Life as an Extreme Sport


My star students have written dualing and completely opposing papers this week. I really want to set them in a room together and say “argue it out”, just to see what would come of it; however, I suspect one would be irritated with me for doing that, and the other…oh wait, already is irritated with me. Nevermind.

Still, it’s interesting to see two bright minds taking one story in completely different directions. Can we experience and interpret events of the past in the context of the past, or are we always stuck with our judgments of the present when looking past?

A Failure to Thrive

I ran into two former Hum 102 students today, one at lunch at the other on my way home from work. They both wanted to know if I’d be teaching with Phillip in the spring; I told them that, as far as I knew, I would be assisting with Phillip and Giorgia’s class. Both students lit up with huge smiles and told me that was just what they wanted to hear, and they were going to figure out how to get in my section for the class, because they really wanted to spend another quarter working with me.

I’ve been thinking about teaching again, these last two or three days. Tomorrow is my last small group of the quarter. I have one more focus group, one more presentation, one more movie, and then that’s it. It’ll just be papers and a grade and goodbye. It’s a weird time of the quarter to be in, when you’re busy thinking about next quarter and syllabi and aren’t here as much as you should be. I think part of that is just distancing yourself; you get invested in the class, and then it has to end, and it’s never fun to have something you’ve invested so much of yourself in just…dissipate.

I think, in retrospect, it’s why it tickles me so much to hear someone use an idea I taught months, a year, later. Because it tells me that my effort did something; the structure of the class might have dissipated, but there was a lasting impact, somewhere. Even if it’s just a small one.

I haven’t felt very successful as any sort of instructor this quarter. Really, when it comes down to it, I haven’t felt very successful much at all this quarter. To hear, from two separate people at two separate times, that they valued their time spent with me so much they wanted to do it again, was a quiet affirmation that although things might not have gone as well as I would have hoped this quarter, I am not a failure, and my efforts are both valued, and appreciated.

I’m reading Beloved. For the third time in a little over a year. Have pity on my soul. Actually, pity yours, because I’m sure I’ll come back here in a bit with a mouthful of things to say. And I promise they won’t all be pithy, “who gives a goddamned whether or not Beloved was a ghost?” comments.

The Function of Monument

We trust or not based on prior events; our experiences from the past shape our expectations of the future and tell us what is safe, what can be trusted. Time and trust are inextricably linked. Time and monuments Young defines monuments as “a subset of memorials: the material objects, sculptures, and installations used to memorialize a person or thing.” are also inextricably linked, for monuments funtion in conjunction with memory in an attempt to externalize a collective memory of an event. Are monuments then an attempt to rebuild a fractured trust, so that options once again limit themselves into a realm in which we can navigate? This appears to be an idea worth exploring.

Monuments rarely go up to a person, but instead to an idea the person embodies, or to an event or moment in time; in all cases, they function as remembrance. Elizabeth Grosz would likely see monuments as an effort to stop time, remove it from our conscious-ness stream, and freeze something in perpetuity. (For that matter, Young and the counter-monument artists would likely agree as well.) Is this functional remembrance a form of reasserting our options of trust on the future, so that we’re not paralized animals in oncoming headlights? It’s an intriguing idea, especially when combined with both concepts of Holocaust monuments and spontaneous roadside memorials.

The Holocaust monuments universally proclaim that “we will never forget” – do we need stone to make sure we will never forget? Young says that “once we assign monumental form to memory, we have to some degree divested ourselves of the obligation to remember.” Young. The Texture of Memory, pp 5. I wonder if it’s really a desire to expunge the internal memory, or if it is a desire to have a general, collective memory to repair a basic faith in the human condition, in humanity itself. If we place a monument swearing we will never forget an atrocity in a general public place, we are publically confirming our [societal] unanimous condemnation of the atrocity that occured, declaring it abherant to humankind Sadly, the evidence of history suggests otherwise., and something that we will vigilantly prevent from occuring again. The end result of this is to reanchor trust that has been violated by violence, and to once again narrow down options for the future and have that trust-filter in place that allows us to make decisions.

The same sort of reaffirmation of the goodness of life itself and reinstallation of the trust-filter can be seen in spontaneous roadside memorials which I suspect Young would call spontaneous roadside monuments, which seem to function as a spontaneous gathering of people who need to affirm that what occured was not normal, was cruel and unusual and outside the realm of the norm. Instead of simply reaffirming their faith, their trust, in fellow humans, they attempt to reaffirm their faith in life itself. This seems especially true with those that exist individually; that is, the places where people are remembered for car accidents that killed only themselves (and/or their passengers – in other words, no one external to the moving vehicle injured). The place of death becomes a point of rupture in the survivors ability to categorize the past and understand the future. Trust in the very fabric of existence – of being able to get in a car or even walk out the front door – becomes shaky. But by creating a monument, one that exists outside the memorial of the grave-site, the survivors are declaring that what happened was outside the norm, a statistical anomaly that they will not allow to overcome them or their basic faith in the world.

In both cases, large and small, we can see monuments functioning as a way to heal the trust that people need to have, be that trust with one another or trust in life, living, the universe itself. Monuments become a way to acknowledge the unspeakable by moving them to a realm of unusual and denying the violence that is actually common to living. By doing so, people regain control of their ability to manage what would be, without the ability to filter via trust, the almost incomprehensible flood of life.

Well fuck.

Maybe Phillip’s way is right. Maybe it is better to keep everyone – at least everyone who has any contact with you as a student/teacher/power dynamic relationship – at serious arms length. At least then things wouldn’t blow up in your face when you weren’t expecting it.

Today reminds me that I get too close to my class at large, and people in specific. Trust only so far – trust any further, and you’ll just get hurt.