A.K. Reader: “This Piece Began . . .” (1972)

In 1972-73 I was hired as a “professor” in the then fledgling year-old New College of California, located at that time, in Sausalito. (It moved to San Francisco the following year, and finally closed, after a tumultuous 37 years, in 2008.)  Its founder, charismatic Jesuit John Leary, was later outed as a pedophile. When googling this fact, I came upon a post in which there is a section about me, and it quotes both me and Bob Raines, then my lover and co-teacher.

The Double Life of John Leary

Both of us were finally fired. It’s obvious why! We were asking fundamental questions, like are we a college or are we a community? And if we are a community, then why are some of us getting paid and some paying?

The following piece was published in The Nutria, a weekly in-house New College rag that Raines and I started to get our students writing (for without grades, what would be the goad?). Our editorial philosophy was, “We print whatever we get. No edits.” From my editorial in the third issue:

The Nutria stated explicitly (Vol 1, no. 2) that its editorial policy is fast and loose, no holds barred. So naturally, the Nutria tends to be crammed full of stuff which is “in poor taste” or “of poor literary quality,” and which, therefore, nobody ever reads. (This isn’t true, of course. At least some of us read at least some of the Nutria at least some of the time.)

We wondered if, over time, the students would critique each others’ work, and if, then The Nutria would gradually improve. It did.

You might notice a chip on my shoulder in the following piece. No wonder. I was the only female (and Sagittarian) teacher in a Scorpio school full of Scorpio faculty, including both Leary and Raines.  

That year also happened to coincide with my first Saturn Return, at 30. I was arrogant, and needed a fall, big time, in order to start over again.

THIS PIECE BEGAN

The Nutria, Vol One, #2

This piece began as a set of frivolous notes to myself, but didn’t end up that way. I talk here, about “learning,” specifically about how learn.

One of my biases is that an idea can best be understood through an historical understanding of how it came to be. Since this view of learning is a personal one, I give here its personal origins. (The mathematical treatment of this presentation is sheer pretension. As pretentious as was my mentor’s, Wittenstein, in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.)

1.  I was born a Roman Catholic

2.  I grew up a fanatic Roman Catholic.

2.1  Only God was real.

2.2  That God was outside me.

2.3  The way to my God lay in strict obedience to the Ten Commandments.

3.  At the age of 24, I lost my “faith.”

4.  I turned to the faith of “reason,” instead.

4.1  My God was now “truth,” Absolute Truth ((Certainty))

4.2  This God was also Outside me.

4.3  And the Way to this God of Truth lay in strict obedience to the canons of scientific methodology, i.e., clarity; discrimination; analysis; inference, both deductive and inductive; argument, as the synthesis of all the above. ((Argument: “logical,” i.e., “correct,” i.e., “good,” i.e., “sane,” i.e., HUMAN behavior.))

4.3.1  “Methodology, “within the philosophical tradition, is equated with “learning.”

4.3.2  “Learning,” within this same tradition, means “progress in knowledge.”

4.3.3  And “progress in knowledge” means “closer and closer approximation to the “truth,” Absolute Truth. ((Certainty.))

4.3.3.1  Most philosophers nowadays, believe in the God of Truth, but few of them anymore believe that we can talk about this god, absolutely. Instead, they cop out, and talk about “probability of truth,” “statistical truth,” and so on.

5.  I asked, with Hume, only several years ago: how will I know that I know the Truth, even if I do find it?

6.  I discovered, to my surprise, that Hume was right: that not only did I not know the answer to this question, but that knowing the answer was “logically impossible” anyway. That therefore, “truth,” was, intellectually, an impossible goal.

7.  I became, therefore, a “skeptic.”

7.1  (Skepticism is, it has always been, a radical therefore esoteric and forbidden doctrine within traditional philosophy. But my teacher was a skeptic, and I identified with my teacher. Therefore, at one level, the intellectual level, I was actually proud to be a skeptic.)

8.  But even though Absolute Truth was theoretically impossible for me, it was, nonetheless, emotionally necessary: I needed to know the Truth, i.e., I needed intellectual certainty, i.e., I needed emotional security. — Without it, I would die.

