A Jeanne Site
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 12, 2000
Faculty on the Site.
Sociologie, sociographie, Perec, et Passeron
Scroll about a third of the way down the file to the section called "Je me souviens" (I remember). Section goes down to a little more than the halfway mark.
Howard Becker's account of Perec's and Brainard's work brings up an essential piece of the theoretical conflict between quantitative and qualitative methods. Do we summarize and thus eliminate essential information that simply didn't seem important at the time, or do we report in "stream of consciousness" style that will provide at least some of all the information for future analysis? There is no answer. Archeologists deal continuously with bits and pieces of daily life rediscovered over long periods of time. And those bits and pieces tell us much of life we could not know in any other way. Histories, written and told, tell us different aspects of life that went before.
Does one source serve our knowledge better than the other? Perhaps one of the most useful legacies of the postmodern is that we no longer feel compelled to choose one over the other. Becker's analysis of Perec and Brainard helped me to see the extent to which even I cling to analysis. Something about Perec's "Je me souviens" feels right, but I'm uncomfortable with it. I understand what Brainard is doing better. He's telling his story. Perec is recording random bits and pieces, such as we might find in an archaeological dig. And he isn't stringing them together into a strand of pearls. He just places them there. Brainard strung his bits and pieces into a strand.
That's a lot like learning. I think that's why I'm uncomfortable with Perec. He's very close to the earliest strands of learning. It feels right, because it is learning. But the thought of trying to defend it as learning scares me. The academy will fuss. Oh, will they fuss!
Let me try to explain by analogy. Sometimes, when I'm talking to Pat, she just wanders off into a tale, meanders through some of the details, and then, says something like "Oh, well." Flustered, I sometimes ask: "How does that relate to whatever theory we were talking about?" "I don't know. I just remembered it, and I didn't want to forget to tell you."
Just now, as I read Becker's summary of Perec's Je me souviens, those scenes, and there have been many of them, flashed in my mind. There was no link to the train of thought, but something in her apperceptive mass triggered Pat's thought to "I remember . . ." And she needed to be sure that I knew whatever she remembered, but she hadn't linked it to the conversation, and she clearly didn't feel the need to. The memory was just there, like a small pebble picked up on a walk at the beach. And sharing the pebble was a gift.
I never thought of this as important before. It seemed an aberration. But I'm no longer sure it is. Could this not be related to what Jonathan Lear refers to as "archaic mind?" And how do I get from there to the importance of "je me souviens" in learning? These memories come from our experiences. Some, like ordinary pebbles, fascinate us only briefly. But some, like the ones that stop Pat in mid-sentence, could be the ones that lead us off in creative directions.
We have used this device without realizing it, in the comments we ask of our students. We even used it five or six years ago, before the Web, in sparking the 4000 papers we got in one semester. Many of those 4000 papers, and many of the comments our students send us are ordinary pebbles. They establish dialog, and keep us in touch. But in their midst occasionally is one that sparkles, and we take off onto a dialog that helps us all discover new ways to look at the world. The sparkle may not lie in the pebble itself, but in the random response it triggers when one of us answers it, and the responses to the response.
A random memory, perhaps unconnected, told in the context of recall . . . and we find ourselves on new paths. This is the stuff of which learning is made.