Category: History

The LexiKula Manifesto, by David Garyan and Arthur Ovanesian

The LexiKula Manifesto
21/01/2023

Language is a prison inside which we’re all free—and the space is comfortable. There’s so much room to move around—if you don’t like the cell that “danger” is in, nobody will stop you from going to the synonymous place where “hazard” resides. You can also visit “safe”—the antonym doing its time in another block. However, there’s no word to describe the anxiety of living inside a language that doesn’t allow you to express the totality of what you’re feeling—not because someone won’t understand, but simply because the words don’t exist. Hence, though we’re free to navigate our linguistic prisons, we’re also confined, mainly because language is all we have.

The prison is unique—not in the sense that it’s special, but rather that there’s nothing else. Thus, having the key to it is pointless because it’s like trying to escape from a planet when that planet is the only one which exists in the universe. Not possible? Or is it? For example, have you ever felt like looking at someone with the hope that the other person will suggest something that both of you greatly desire to do, but are unwilling to initiate—for various reasons, such as shyness, fear, or perhaps the judgment of others? There’s no word in the English language to describe this feeling, even though the feeling itself is real, and it’s quite a common one for all of us to have. Though our own language lacks the vocabulary, there is a word to describe the aforementioned dilemma, and it’s called “mamihlapinatapai.” It comes from Yaghan language spoken in Tierra del Fuego (the southernmost tip of South America). It’s considered one of the hardest terms to translate and The Guinness Book of World Records considers it the “most succinct word.”

There are countless examples like this, and so we’re not exactly living on a planet which is also its own universe. We do have ways to escape the limitations of the English language: Metaphors, images, idioms, proverbs, and so on. Yet, while figures of speech and culture can do a lot to create linguistic variety, they are in and of themselves also limited. For example, take the German expression “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” (literal: I understand only train station), which describes a situation where a person is completely confused, and yet, unlike the condition described by the word “mamihlapinatapai” (for which no German or English equivalents exist), there’s already a word in those languages that captures the meaning of “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof”—“confused” or “lost” in English, and “verwirrt” in German. And so what the German expression has done is merely add color and flavor to the word which already signifies its meaning, but it hasn’t brought about a new “word,” so to speak, the way “mamihlapinatapai” has done.

Metaphors, too, are in a sense artistic idioms. So when, for example, the poet Jeffrey McDaniel writes “My ego is a spiral staircase inside a tornado,” he is pushing the boundaries of language to describe the state of megalomania; in this sense, his word choice represents the highest tenets of what the ancient writer Longinus considered the “sublime.” And yet, like “Ich verstehen nur Bahnhof,” McDaniel’s metaphor is describing a word that already exists (megalomania), except for the fact that he has portrayed it in a way very few people can.

Given how powerful metaphors can be, it wouldn’t be wise to ignore them, and so they will also be a key tenet of the project; the ultimate goal, however, will be the creation of new words, and perhaps, then, also figurative language for those new words. The channel will thus focus less on the former (“decorating” our own language cells), and be more concerned with trying to break free from our own linguistic “confinement.” In this sense, we’re following in the footsteps of the greatest Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, who, in his frustration of being unable to find the proper words to describe the emotions he felt, simply invented them, which is why he’s considered the “creator” of the modern Russian language. Of course, having coined countless words in English, Shakespeare did exactly the same thing for his language, but his example is far too obvious. And perhaps even Pushkin has become too mainstream in this respect.

A better example would be the word “robot,” for instance, invented by the Czech Writer Karel Čapek in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which not only brought him stardom, but also created the very idea of machines resembling humans and their behavior—something that people did not think about before. In this sense, language gave birth to an idea. The play’s discourse, so to speak, created a reality that, in many ways, did not previously exist.

Structuralist and post-structuralist philosophers such as Saussure, Foucault, and Derrida, among others, have long postulated that language creates our reality—not the other way around. The so-called “discourses” we engage in are what stitch together the fabric of society. In other words, the ability to not only define, but to also have the power which allows one to impose those definitions is ultimately what lies at the root of who can influence the world, and who cannot. And so to influence the world, you must first influence the word—for better or worse.