9.  I became, therefore, a “cynic,” as well as a “skeptic.”

9.1  [Cynicism and Idealism, as intellectual concepts, are polarities, i.e., “opposites” of one another. As with all intellectual opposites, they are also emotional contradictions, and as such, they create one another, they require one another in order to exist: they, therefore, paralyze. Both are goal-oriented; each of them is a different response to goal-orientation. Young idealists turn into old cynics. Cynicism is merely disillusioned idealism, or: cynicism is the attitude that results from the ascription of a negative value to the same pattern to which an idealist will ascribe a positive value.]

10. For several years, this contradiction within my (intellectual) mind, within my (emotional) body, this contradiction between my mind and my body — this contradiction which repressed my body and thereby guaranteed that onlymy mind was me — this contradiction was not recognized on a conscious level, but it had its effect nonetheless.

11.  Gradually, over a period of several months, my entire world began to disintegrate, its ground rotting out from under my feet.

12.  Soon, I was labeled “crazy.”

13.  This period lasted about five months. During it, what was Outside became what was Inside, and what was Inside was also Out. I, simply, couldn’t tell the difference anymore: I was the world; and the world was me. Was my world, mine, my dream of it.

This way of experiencing the world showed itself “symptomatically”:

13.1  I lost the power of semantically stable, coherent, i.e., rule-governed speech.

13.2  And the power of socially stable, predictable, i.e., role-governed behavior.

13.3  I heard voices.

13.4  I saw visions.

13.5  I left my body, many times.

13.6  I operated with “senses” other than those I was supposed to have.

13.7  I “knew,” often, what would happen before it did.

13.8  I “sensed” the presence of another person from any distance.

13.9  I found, time and time again, books opened to exactly the page I needed — often without knowing why I needed it, and often, even, without knowing what the words on it even meant.

  1. During this period, I was also “working,” only this time, not because somebody else told me to, or told me how to, but because unless I did it, I would die.

I was learning:

14.1  To dig for my intellectual assumptions.

14.2  To discover endless receding layers of them.

14.3  To see that and how my ideas paralleled my emotions, each of them, exactly.

14.4  To see that and how my ideas and my emotions formed a sort of unitary fabric, a psychic structure, or “space,” from within which my scientific methodology played with words as mere pawns in the grand game of debate.

  1. The function of this structure, I discovered, was to hide myself from myself; was to hide myself from others.

16.  (From another person’s point-of-view, I had lost my senses, I had lost my common-sense. From my own point-of-view, or rather, from a new “sense” of a small, chaotic and fragile trust in myself, in the process I was undergoing, — I “knew,” somehow, that I had become alienated from my common-sense in order to learn how to see that common-sense. (To learn how to see something as a whole, is to become progressively detached from it. One can’t see the Outside from the Inside.)

17.  I am not so “crazy” now, but I am still working!

18.  My work is to learn how both to see common-sense and how to live within it (when necessary), — simultaneously.

19. I have, now, a view of learning which is not that of “scientific methodology.”

((Thus, there is no way for me, to “objectively,” i.e., scientifically, “measure” learning — grades, credits, transcripts, courses, projects, field-trips, degrees, all of this, all of it, within my view of learning, offers nothing but “stability,” and should not then, be viewed as an index of achievement of any kind.))

20.  For this learning is not goal-oriented towards Truth or any other God.

21.  My truth, my god, are now inside me.

22.  Learning, real learning, is, for me, the continual recognition (and, as a natural, i.e., unforced, unplanned consequence of recognition, the continual stripping away) of pretension.

•  The pretension of my (false) “self.”

•  The pretension of my (rule-governed) “language.”

•   The pretension of my (role-governed) “behavior.”

23.  Most people fear losing any of these pretensions. They assume/feel that what I call pretension is “reality” — and that reality is as our society has declared itself to us to be: the reality of our common-sense. As I say, I want to learn how to see common-sense; for to see it, is to see through it, down to the place where we are all one: human community is not necessarily based on rules and roles. Indeed, it never is; it only pretends to be.

24.  Thus, for me, there is nothing to be gained by “learning,” nothing at all. No Truth, no Way towards it.

25.  Which is why, for me, there’s nothing to lose.

 

 

 

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