Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Logic of Long Distance

Run a fast marathon. Write a dissertation. The two goals for the next year. I thought I'd track my own progress here for myself and for family and friends that want to follow along. We'll see how it goes.

I'm working now on the first chapter of the dissertation. The challenge is setting up the context for my ideas about the nature of experience, experimentalism, and a social view of education. The key figures in the dissertation will be William James and John Dewey, and their ideas will be supplemented by more contemporary folks like Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Michel Foucault, Cornell West, and Paulo Friere. The basic idea behind the dissertation is that if we properly understand the nature of experience, then we understand ourselves as educational beings. The task of building democracy means building institutions and ways of thinking that allow folks to take education into their own hands.

This is the meaning of autonomy--to be able to play a part in the making of one's self, to be able to control the relations, powers, and forces that create us as selves-within-communities. To be free is to educate; to be free is to be educated. The dissertation itself is an experiment in this way of thinking: I will be successful insofar as I construct a document that reflects what I've learned; and, on the other hand, I will be successful insofar as the making of the document teaches me something new. It's bringing these two sides of myself--the student and the teacher--together in some sort of productive relationship that is the real challenge. The strange thing about writing is that one never knows what one wants to say before it is said. The task of writing: to teach one's self what one does not know! A paradox for a thinking self, but not for an active self.

Or something like that.

On the running side of things something similar is going on. The life of a graduate student is necessarily sedentary--lots of books and computers. That's fine, but I've got this body that makes its own demands as well. I was really happy with the 2:38 marathon I ran this spring, and it's left me with some further questions about how fast I can go.

So, two projects. Two question marks that hang out in front of me. One is a question of body, the other a question of mind, but they will both be worked out the same way, according to the logic of long distance. One foot in front of the other, a little belief, working it out as I go.

William James puts it this way:
Sustaining, persevering, striving, paying with effort as we go, hanging on, and finally achieving our intention -- this is action, this is effectuation... Here is creation in its first intention, here is causality at work.


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