Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Day -- Policies, Frames, Provocations, and a little Sappho

Opening moves on the Chess board this afternoon. Feeling my usual stage fright -- I've been teaching nearly twenty years now, non-stop, cozy seminars, overcrowded classrooms, spotlit auditoriums stuffed with hundreds, and still my first words must punch through a wall of electric fright. The first lecture should be a rather short affair: The syllabus. Contact information. My grading policies, including a brief speech in which I explain to Berkeley students that an "A" is an earned thing and not a birthright. Attendance, assignments. Explaining the demand for a day by day handwritten reading notebook that cannot be electronified -- what is this "writ-ing" while "read-ing" you speak of...? Then, a few initial throat-clearing gestures, inaugural themes -- Why are we pretending there was no rhetoric in Egypt, India, China? (What about, after all, Ptahhotep's Instructions? Vedic discourse? Debate in the Upanishads? Confucian theory and later legalisms?) Why was the plutocratic militaristic radical Greek cradle of democracy also anti-democratic (and why might we say the same for our own)? Why does beginning rhetoric -- including even simply calling it that, "rhetoric" from the probably Platonic coinage of rhetorike, derived from the institutionalized figure of the rhetor, as against logos, techne logon -- with the greeks means we're already deep in a skirmish over a terribly narrow construal of thought as a terribly narrow construal of theory as a terribly narrow construal of philosophy? How does the commonplace pretense that this is the "ancient" rhetoric survey course obscure the reality that for many Roman rhetoricians we will be reading the Greeks we will also be reading already were the ancients to their own modernity? And might this organization of ancients and moderns confuse in turn our understanding of our own modernity, post-modernity, late-modernity, a-modernity, post-post-modernity, in the post-war aftermath before planetarity? By the way, what is patriarchy more generally and doesn't it matter that Greeks and Romans sometimes did patriarchy differently than one another and we do our own? After that, I'll read them some Sappho, and then send them off to read Homer and Gorgias (not Plato on Gorgias, that comes later, but Gorgias' Encomium). I'm thinking that's about an hour...?

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