a linear transition in a world that is just not really linear. We didn't get it because there was no forum in which to find Others who cared enough to answer us. We didn't get it because we still thought we were supposed to do it for "them," whoever "they" were. We, of course, were the "doers." We had forgotten that WE, all of us, not just the doers, learn by the doing of learning.

And so, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that S was right. There's something in the writing, just as there was something in her signature. There's a sense of answerability. And no, I'm not sure what I mean by that. There is something about sharing learning that a text book cannot duplicate. Something that a videotape cannot capture. That something is intimately tied to the answerability of the process, the aesthetic process, through which the group turns itself into a community of learners. For some, that is enhanced by writing; for some, by reading, for some by art. But no one approach holds dominant sway over the other. The PRACTICE in this case is the acknowledgement of the aesthetic process that binds us as a learning group. And apparently the learning group can and does extend beyond the face-to-face arena of the classroom, not just for students learning, but also for those of us who seek to teach them.

I know this is true with UWP. Susan and I are so overwhelmed we rarely have time to talk to each other. Yet when we come together, Susan and our students and Pat and I, at national meetings, the community of learners coalesces instantly. We feel as though we know each other, and are soon sharing as though we've been having face-to-face interactions all along. I know that Susan is setting up appointments with lots of her 140 students, and I'll bet she doesn't even have any genuine field mice. Now, try to imagine my office with appointments set up with each of you! Try to imagine me finding an appointment book, and actually being able to put my hands on it when needed! Try to imagine my office with one person in it with me! I would have interpreted that as meaning that we were experiencing greater anarchy and stsess than UWP. But that's just because I only have our perspective. Trying to imagine Susan's perspective could make me crazy.

And there's absolutely no point to my saying, "Susan, throw away the appointment book and just play with them." This isn't about the routines we set up. It's about something deeply embedded in the writing and the reading of our courses, and they are part of an integral aesthetic process that none of us has yet had time to write into a BOOK. The similarities of our results, over the years, despite the distances, and the lack of closely shared time would seem to indicate that there is in fact A PRACTICE, an aesthetic process, that produces these results.

I like S's suggestion: A BOOK ON THE PRACTICE. Last Fall we wrote fiction, and shared it. This Fall we're writing fiction and poetry again. And we've shared all this on the site. I don't know exactly how to share the dance and the music yet, but I've got a camcorder ready to try, and a tech that will teach me how. And the answer is that I won't write the BOOK. Neither will Susan. We can hardly find time to talk to each other. But the BOOK as product of our aesthetic process makes sense. My goodness, S, whom we don't even know, was the catalyst for the book to happen. And S wasn't here face-to-face as part of our community of learning. Now that suggests that our virtual community has substance. Theory is meant to create what I think Steve Riskin calls memory spaces that remain empty, but are within our reach when our creativie productions have need of them. I think what Steve means is that the fractal bits of learning that surround us come together in that vacant memory space provided for what is different from all that was before and from what we made it up of. The concept of the BOOK OF PRACTICE would seem to come right out of one of Steve's memory spaces: a whole new way of exploring learning that we could not have discovered in the geography of traditional learning space.

I haven't got that far yet in understanding Bakhtin's answerability, but I'll bet that Bakhtin would agree that as one truly develops a social community of learners that a BOOK ON THE PRACTICE (or more accurately an understanding of the process which someone could then write to guide those who could reach the crucial memory space) would grow naturally out of the aesthetic process itself. So for the first time in a long time, I've stopped worrying about being sure that everyone knows what we're doing, being sure that the site is as perfect as I can make it, being sure that everything we do encompasses normative expectations of traditional practice as well as the aesthetic process of learning.

I don't give a damn about normative expectations and traditional practice. In case no one has noticed they cost more than we can afford, and they don't educate the population. I care about the aesthetic process of learning and forming and maintaining learning communities. And we are doing that. And the book on that is OUR book and it will grow at its own pace in its own way, out of our fractal experiences, without my worrying about it. And as it grows it will bring those who did not understand before because they were blinded by normative expectations of the normative, which is ordinary by definition, along with it into a welcoming world of answerability. And the aesthetic sphere, because it cannot be corrupted by the power of economics or force will ultimately civilize or aestheticize us back into caring, loving humans who can share their lives with this Earth.

Now I have to go off and prepare guidelines for doing all those exciting things we'll do as part of the rest of this semester's aesthetic processes. I have to do that because when we first step out into that empty memory space with all these fractal bits around us, we need a little help to orient ourselves, and students prefer to have handrails in case one of us slips and falls on first try. So do I. jeanne

* * * * *

There are references sprinkled throughout here to Bakhtin (through Greg Nielsen), Habermas, Steve Riskin, Weber, Durkheim, and Marx. Most of my students, if not guilty of extravagant field mousery, should be able to figure out references. But I'll get back to the file soon and put up references. After the Fall exhibition for December 3 and 4, 2003, is set. jeanne