I like to think that at AU we learn critical thinking such that almost anything may be seen in a new light; our engrained presuppositions about other people and our traditional interpretations about thingsbecome questionable. This ability to find new; or, what Gilles Deleuze referred to as minoritarian viewpoints is a sublime aspect of being a university student. He wrote that this process of thinking “can be thought of as seeds, as crystals of becoming whose value is to trigger uncontrollable movements and deterritorializations of the mean or majority” (Deleuze, online). The latter refers to domains of power that underlay our expectations. As a thought experiment, this process of actively seeking new meanings and understandings has value for our creative minds.
A process of engagement and questioning is at the core of what used to be termed higher learning. As University students at AU we aren’t just memorizing facts and figures. We are learning to hone our thinking skills. The Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, envisions this craft as “retooling the mind” in such a way that we excavate down to the core of our beliefs and then reconsider in a light of doubt (Taylor, online). This allows us to embrace contact with others on terms of creative inquiry rather than pedantic argument. He states that “when you get to somebody thinking beyond the obvious, at first You’re baffled by what they’re saying-they seem to be speaking nonsense: “two and two is five!” (Taylor, online). Most everything bears at least a scintilla of alternative interpretation.
I think here of the epic (and elegantly short) 1938 poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams:
“so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Assessing this poem, the consensus probably would be that the wheelbarrow is important because it allows work to get done. As a rural AU student there’s certainly much to relate to. My yard has chickens (including a white hen named Snowball and a white rooster named Fang), a red wheelbarrow (aged and rusting, maybe even dating back to nearly 1938!), and stormy monsoon conditions on this 5th day of May, 2017. Even so, my AU spidey-senses suspect that something else is going on in this poem. My teenage self was just pleased with its brevity but my adult education mind is cultured in curiosity thanks to AU.
What of the line so much depends? The term much implies an abiding abundance and something beyond just the physical. Enjoyable ineffability seems the essence of much. I think of cascading raindrops that blurs the blossoms and flowers in one’s vision. Contrast that with many, such as if the line had been written “so many depend” which creates a very literal interpretation. Somehow the words much and many have different worlds and the two don’t quite overlap
Richard Odenberg draws parallels between Williams? use of much and Martin Heidegger’s conception of being-in-the-world (Dasein). Odenberg suggests that:
“‘So much’ does not refer to a collection of entities and ‘depends upon’ does not refer to a causal or logical relation. We already know ? we know with a pre-philosophic understanding that is ours because we ourselves are the very sorts of beings who might utter the words ’so much depends upon?’ ? we already know what this line refers to…There is a human being, somehow, in this poem.”
In this sense “The Red Wheelbarrow” is about emotions, about feeling, about something ontologically distinct about being as a human. (Ontology is the science of being; “ontology is a particular theory about the nature of being” (Merriam-Webster online))
We humans as beings, rather than engaging in many individual relations that add up to many, have in fact a certain intangible muchness about us. This seems odd to our traditional ways of thinking. A quick read of the poem, like a casual repetition of expectations about a person, might not yield a different interpretive approach. However, our hermeneutics, “the study of the methodological principles of interpretation” can, like Deleuze, begin by questioning what it is the majority takes for granted (Merriam Webster, online). As distance students immersed in society rather than a brick and mortar campus, we invariably encounter the realities of commonly-held beliefs. Yet thanks to our education we’re empowered to dig through the rut of expectations.
If, instead of so much, Williams had used the term so many, he would have chosen to directly reveal a greater range of truths lurking in the barnyard. As a poet in the Great Depression Williams could easily have said “so many depend” and made perfect sense. We, the audience, fill in our expectations of the reality of rural life when we think of the necessity of the wheelbarrow; we don’t necessarily focus on the transcendental beauty of the glaze of rainwater on its surface. Yet although the wheelbarrow is certainly a tool for technical means (many) it also may imply the whimsical dispensation of rides for children or puppies (much). It’s presentation in the poem certainly isn’t from the point of view of farm worker; Williams is a poet giving a poetic view on the world he sees. He might worry about what happens if the wheelbarrow springs a flat tire but his language is one of artful appreciation and not engineering detail. In this sense, the education provides much that mundane life may lack; no matter how many great things and people were in our life before we may have felt something missing, something hard to quantify. We may have had many good things and lacked the much of further studies.
Hermeneutic. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hermeneuticJun, N. & Smith, D. (2011). Deleuze and Ethics. Edinburgh University Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=OdBvAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA193Ontology. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ontologyOxenberg, R. (2001). Heidegger, Metaphysics and Wheelbarrows. Philosophy Now, Issue 119. Retrieved from https://philosophynow.org/issues/32/Heidegger_Metaphysics_and_WheelbarrowsTaylor, C. (2017). Interview: Chris Bloor. Philosophy Now, Issue 119. Retrieved from https://philosophynow.org/issues/74/Charles_TaylorWilliam, W.C. (1938). ?The Red Wheelbarrow?. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/45502
Jason Hazel-rah Sullivan is a Masters of Integrated Studies student who loves engaging in discourse while working in the sunny orchards and forests of the Okanagan.