Fly on the Wall—To Dream, To Grow

AU as the Realization of an Ennobling Dream of Growth

In some sense, all that goes into making us who we are at the academic level cay be summed up in the immortal lyrics of the REM song “Losing My Religion”: “that was just a dream” they sang (REM, online).  And what a wonderful dream it is; AU sets us off on a previously unimaginable journey.  Dreams have real consequences and once we’ve learned, say, to apply our sociological imagination, there is no going back to an embodiment of our previous selves.  In this way, the study of dreams contains a certain “oneiric extravagance” that suggests a stark boundary between mindful awakening and lucid dreaminess (Foucault, 584).  After all, we are often in more than one place at once or, to use a somewhat vulgar term: not all there.  Knowing this, we can temper our critiques of others for what they appear to be doing or not doing.  The inner world of the mind is richer beyond the aesthetics of a superficial imagination.  And besides, superficial people yield superficial results.

Moments that transcend their ostensible meaning, such as being in a lineup at the town dump or lost in consideration while hunched over one’s course material, attain new creative possibilities.  They do so precisely when the soft boundaries of consciousness allow new thoughts to emerge.  Rumination is not only for cows and other ruminant beasts who chew their cud that it may be better digested.  No matter the tasks we undertake, there is often room for the acquisition of a few new ideas that we can apply to our studies.  I carry a notebook all the time for this reason; it also works to send yourself a text message.  Like messages in a bottle, or treasure buried in the backyard, we never know where a new theme or inspiration may bubble to the surface of our conscious mind.

Foucault took issue to some extent with Descartes precisely because of the latter’s assumptions that a certain truth may be fastened to the face of one’s conscious awareness.  In fact, there are many truths in every given mental instance and to be thinking while acting is to be, inherently, a multitasker.  Yet philosophy, says Foucault, tends to hide a deeper assumption: that one can step outside the matrix of reality to draw certain conclusions about existence itself.   But how do we step outside ourselves to know our self?  Philosophy often seeks to tie together “knowledge that can be derived from the senses” such that an emergent order can be ascertained (Foucault, 585).  Foucault says that “no sentence in the text can be detached with impunity from the moment at which it is placed” (Foucault, 586).  A line of trucks waiting to be parted from their loads of refuse can no more be summed up as a group of bored adults than can each of their unique and solitary ponderings be summarized as mere daydreamy dalliances.

Descartes had excluded madness from a possible serious objection to whether he was really there, thinking his thoughts, at all.  Foucault takes this as a sign of reverence for a skeptical reader, who perhaps looks a tad askance at philosophical considerations to begin with.  This finds parallel in how peers might cast a suspicious eye on our hours of AU study and suspect we are somehow merely wasting our lives away.  Descartes seems to assume that a certain order exists in the universe, from which madness deviates as an unusual aside rather than a natural aspect of our multiplicitous selves cohabitating within our creative minds.

Foucault summarizes: to Descartes “madness appears in all its impossibility for the subject who is meditating; it appears from within the element of constituted knowledge like a process that can happen to the brains of others, according to mechanisms that are already known…At the moment at which the risk of the mad philosopher is rejected—both to mask and justify this refusal—what appears is madness as mechanism, madness as disease.  An anticipated fragment of knowledge comes to take the place of the rejected test” (Foucault, 589).  Desiring a truthful certainty, Descartes discounts that which will waver and lack certitude.  Yet, we humans do tend to daydream, and that can be a creative part of our academic process.

beAUtiful Diversities of Learning

One lesson that applies to our time at AU is humility in the face of diversity.  Many different approaches to psychology go into even the shortest textbook; in every discipline of study there are abundant approaches to both theory and practice.  As such, even though it might at first seem a bit crazy to be sitting in your vehicle waiting at the dump with the windows up, this is exactly how we at AU appear as we study indoors on a sunny afternoon.  Sheer madness?  Nope, it’s an opportunity for productive pondering.  Descartes doesn’t want to “suppose that he is mad” because if he admits that possibility he will cast a shadow over his own certainty: that he is indeed a reasonable thinking person (Foucault, 584).  Yet, if we substitute the somewhat distasteful term ‘madness’ for a kinder word such as ‘creative’ we can see that our minds are always in multiple places at once.  While waiting in the lemon of the lineup of life we can conjure imaginative lemonade from the moment.

Whenever there’s a pause or a space, the waters of thought rush in and AU certainly provides rich and fertile material for us to ponder.  I should know, as Fly on the Wall I’ve been in that dump lineup many times and taken many AU courses! Foucault concludes that the assumption that mad people are feckless and naive needs to be turned right around.  In fact, we must question the assumption that we can look at ourselves in a given moment and easily pigeonhole our thoughts and actions.  Foucault states that “the Cartesian discourse remains closed to any event that would be outside the great interiority of philosophy.  And, as the messenger of this insolent event, he imagined a naive fellow with his stupid objections, coming to knock on the door of philosophical discourse and being thrown out without having been able to come in.  It is indeed in such a manner, in the form of a naive interlocutor, that philosophy represented to itself all that which was external to it.  But where is the true naivety?” (Foucault, 590).  No matter our level of education, we judge others at our peril for the very core of our studies might seem a little bit nuts to others.

As when others judge our studies through the lens of their own, often unpleasant, memories of their experiences of education, we can use our unique experience as adult students to gain humility and grant understanding to others who at first glance may seem somewhat incomprehensible.  Who hasn’t enjoyed a daydreamy dalliance while doing chores on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon?  Some things, like the Cartesian epiphany that we are each unquestionably a thinking being, and perhaps one that contains many versions within us each suited to particular moments or applications (like Apps!), really are universal.  Yet the real madness would be to expect total consistency within ourselves, such that we somehow transcend variant times and places.  Change and growth is what makes our AU time so golden and that’s reflected in how we evolve within the seasons of life itself.

Berry, B.  Stipe, M.  Mills, M.  Buck, P..  (1991).  ‘Losing My Religion’.  Out of Time.  Retrieved from
Foucault, M.  (1972).  ‘Reply to Derrida’.  In History of Madness.  New York: Routledge.
‘Oneiric’. (2019).  Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved from
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