Think of Edward Said’s Orientalism. The West had the intellectual strength to define the East as mysterious, alluring, and a threat to Western values, and such it became; the West, however, was really the one which destroyed the East—not only with its colonialism, but the very act of imposing their false definition onto the East demolished its essence. What do this mean? Precisely that the East is not more alluring or mysterious than the West; the former is just as rational and logical—indeed, that’s where ancient civilization originated. This reality, however, couldn’t suit the West, and so they had to colonize not only the land, but also the history. To colonize territory, one needs guns; to colonize history, one needs only the most powerful gun—language.

Perhaps the most telling example where the birth of a word has brought justice is Raphaël Lemkin’s creation of the word “genocide,” which gave shape and form to the utmost “crimes against humanity.” Consider: Before Lemkin coined it in 1942, there was no international mechanism to prosecute or even outlaw the crime because neither the judicial instrument nor the word existed. It is already apparent that the term created the legal apparatus, not the other way around; as Douglas Irvin-Erickson writes “Raphaël Lemkin coined the word ‘genocide’ in the winter of 1942 and inspired a movement in the United Nations to outlaw the crime.” In this respect, it’s more difficult to imagine a world without the word “genocide” than it is to imagine a society where “crimes against humanity” are not crimes in the legal sense.

It is important, also, to recognize that different cultures (mostly those overlooked) already have unique words to describe emotions we often feel. In this respect, the platform will also serve as an occasional forum (see submission guidelines below) to share such vocabulary, along with the customs/traditions associated with it.

To conclude, Martin Buber postulated that there is no concept of the chair in the universe—no so-called “chairness” we can assign to all objects which fit that definition. Hence, a chair without a definition can be anything, depending on how you want to use it—a ladder or weapon, for example. Given all this, we hope you’ll join us in changing the world one new word at a time—and sometimes even a metaphor. See you in LexiKula, the new dictionary!

—David Garyan
—Arthur Ovanesian

Addendum

λέξη   कुल

(Lexi Kula)

LexiKula: A new dictionary, not just a finite place for definitions, but a community without covers—an open linguistic space to share ideas and reshape the society we live in.

Etymology: GREEK (lexi, meaning “word.”), SANSKRIT (kula, meaning “community, tribe, or clan.”)

Purpose: Bringing together East and West, extinction and life. Capitalize “k” to de-emphasize hierarchy.

 

Submission Guidelines

Original words: The guidelines are few, but important.

1. Make sure the word you’re creating doesn’t already exist (both in English and in another language).

2. If condition one is satisfied, follow, more or less, the template outlined above (for the word “LexiKula”). Give the definition. Provide the etymology (origin, how you created it, the inspiration behind it, and so on). Remember the text must fit an Instagram window.

3. Lastly, outline the purpose. Why do you feel we need this word? What are you hoping it will do? How do you see it changing, shaping the world?

 

Metaphors: The guidelines are even fewer here.

1. Be original, and that’s really all. The best metaphors, as the late Charles Simic believed, are those which combine divergent elementsmore dissimilarity equals more potency, like combining love and underwear. Don’t take it from ustake it from Simic.


Source: The New Yorker

 

Culture Corner (in other words, unique words in foreign languages not found in English): Very, very simple here. Share the word from your culture. In what context do you use it? Is it serious, sarcastic, formal, informal? Share a story about the word and how it has shaped not only your life, but also your culture. Story, here, doesn’t only mean writing. A funny video, for instance, could communicate something much more effectively. We’ll leave it up to you.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: David L. Ulin, Writer, Editor, and Professor, interviewed by David Garyan


David L. Ulin

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

David L. Ulin, Writer, Editor, and Professor

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Click here to read David L. Ulin’s poems in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: For years, you worked as the book editor for the LA Times, along with having written for some of the most prestigious newspapers and journals. In this respect, is the transition between editor, poet, and writer mostly seamless, or does it take frequent adjustments to calibrate your voice in accordance with each role?

