Fly on the Wall—Springing Forth: AU Studies as Cosmic Renewal

Fly on the Wall—Springing Forth: AU Studies as Cosmic Renewal

Nudge nudge…poke! Spring peaks its snout out from between piles of snow that can only dream of a future as glaciers.  Wherever we came from, and wherever we go, it helps to take a look at the big wide picture.  Thousands of years ago an endless winter covered almost every available patch of land across our Great White North; nowadays, we are annually spared this fate.  At the cosmic level the planet’s either in a glaciation or out of one; the years bunch together like snowflakes or thistle seeds.  Deep time, like those endless stretches of space that make up our solitary individualized studies, seems almost timeless (Cowan, online) Yet, spring reminds us to be present as we grow ourselves anew; a thaw of the ground implies a thaw in our brain.

With meandering hints seasonal warming provides us with potential for resurgent joy in our AU studies.  Being able to sit outside for a study break as temperatures climb gives us a chance to pause in reverence rather than keep moving forward to ward off the cold.  Ironically, the motion of molecules that makes us warm gives us the ability to slow down.  But we don’t only change our physical motion in spring; our minds are altered as well.  Warmth stimulates the growth not only of new thoughts but of their loam grown deep in the buried recesses of our existence.  A mosey down memory lane is just the ticket to an afternoon of fancy.  What are our memories anyway besides concentric circles of seasonal change, like how snowflakes interchange with sunbeams in an endless looping cycle of personal meteorology? Dates on the calendar recur every year and each moment is at once new and old.

To The Microfiche! To Date Oneself is to Make the Past Present

Memories are certainly not an encyclopedia.  As soon as we pull a moment down from its dusty mental shelf, that moment we reached for has already been altered.  Memories are created out of the raw material of experience that was always a second behind reality; it’s like an airplane passing and hearing its engines roar a moment later.  The fact that memories are creations, discursive products, has been the soup-de-jour, or soupe-du-printemps if you will, of philosophy since time immemorial.

In Ancient Greece it’s well known that learning itself was thought of as a form of remembering; those ‘aha’ moments are, or were, or shall always be, simply acts of recall outside of temporality.  Our eternal natures were once taken for granted.  The desire to learn certainly kindles something larger than a mere desire for a diploma.

Memories are timeless precisely because they are remembered outside of the time from which they originally occurred.  We draw them into our present, but they remain formative sketches with our imagination filling details into blurry spaces.  Our discourse and definitions make memories how they are; we add ourselves in the present to make our past reality complete.  No wonder a course can seem more interesting in hindsight, or the past rosier than it was.  Plato said that to understand our life as a whole invariably changes what we thought we were investigating: “it is necessary that the entirety of disseminated being shatter apart, as soon as it is grasped by discursive thought” (Plato in Badiou, 37).   Our present self must contend with all our reality—not merely a general outline; spring, then, is not a recurrence or renewal but an arising.

To Think is to Map

How we think about the past frames the portraitures we recollect; spring reminds us of returns but also of true newness.  Where we’re going at AU isn’t just to the next course or year, but to a place we can’t anticipate fully in advance.  The calendar, like our transcript, embodies a pale imitation of the transformation distance education provides.  It’s not a straight and narrow path, not one held together by the stability of a map.  Memories show this; often what we’ve forgotten is with us in a way that our simple explanations cannot account for.

There are few straight lines in nature and the road to remembering is laced with belief systems. As geometry frames an artist’s depiction of a face so do our ideologies frame the essential muchness of our lived reality.  The composer John Cage famously put it, “as soon as the music leaves your head it’s already compromised”.  As soon as we think back, either imagining ourselves as archetype for Humanity writ large or as teensy representative snails leaving trails upon the great sandy plains of time, we are inevitably placing ourselves onto a surface of interpretation.

If we want to be cartographers of our past, pristine presenters of our historical ascendancy to distance education excellence, well, forget it.  The best we can hope for is to uncover the ways and means we’ve come to imagine our past in certain ways.  But there’s joy in them thar hills because journeys through our personal archive are replete with opportunities for new breakthroughs in self-understanding.

Wherever there’s self-knowledge there’s potential for growth.  As we move forward in our studies the key is to remember that we aren’t who we were before.  So whatever we recall is laced with the intrigues of our present versions of self.

Glaciers hint at their arrival in every remaining patch of snow and gulch of shadowy cold, but, in our present epoch, we know the snow will retreat and then vanish like a wraith.  If distance studies seem like a slow slog, spring can remind us that great leaps forward are in our future.  This fact our past attests to unconditionally: the future kept coming.  As frost retreats the earth is revealed and, in glorious metaphoric fashion, so is the reality of our life.  Our prospects for a sunny future can shine through too.

Cowan, E.  (2016).  ‘Alaskan Glaciers Tell a Story of Deep Time’.  SciWorks Radio.  Retrieved from
Plato in Badiou, A.  (2019).  Being and Event.  New York: Bloomsbury Academic