Like a kitty walking invisible circles before settling its paws down upon a pillow, we at AU have to situate ourselves not only in a comfortable study nook but in a good place psychologically. Material conditions and emotional ambiance are key to our success, but so too are the more ephemeral facts of our mental environment. Past school memories may have taken on a life of their own, a mythology of claustrophobia and anxiety worthy of a Kafka novel. To overcome the hegemony of this historical association of learning with suffering we ought to face it head on. Michel Foucault reminds us to not be surprised that memories of school days may evoke hallways of tears: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?”
Past pains are at the root of our learned distrust of educational institutions. After the family unit, school is the next place that we learn that others command power over us. Naturally this has consequences for our sense of lived enjoyment and its repression. So, for us to reclaim our glee in the face of a faceless institution, we must reformulate our past experiences of education. Moving forward, let’s write our own mythologies of success and with happier endings. At AU, we can embody the best version of ourselves imaginable; true mythologies of our student selves who thrive while learning in a liberating environment. Like the superheroes we are, success at AU happens on our terms and without dress codes, snarky instructors, or belligerent bullies.
Rootless Learning, the Meaning Behind the Myth
We enjoy learning or we’d not be at AU, but what if the essential process of learning has no root or origin? School is so much more than the buildings where we were taught. Likewise, there’s a mythology surrounding self-hood and its emergence along with language acquisition; both seem to be part of an educational process. Yet the mists of time blur and obscure the difference between learning naturally and being educated.
Physical context falls away and we left with the pure mythology of learning and education. The latter may strike an ominous chord in our hearts because of its association with institutions. However, Jacques Derrida notes that the search for any original meaning is more about methodology than the reality of meaning itself. Derrida writes “There is no unity or absolute source of the myth. The focus or the sources of the myth are always shadows and virtualities which are elusive, unactualizable, and nonexistent in the first place … The discourse on this acentric structure, the myth, that is, cannot itself have an absolute subject or an absolute center. In order not to short change the form and the movement of the myth, that violence which consists in centering a language which is describing an acentric structure must be avoided … In opposition to epistémicdiscourse, structural discourse on myths—mythological discourse—must itself be mythomorphic.” Or in other words, the mythology, good or evil, associated with education is innately labile.
To understand myths that may suppress our abilities is simultaneously to harness and enable new and more empowering storylines. To pin down the origins of our uneasiness with schooling is less important than realizing the creative prowess we possess in forming new mythologies. However our past schooling formed us, it’s now up to us to imagine a vista where we thrive as distance students. From the outset it helps to recall that school didn’t universally suck, like some soul-destroying black hole, any more than AU will automatically provide a panacea to all our mental or intellectual shortcomings. Plurality is the stuff of myth just as it is the truth of our selves; we and our learning are each not one but many. This is especially true where mythologies converge.
Clause Levi-Strauss: The Unstructured Structure of Mythology
Our core beliefs about learning function as mythologies in our own lives. The structuralist-anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss had to admit that in the nebulous realm of mythology, the assumption that truth is discoverable can itself be an impediment to understanding mythology.
Levi-Strauss writes: “In effect the study of myths poses a methodological problem by the fact that it cannot conform to the Cartesian principle of dividing the difficulty into as many parts as are necessary to resolve. There exists no veritable end or term to mythical analysis, no secret unity which could be grasped at the end of the work of decomposition. The themes duplicate themselves to infinity. When we think we have disentangled them from each other and can hold them separate, it is only to realize that they are joining together again, in response to the attraction of unforeseen affinities. In consequence, the unity of the myth is only tendential and projective; it never reflects a state or a moment of the myth” (Levi-Strauss, 1964)
Clearly, to comprehend a myth one must use a myth; it takes one to know one. Our education is not a dull pain or sorrow but a storybook open to interpretation as we grow. This is especially true for us at AU who are forging our identities anew. If we think of our journey as a fable that’s probably more realistic than thinking of it strictly in terms of a list of study times, quizzes, tutor phone calls and exam invigilations. We are not machines ready to be uploaded with data; we are poetic, striving beings and AU allows us to foment and elucidate our greatest academic superpowers. What school was to us in the past can morph into a new mythology replete with more positive experiences.
To understand and embody the myths that we are, and specifically the studious characterizations that create our successful AU selves, is to realize that behind the curtain of myth is not truth but the creative faculty from which truth emanates. Beneath every well are countless wellsprings that link waters across the landscape. Learning, after all, includes learning how to access the eternal wellspring of our desire for knowledge. AU provides an academic path to the mythic fountain of mental youth.