DLU: It’s always felt natural to me to work in a variety of registers — as a critic and a columnist, as an essayist, as a journalist and teacher, as an editor and poet, as a writer of my own books. I think of something Lynne Sharon Schwartz wrote in the early 1990s: “I had never planned to be a novelist in the first place. I had planned, from the age of seven, to be a writer. A writer writes anything and everything, just as a composer composes anything—not only sonatas or only nocturnes or only symphonies.” Something similar is true of me. One of the impulses that draws me to writing is the opportunity to be versatile. Why wouldn’t one want to do it all? In that sense, the range of work and activities all feeds into the same central source, which I imagine through the lens of literary production. What I mean is that I’m invested in my own production: the essays and stories and poems and books. But part of that production also means participating in literary community. When I review, in that sense, it’s not separate from but rather grows out of my own work, since those pieces often revolve around related concerns. For me, reviewing is a way of operating as a heightened reader … and my experience of reading informs my aesthetics, which in turn informs everything I write. Something similar is true of editing, which I think of as both a curatorial and an authorial process; my hope is that each issue of any publication I edit will work as a kind of collage narrative in its own right. Presently, I’m editing a literary journal, Air/Light, out of USC, and the goal there is to have an overriding vision, or sensibility, while also having each issue stand alone. It’s a fascinating process not least for its serendipity, the idea that often I don’t know what an issue is going to look like until I start to read submissions and discover what we have. Writing is similarly a serendipitous process for me, in which I don’t start out with a plan per se, but maybe a few loose ideas. Will they hang together? Is there anything there? These questions provoke the process of discovery that is necessary for me to engage with my work.

DG: Along with your professional writing activities, you’re also a Professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. What are the rewards and challenges that present themselves with not just teaching, but teaching writing specifically, and how do these activities ultimately complement your own work?

DLU: There are many things I love about teaching. First, of course, is working with young writers, encouraging their aesthetic journey, creating a space in the classroom where they can take risks, where they can fail, which is an essential aspect of creative work. I want to listen to them, not only to hear their stories, but also to learn the things they know that I don’t know — which is a lot. I find my mind being opened every time I go to class. It’s exhilarating, and it helps create a necessary connection that enlarges the scope of the work we do together, the inquiries we pursue. I’m a firm believer that the classroom is a place of conversation, and when we’re discussing writing, it’s a conversation in which everyone can participate and learn from each other. I hope they learn as much from me as I learn from them. I also love being in a space where we can talk about making art — in those specific terms — without having to throw up scare quotes, or be ironic about our creative aspirations or what anyone else might think of them.

DG: Does university sometimes interfere and might that paradoxically also have its own positives, at least in terms of having to visualize and set priorities accordingly?

DLU: Certainly, universities are complicated places, with bureaucracies and requirements that often have nothing to do with education in any real sense. But I’ve been fortunate to have worked in great departments, with some visionary administrators, who know how to put the classroom first. I tend to set priorities in my classes in conjunction with the students, and to seek to facilitate a spirit of collaboration among all participants. To that end, I don’t give tests and I try to suggest to students — undergraduates especially — that they not worry about grades, at least in my class. That they will be rewarded for writing with ambition, for biting off more than they can chew.

DG: Along with the teaching material you select, how have your students impacted both your writing habits and aesthetic, and how has this changed since the pandemic?

DLU: The students keep me honest. They keep me on my toes. I have to be as engaged and committed to what’s happening in the classroom as they are, which means I have to listen (that word again) and collaborate. What this means practically is that I’m always updating and adjusting syllabi, even in the middle of the semester. I want to keep the conversation alive. As far as the pandemic, it’s a complicated question. I think we did the best we could in a fluid situation where, for the first several months at any rate, no one had any real idea of what was going on. Switching to online was not ideal, but it allowed us to maintain continuity. And it created some flexibility for students who, for instance, may have had to move back home. I’m fortunate that my classes are mostly small — no more than twelve students in a workshop — so that’s more workable through the flat eye of the screen. Again, the key was the conversation: how to foster it and keep it going, which I think we did. Now that we’re back in person, however, I’m viscerally aware of everything we missed during that period, the dimensionality of the room, of sitting together in a shared space, of talking as a group. It reminds me that literature is fundamentally a collective exercise, that it grows out of, and reflects or responds to, community. And yet, that sense of community is also what kept us going during the pandemic, albeit in a different way.

DG: It seems that the pressures and commitments forced upon us by the modern world are making it increasingly difficult to live the life of a literary citizen. Setting the cliché discussion of technology and its contribution to the decline of literature aside, how have the principles of living as an individual of literature changed from the time you began writing to now?

