This is Still Not a COVID Article–Part 2

Facts of The Matter in the Representation of Culture

What matters most and how do we represent it?  Not COVID; COVID doesn’t matter most, not in our sense of ourselves as AU students.  We are bigger than our times.  The tragedy of propaganda, whether true or false, as George Orwell reminded his readers, is that propaganda reduces our minds as it claims to represent our ideas: “I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book 1984 is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive.  I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere” (Orwell, 262).

As therapists used to remind me and others during, er, more dogmatic days of yore: it’s better to be happy than to be right.  And the rightness of some aspects of reality, as represented by the powers that be, can always be augmented by the discovery of slints and chinks and cracks in the edifice of so-called truth.  Truth congeals as it represents; the whole truth would leave a hole where unpopular opinions were denied a voice.  Remember, we only live in enlightened times to the extent that we tolerate the abhorrent.

Without patience towards the wrong-headed or the asinine, ideas become living caricatures, life as a caricature, a farce most fun with a fresh food truck hot dog draped in wet onions and sexy sauerkraut.  At best representation, even the best and most beloved, equates to a well-intentioned lie.  And, anyway, no one knows where history will go (think here of how it often takes a half century or more for the government to apologize about Residential Schools or Japanese internment camps in beautiful podunk towns like Salmo, BC).  We never know what ideas are coming next and whose reality will prevail as right or just or true; all we can be sure of, as students, is that the reality we’re being fed is, in part, a mere pablum of our particular epoch.

And Now For A Couple of Cogent Examples.

We don’t know how lucky we are, at some level, being the first among equals as distance students.  Try carrying a pencil behind your ear and a stethoscope around your neck; take a selfie and thank the real heroes.  We represent ourselves to others in whatever manner aids and abets our sense of reality.

Ceci n’est pas un pipe was the caption Rene Magritte used for his painting of what looks like a simple tobacco pipe (Magritte in Pound, online).  Representation is a challenge to the viewer, if s/he uses her interrogative faculties.  To feel represented as our authentic selves, a task we must do if we are to believe in our education during a time when we fear for the sickness of our elders, we are all held in quivering anticipation.  Like a grouse about to be shot.  And so it was put to me, be my high school art teacher who was patient with my utter indolence and pothead preposterousness, to consider Marcel Duchamps classic urinal painting.  R. Mutt, was how he signed it (Duchamp, online).

So who now are the dogs of war and more importantly who are we really trying to butterfly as we please to succeed at AU.  It’s about you.  We all, we online students who are a great vanguard of a generation of youngsters who will have known so much of their pedagogy online and so much of their scholastic sense within the imperious lockdown of plague-like conditions, will be the leaders we want to see in the world.  Well, it’s up to us.

Not to Be a Dilettante, But…

What do we say when we represent something with words?  What is it to re-create reality as though it always-already happened?  Here even your humble Fly on the Wall struggles to convey what he means when he says what he says.  It seems as though a moment ago, December of 2003, I began my first AU course.  It was the basic English course 250 and I sat in front of the fireplace in my picker’s cabin home and read the crap out of it.  But now I wonder, is representation the same as reality and are we living in a fake world that would make those stupid pill binaries in The Matrix cringe?

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave illustrates the idea of pain and joy as illusory, but don’t we all know that?  Plato believed that all of life was about being chained in front of a screen while comparing interpretations of the representations on offer.  In other words: social media.  So, what alternative?  Maybe ham-fisting a keyboard allows us each to express ourselves as needed.  As a kid I didn’t have a guitar but I wore my fingers and fingernails sore strumming a tennis racket.  Maybe it’s all a racket, this alarming thing, maybe we each of us are wasting our time if we don’t apply ourselves directly to something that makes moolah or pipelines.  On the other hand, I recall Herr Heidegger who noted, “’Wood’ is an old name for forest.  In the wood are paths that mostly wind along until they end quite suddenly in an impenetrable thicket.  They are called ‘woodpaths.’  Each goes its peculiar way, but in the same forest.  Yet it only seems so.  Woodcutters and foresters are familiar with these paths.  They know what it means to be on a woodpath.” (Heidegger, 34)

The twists and turns of life and education will for each of us one day cohere into an exploration diverging and cresting in ways we couldn’t have hitherto imagined.  It remains only for us to write and consider our own life narratives over and against the straight-and-narrow interpretations of reality as represented by the powers that be.  Maybe.  Or perhaps we will find ourselves on the trail of truth along with all the non-students out there; the magic is in the discovery and AU is inseparable from this delightful process.

References
Duchamps, M.  (1917/1964).  ‘Fountain’.  Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573
Heidegger, M.  (1993).  Basic Writings.  Toronto: Harper Perennial.
Orwell, G.  In Solnit, R.  (2021).  Orwell’s Roses.  New York: Viking
Magritte, R.  In Pound, C.  (2017).  ‘Magritte and the Subversive Power of His Pipe’.  Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20171205-magritte-and-the-subversive-power-of-his-pipe.
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