Tuesday, January 22, 2008

82; Bennington

I wrote this a while ago. Last night I saw the movie 'Accepted' , which had been recommended to me, and enjoyed it. My thoughts concerning my school were as fuzzy as being smothered inside a pair of warm wool mittens. Yet, my thoughts on my alternative education are not always so rosy, as this article which I set aside show:

What on earth drove Aristotle? I mean, would you want to go to his school? The man wrote on everything, and lectured on everything. He's responsible for systematic logic, literary analysis, biology and genetics, and vast strides in philosophy, physics, and politics. Just counting his major works, that is. If you want to probe deeper he goes on to write on meteorology, economy, rhetoric, and on and on.

On the other hand you had Plato. He also wrote voluminously, is not as dry as Aristotle, but hides his philosophy in dialogues. Plato was rather exclusively writing on philosophy as well, although he occasionally went into politics and some natural science. I wonder to what extent his pupils had a hard time telling which ideas were the old man's and which were Socrates'.

Socrates was dead, after all, and only a few people wrote about him. Primarily there was Plato, secondarily there was Xenophon, and thirdly you had Aristophanes. Plato had an agenda, Xenophon was barely a historian by any account and also wrote in dialogues, and Aristophanes was one of the funniest people in antiquity, who wrote 'The Birds', 'The Frogs', 'Lysistrata', and 'The Clouds' which lampooned Socrates (amongst others).

Why didn't Aristophanes found a school? Plato's Gymnasium was very progressive, and liberal artsy, as was Aristotle's Lyceum. I'm sure if they were around today they would be very prestigious. The Lyceum might be like Bennington, and the Gymnasium something like Williams. As such I retract all of my previous critiques of Aristotle, and go home team.

I'd trade the broad-scope of the Lyceum for Aristophanes' school any day. Let's pretend he did found it, and named it something appropriate, like the Comedium. Wouldn't it be fun to go to a school whose focus wasn't philosophy, or liberal arts, or the good life, but comedy? The Comedium would have prestigious faculty, founded by a man whose writings would be just as revered as the Athenian pedagogues. The classes would be certainly surreal.

What would you major in at the Comedium? For that matter, what would be offered? Would there be Play writing, Acting, Clowning, and the like? Fruit-Remnant Physics? Advanced Fish Application Theory? Would they be more broad: Wit, Sarcasm, Irony, Puns?

Perhaps the classes would be broader still. You go to registration having no idea what you'll get. A haphazard selection lands you in a combination of courses half of which you have no knowledge of what they're about. You'd be concerned about your schedule's impact upon your major until you remember you don't have one, and you're a senior. Instead a bunch of jokers sat around and made fun of your aspirations years before, and you've been reeling ever since.

The courses are silly. They study the interplay between physics and Argentinian fiction; heartbeats and music. Anyone sitting in on the class would be prone to laugh, if not from the the material than from it's presentation and the odd conversations that arise from such lunacy. Except that the students and professor aren't laughing. They've each gone though intensive training at their respective initiations to put on perfectly dead-pan performances. For the students it was their first meetings with the jokers. For the faculty it was when they signed a contract agreeing to work for what must be, and commonly was, described as an utterly ridiculous administration.

The administration, after all, would have to be run by a nut. For there is a spark of insanity in all good comedy. Whoever ran the place would have to be wackier than everyone else. Their decisions and actions would be designed to utterly flabbergast those who come in contact with, or feel the brunt of, them. Those working under them would have to blend their lunacy with capability, although the two would be parcelled at random. Some students wishing to find help would later wish to tear out their hair, while others felt a warm fuzzy afterglow after meeting with administrators.

Financially the place would be precarious. There would have to be a calculated absurdity in their decisions. Lots of money would go to the random and meaningless, with enough going to the vitals just to keep them afloat. The whole institution would be lop-sided as a result. The students wouldn't find any of this funny, of course. After prolonged exposure to such humor they'd have become immune to it, and were merely practitioners of the craft. They would create the most fantastic and obviously ludicrous things, passing them off as serious and meaningful. Students would be like monks, so far into their world and craft that they didn't realize they were all just goofing around.

Could such a place exist in the real world? Would any faculty choose to teach there? What students would go to a school with such policies and actions?

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