DLU: To be honest, I’d say I’m more aware of such principles than I was when I started. I’m certainly more outwardly focused than I used to be. I grew up in thrall to the notion of writer as outsider, as maverick (to use a word that’s lost all meaning), as one person against the machine. That sense of mission, if you will, has not so much changed as deepened: As I’ve said, I take it on faith that literature is a community. I didn’t understand that at the beginning. Now, I think I do. That’s not to say I think about readers or anyone else, really, as I’m writing. That would be stifling to me. When I’m working, it’s basically the same as it ever was, myself in conversation with the work at hand, striving to make good sentences, to follow them, to see where the line of the language will lead. Certain approaches have changed; I write much less by hand than I once did, for instance, although I still keep notebooks everywhere. But if there’s been any fundamental shift in my approach, it has to do with … trust is the only word that makes sense. Trust in the material, trust in the process. Trust in the silence of the room. I was never much for outlines; if I know too much about a piece of writing, I lose interest because there’s not enough discovery. But I used to need to know an endpoint, where I was writing toward. Now, I try to avoid any preconceptions. I prefer to make my decisions in the present, to let the text show me what it needs. That’s not to say I’m not constantly percolating, or taking notes as ideas occur to me, just that I’m much more willing to embrace the necessity of serendipity.

DG: Do you miss the days when printed newspapers and journals where the norm, not the exception, or do you think the best days of journalism have yet to arrive?

DLU: I still read a lot of print journals and periodicals, although I also engage with many of those publications through their websites, not least for the online only content there. I recall fondly the primacy of print, and I miss it, but I understand that’s nostalgia, mainly, and I try to stay away from that. Without doubt, we are in the midst of an ongoing shift involving print and digital, but it’s more complicated than an either/or. I want the speed and immediacy of the latter, even as I want to hold the former in my hand. And let’s face it: I edit a digital journal. If it wasn’t for the web, we wouldn’t be able to publish. So I also think it affords a lot of opportunity. Of course, the economic model for literary publications — for all publications, actually — is atrocious, but it was ever thus. Newspapers, though, are different, and we’re still seeing how this plays out. From having worked at the Los Angeles Times, I understand the economics and the financial challenges: not just newsprint and production costs but a dwindling market for print. I subscribe to four newspapers but two of those subscriptions are online only, and as for the other two, Sunday is the only day I read in print. If that’s the case for me, then it suggests how far down this road we’ve gone. At the same time, I don’t think the shift to online is a danger to journalism. The coverage can be equally robust online as in print, and there are enhancements (multimedia elements not least among them) that enlarge a story’s range and scope. The real danger are hedge funds like Alden Global Capital, which currently owns more than 200 papers in the United States, most of which have been effectively stripped for parts. Let’s be clear about this: such a business model and the companies that pursue it are the enemy. Not only of journalism but also of democracy. They degrade the discourse by treating journalism as a commodity. I think there could be great days ahead for journalism, but only if we get the venture capitalists out.

DG: Leaving his atrocious politics aside, Ezra Pound once said that “Literature is news that stays news,” a statement that seems to exalt the former and denigrate the latter, but is this really true? Indeed, there have been countless works of art that have either been forgotten or simply left in the depths of time, while many accounts of the past remain timeless and ever relevant. What are some of the most poignant examples of that in your opinion and do you view perhaps journalism, in that sense, as being imbued with literary and perhaps even poetic qualities?

DLU: If we’re going to look at poetic assessments of literature and news, I prefer William Carlos Williams:

What this means, I think, is that literature aspires to the timeless even as it must be rooted in the specifics of its own moment. That’s not to say art shouldn’t be political. It absolutely should. Even the decision to avoid politics in one’s work (to paraphrase Orwell) is ultimately a political decision. Look at all the astonishing writers who have addressed political conditions and situations, going back to Homer and the Trojan War. As far as the work that is forgotten, I’ve come around to thinking of that as a solace in its way. Think of how many books are published in a year. The vast majority are never even noticed enough to be forgotten. They are essentially released into the void. But isn’t the same true of every one of us? We are all here on a temporary pass. To me, this is humbling, yes — but also exhilarating because it means that we can do whatever we want. If I’m not writing for posterity (and how could I be, really?) then I am free to engage with my own time, my own self, in any way that makes sense to me. I am not writing for everybody or even anybody, but, first and foremost, to express myself; this is true for all of us. I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way, although there’s a narcissistic streak to every artist, but in the sense that we are free. We can say whatever we need to, as Isak Dinesen once noted, “without hope and without despair.” Journalism is a different matter, although without question, it too is literary and poetic. Whatever else it is, it is a form of storytelling … an art, in other words.

