06 April 2009

Dancing at the edge of the world

Copied (with apologies for the "Growlery green"), because I would like to have said it myself, from the photo.net thread which I mentioned yesterday:

I find it interesting that so many adults are so uncomfortable playing with conceptual ideas.

You can ask a group of kindergarteners to think about almost anything -- say for example, "Are you a snail or a kangaroo?" and they'll have a field day "trying on" the two sides of the question and thinking about which one they are more like; in what ways and why -- and, I think -- learning from this imaginary exercise.

What you will almost never find is any one of the children saying, "I'm a human being. Therefore, I am neither a snail nor a kangaroo."

Correct. But that wasn't the point.[1]

Long, long ago, I had a conversation with Ray Girvan about how frightened most people are of looking at themselves, their motivations, their natures, their place in their world, their mechanisms. I use the word "frightened" deliberately: fear, I think, is behind the reluctance to play with conceptual ideas. If we admit the existence of conceptual ideas other than the one we're comfortable with, to which we have nailed our lives, where will it end – and how will we get back?

I find this the most difficult part of teaching philosophy to students ... by late adolescence, so many of them have already discovered who they choose to be, and learned the fear of playing "what if?"

It's great, this feeling of being secure,
But I always thought there'd be more
... ... ...
Sometimes I'll slip away
I'll pretend that it all
Can go another way
... ... ...
I'll pretend life and dream that I
Can save the day.[2]

Artists (writers of popular song lyrics included), I think, are the "jesters" which society tolerates because most people want someone else to take the risks of conceptual play on their behalf. Only to a certain extent, of course: Picasso went further than most people really want their surrogate play to venture.

  1. Julie Heyward, Are you pursuing answers or establishing questions? Apr 06, 2009; 04:15

  2. Melanie Safka, "Save the night" on Please love me. 1973 [lyrics ©1971], New York: Buddah. BDS5132/2318090

  3. Post title ripped off from Ursula K Le Guin, Dancing at the edge of the world : thoughts on words, women, places. 1989, New York: Grove Press. 080211105X