A Rarely Realized Classroom Ideal

Last night, in my graduate seminar–which carries the snappy title ‘From Schopenhauer to Freud (Via Nietzsche): Depth Psychology and Philosophy‘–my students and I spent the entire two hours of our class meeting time reading and discussing Section 354 of Nietzsche‘s The Gay Science. We each had a copy of the section in front of us; I read its text out aloud in class, pausing to offer commentary and elucidation and inviting similar interjections from my students. In the closing half-hour or so of class time, we discussed a pair of written responses to the section 354. (My students write responses to the assigned reading every week; this week while the primary readings were all secondary sources on Nietzsche, I had asked my students to base their responses on the primary Nietzsche texts invoked in these sources.)

It is no secret. to me at least, that the class meeting I described above comes close to an imagined ideal for a philosophy class meeting: I assign a text to be read; my students do the reading and have intelligent responses to it; in class we ‘work through the text’ diligently and patiently, reading every single word carefully, bringing out the texts many meanings and allusions and implications. Rarely is such an ideal realized; that is precisely what makes its rare occurrences even more pleasurable. Once, over the course of a semester in an undergraduate Social Philosophy class, my students and I achieved this ideal repeatedly; the secrets of that ‘success,’ were that my reading assignments were short and my class included a few ‘bright lights’ who came to class prepared and ready to dig into the material with me.

The reasons why such a class meeting represents an ideal for this teacher of philosophy should be evident from my descriptions above. My students and I ‘encounter’ the text in the way its writer intended it to be: sympathetically. This does not mean eschewing criticism of the text, but rather, “by looking at reality in the light of what it is saying.” From a personal perspective, as I’ve noted here previously, my understanding of a philosophical text is considerably enriched by these discussions with my students. A good  discussion with my students always lets me know there is more going on in the text than I might have imagined.

Our task was made easier, of course, by the text and its writer. Nietzsche always repays close attention and his language is extraordinarily rich (and to think that we were reading him in translation!) As he almost always does, Nietzsche sends out a message to all future writers and philosophers: if you want to read be with such attention and care, you would do well to follow him–in your own way!–on his chosen path. Write clearly and joyfully, letting your readers know that your writing represents a genuine attempt on your part to work through the problem at hand–which should always, always be a problem for you too, and not an idle academic pursuit.



6 thoughts on “A Rarely Realized Classroom Ideal

  1. Wow. Can I take that class? Jk

    But really: get some sort of syllabus about that or maybe you could send me the readings you did or the topics or something like that. ?

    Because I don’t know if you might remember but I am a masters counseling student. Philosophy specifically but I have studied philosophy on my own and a little bit in undergrad.

    Anyways, in our studying Freud and the analysis, I really think that F was following from what we could call a phenomenalism for his theory of the psyche. And that most subsequent psychologist/ therapists either miss this philosophical component or don’t understand it (due to thier not being informed of philosophy ).

    Contemplating a new theory, but I will have to wait until after my graduate studies and after I’m a little bit into my actual work. I feel that I have the beginnings of a sort of merging of philosophy and counseling that we have not seen before.

      1. What is significant to me in this area, from a counseling standpoint, is that what we generalize a as common human sort, a “thinker”, appears to arise now significantly distinct from the subject of Psychoanalysis. That is : What ever the subject of PA is now, it is not Freud’s; rather it is a Postmodern subject, a ‘gnostic common’ ala Francois Laruelle, if we really must adhere to new terms —- and at that, as a counselor in the attempt to engage and help people of all sorts, I myself must withdraw to leave the subject which ‘wills to power’, so to speak. To help her. To allow her to enhance the real world as a phenomenal subject. Since the structure of the psyche that Freud outlines – along which I feel the Lacan-Zizek development – functions to refify whatever human being occurred around that time pre-ish world wars,
        If I am making any sense here, then perhaps when I also bring in Wittgenstein, my book might also begin to make a little more sense.
        🙂 but at least I hope you’ll enjoy it and will perhaps still be interested in the continuing parts (it’s like a philosophical comic book!)

        Thanks again. I will look into some of those papers in your syllabus. Seems very good.

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