Monday, March 30, 2009

baseline genius

I had lunch with a genius yesterday. First I golfed. My game sucked, but then again, I hadn’t hit a stroke since last fall. Still, it was rather embarrassing the way I hooked, and baulked, and hit all grounders. I was playing against my friend J. and his 5 year old, Ian. I’d suggested this because last year, we took Ian out and afterwards retired to a restaurant for lunch and exuded a general maleness. Which I figure is good for Ian. This year, he did a bit better – I do have hopes for him on some future golf team. This is Texas, and a boy has to have a sport. Ian lines up his putts pretty well, when, that is, he remembers that this isn’t hockey…

Anyway, the genius is Ian’s brother Eric. Sitting with him at the barbecue place we went to this time, Eric, genius that he is, pointed to his french-fries and said: mine. That wasn’t maybe so genius. What was genius was I pointed to his French fries and said mine, and he obviously disagreed. And said, mine, more emphatically.

Obviously, Eric has crossed the equator here and discovered that when he says mine and when I say mine, there are two different references. He has discovered anaphora! Only an absolute genius could do that. Of course, Eric is two, and that is when we do become, saving brain injury, geniuses.

A while back, IT and some of the theory bloggers discussed equality, and Ranciere’s claim that equality should be at the base of education – which is a scandal to the meritocrats. She explained it like this:

“What if one were to reverse the order of observation and begin not with concrete inequalities in education, of which there are almost too many to enumerate, but with a seemingly impossible assertion, yet the very thing that founds education the moment it is no longer a question of filling up the 'blank slate' of the student's mind with knowledge, but of accepting that education is a question of what all students, equally have, namely a baseline intelligence.”

Myself, I don’t think the word “intelligence” quite captures our radical equality. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, one would have said, esprit. Spirit. Spirit is much closer to what we really have. I don’t think it is a baseline intelligence that is operating when Eric distinguished his “mine” from my “mine”, but something that combines a muted deduction with … amusement and frustration. With Eric’s position, looking me in the face, and the French fries before him – the world, that is. To carve out of this situation something called intelligence only makes sense on a certain institutional level, which is of course dependent on what a culture is going to teach, how it is going to set up the “lesson” situation. The lesson, here, what it is, how it comes about, its myths – these are things that condition what we call intelligence. In the West, that teaching comes in the form of two seemingly contradictory steps: walling off the world – the parents, the French fries, the golf, the noon sky, etc. – in the form of a school; and then letting that school operate to teach in terms of the world, although a world that is managed, this time. A world in which something called intelligence functions and has its own universals and programs.

It isn’t that I think this is the wrong world. I simply think that equality does radically oppose intelligence. I think equality is about genius, and genius is about being oneself – which is not a thing you can test for. It is always finally the genius of the place. And we learn to think that it is merely the genius of the placeholder.

Myself, I was a very fine and select child of the school: a reader, a maker of good grades, a teacher’s pet. Even now, when I am challenged about my intelligence, I react with all the predictability of one of Pavlov’s dogs hearing the bell. However, I have seen enough of the genius of people to know that a baseline intelligence is, at best, a partial thing, which will eat a society if you let it. Whereas equality still retains the strong, radical implication that no institution is going to capture the situation of the spirit, which is firmly embedded in the life. That genius is a perpetual delinquent.

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