It Depends: Is Trying Good Enough?

Dear Tracy,

Aside from an independent reading course, I’m taking a few steps away from English seminars this term. I miss the discussions, but it must be good and healthy at this stage to be receptive to other models and zones of thought. My art history class is amazing, but it does generate its own lines of discourse and argumentation that knit my brows in a fancy knot at the end of each 3-hour session. It’s like learning a new language where you’ve been accidentally placed in an advanced class; you feel like everyone will know when you speak incorrectly, even if you’re not aware of doing so. My radical generalization from a dozen-person sample pool: art history discussions seem more aggressive than I recall literature ones being. Plus they constantly invoke artists who, for the most part, I’ve never heard of. It’s humbling.

Sometimes I mention film or photography. Sometimes I get to eagerly nod when someone refers to Fanon, Beauvoir, or Butler, but for the most part I’m pretty outside my comfort zone. The syllabus is broad and expansive — almost “hip,” if one could characterize a reading list as such — but it is nonetheless pointed and specific. Right now I’m basking in the wonderful philosophy and rhetoric of which the syllabus comprises, but it’s harder to talk about these readings intelligently in class — i.e. in relation to art or Art. At least I feel inadequate and foolish, and fall into making connections about the rhetorical similarities among the assigned readings because that’s the kind of close-reading I’m accustomed to.

There aren’t any real artworks or “texts” in the class. Just theory. Yet this decentering also forces me to open up my modes of thinking (and to be more rigorous and discerning in my comments — to veer away from the sometimes slippery and vague generalizations I fall into due to their intellectual loveliness or capaciousness). All of this is good. The professor is incredible. The students are so sharp and challenging. Perhaps I could reap compound interest if I just invest myself a bit more. Any learning works on a sliding scale.

Love,
Jane

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