Odds & Ends

Odds & ends.

When I was growing up, in Hollywood, in the sixties, and as a young boy in the late fifties, it was a given that people came *to* Hollywood (and by extension, LA) and that it was a city of domestic immigrants. They came to be in ‘movies’. The general career arc was from aspiring young actress and actor, to second career that usually began around the age of thirty — maybe a bit more for the men. That second career for woman was (this became the joke) beauty school, massage school, or they got into real estate. For men it was move to places like Lake Havasu or often not even that far….just the further ends of the San Fernando Valley, to start up a small business in sporting goods (especially fishing equipment), or they would learn leather crafts and make wallets or bags or whatever. Then this arc changed. Today, the failed career in film moves on to either psychologist (therapist) or teacher. This is for both sexes, but mostly for women I think.

Now, this is all from a small anecdotal sample — but certainly there are a lot more therapists out there.

I think that the culture industry is either a very good training for therapy or a very bad one. I can’t quite decide.

This sort of leads me to my second topic, which is related to education and the arts. My feeling is that institutional learning in the US demands certain things of those who become teachers. The first is an acceptance of bureaucracy. The second is to accept that the prevailing view of education in the US is one that valorizes test taking skills, and research skills above things like creativity. The third thing is that standardized testing and course breakdowns are your tools — its a concrete organized world where knowledge can be measured.

Now, Kenneth Robinson is very good on this topic. While not a political visionary per se, he certainly understands much of what kills curiosity in the children in US schools. Of course it is more than what he speaks of… its largely what I posted about earlier…the vast post industrial capitalist landscape that is so linked to marketing. (And I would here note that if one hasn’t seen Adam Curtis’ documentary Century of the Self, you most assuredly should).
Back to teaching and what a teacher must accept. I find most teachers actually think this way to begin with, so its not a sacrifice. Why is that? Well, because underneath education in the US is a puritanical streak of anti-intellectualism. A distrust of theory. Herbert Blau mentioned this in his great book Blooded Thought. Speaking of young US directors and young European directors. He said none of the american directors knew any theory. All of the Europeans did. This is my experience too, if we are speaking of theatre. The US, in the arts and in education in general, are wildly anti-theory. Bunch of nonsense. I want to get things done. Im a doer. Etc. Its a deep distrust of theory, or philosophy and of those things that cannot be measured and hence not “tested” for. That is the particular thread I want to follow here. That knowledge is to be measured and hence intelligence quantified. This leads to the absurdities of IQ tests and aptitude tests and so on. How many teachers in the US really disapprove of intelligence testing I wonder? The curriculum as it stands in US high schools (and Jr. Highs) is one whose real message is partly hidden. The message is one in support of the status quo. It is by default pro-captialist, and it’s one which demands consent. Actually, it assumes consent is given. Because if its not given, there are plenty of new prisons being built. There is an acute discouragement of political thinking. This is basically the project of Paulo Freire — if you want to fight oppression, you must teach students to think outside the quantified test driven goal oriented concrete corporate model that in place in most western countries. However, my sense is that, like Buddhism, something is lost in Freire as he travels from Brazil to the US. I hope to dig into all this in many further postings. For now, today, I want to focus on certain trends in the US. This is a capitalist country, and Imperialist one, and teachers are very poorly paid. They often stumble into a career in teaching as a substitute for their first career choice. The same seems often to be true of therapy. I’m not sure, even, why I see these professions linked, but I do. Perhaps it has to do with what lies under both, and that is the default setting for the status quo. The system. Adjustment, and conformity. One can see in the last forty years, resistance has been neutralized through its incorporation ..albeit in domesticated form. The institution creates false conflicts…things like the so called ‘culture wars’. It promotes a form of multi culturalism that is really quite the opposite. The logic of the institution always leads back to control. Teachers that work within the institution are going to have to follow, conscious of it or not, the logic of control.Here is a little video with someone, no idea who, reading a text by Raoul Vanneigem:

Walter Benjamin wrote, often, of how interpretation led back to self reflection. He was fascinated with the traces of history embedded in the ruins of a landscape shaped by man. His famous phrase; “the false appearance of totality is extinguished”…when he spoke of allegory, and its capacity to “lend speech to things’. I bring up Benjamin because his method runs so counter to the world of today’s institutional thinking. Method is assumed to stand apart from the subjects and objects which it researches. I am sure there are many great teachers and programs out there, especially at the post graduate level, but I am more concerned with how in primary and high school the desire for and curiosity of these pursuits into aesthetics is killed off by a focus on specialist tools and method. The overriding principle in today’s educational system is one of distrust for the desire of the student. That which cannot be subdued, intellectually, is the cause of obsessive compulsive experience — a phenomenon that serves a therapeutic culture perfectly. The measuring and weighing of things eclipses the individuals pursuit of his own desire. Somehow in all this, change will happen only by jettisoning the reliance on standardized training and the rewarding of students who manage to shut out their individuality in the service of seeing only what is “useful” and deemed concrete and of value to business.

This sense of capitalist work, alienated labor, is really an important factor in how both education and “therapy” are practiced. I add scare quotes around *therapy* because I often wonder if I even know what it is, or how to define it. We are a therapeutic culture, though, that is certain. We are addicted to notions of happiness and self fulfillment. The predication of the subject in the post modern world is going to be a continuing topic in this journal.


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