DG: What are your thoughts on the current state of literature? In comparison to the past, do you enjoy most of what you read today, or only a little, and what are some recent books you would recommend?

DLU: I think the current state of literature is astonishing. So much good work, so many great writers, so many essential narratives, so much talent on the page. I feel like I’m in a constant state of discovery. In a way, it reminds me of when I first started reading seriously, as if I’m discovering the territory anew. This was an impetus for starting Air/Light, the desire to create a venue that could give space and attention to all this astonishing work. In our first six issues, the writers we have published — Daniel Alarcon, Chris Abani, Matthew Zapruder, Susan Straight, Diane Mehta, Carribean Fragoza, Abigail Thomas, Alex Espinoza, Lynne Thompson, Lilliam Rivera, Pam Houston, to name just a few — are those with whom I’m essentially engaged. I like work that blurs the line. I like work that challenges our expectations. I think of Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Hari Kunzru. I think of the sensational Annie Ernaux. I think of Sophie Calle, who is not a writer per se but includes text as part of her work. I think of the publisher Lisa Pearson, whose press, Siglio, has published three of Calle’s books in the United States.

DG: As an editor, poet, writer, critic, and professor, you have many obligations and deadlines. It’s hard to imagine that you can simply wait for inspiration or even write when you want to, but if you could, when and where would the ideal time be, and, in a perfect world, what would a typical working day look like for you?

DLU: For me, what makes the work-day typical is that it is never typical. Each day brings its own challenges and necessities. I will say that I like to do a lot of things. I like to be busy because it keeps me from getting in my own way. My daily practice has changed throughout my writing life because of shifting necessities. I was, for a long time, a night owl, a night writer, sleep in and write all night. That changed when we had children and I had to be attuned to their schedules. It changed again when I took the job at the Los Angeles Times; I had to write in the morning, before I went to work. It changed once more during the pandemic when I took to getting up very early to walk. To accommodate that, I found myself going to sleep earlier, often before 10 pm. Now I am very firmly a writer of the morning and early afternoon; 9:30 to 3, let’s say. Depending on the project or other factors, I might write shorter or longer on a given day, and there are days I don’t write at all. But a typical day generally includes a mix of writing and reading and editing, of conversations with colleagues via email or phone or Zoom. I read in the late afternoons or early evenings, and heavily so on the weekends. And depending what I’m working on or thinking about, I take notes throughout the day.

DG: Did the pandemic offer more opportunities to write, or, on the contrary, far less, and why?

DLU: It offered both to me at various points, and a return to various modes of expression I thought I had set aside. In the early days of the pandemic, I found myself writing short essays about the experience of living in a plague time: writing almost as a way of reckoning. I had been working on a book when COVID hit, but I very quickly understood that this wasn’t going to be useful, at least in the short term; the book is a memoir, a memory book, and I couldn’t do that work in the present tense atmosphere of the early days. So I set it aside (I went back to it last summer) and wrote first the essays before moving into other territories. One of these was a novel, which I had worked on a few years earlier, until I hit a wall. A few months into lockdown, I had the thought to re-read those pages, and in that process, I began to see where the book might go. I returned to it in September 2020 and finished a draft in January 2021. It was an unlikely balm to work on an invented narrative — not autobiographical, in a world where COVID hadn’t taken place. The three or four hours a day I spent writing were like a retreat. And yet, the book also took on many of the issues that I, like everyone, was facing: isolation, alienation, loneliness, fear. I also began writing songs again in late 2020. This was perhaps the most unexpected turn in my writing; I’d done a lot of that sort of work in my twenties but it had been more than thirty years. I can’t say why exactly I went down this rabbit hole, except that I’d started playing music again during lockdown, as well. And that experience led to a few stray riffs or verses, which eventually coalesced into something more coherent and complete.

DG: What are you reading and or working on at the moment?

DLU: Currently, I am doing final edits on the novel, which will be coming out in the fall of 2023. I’m also back to the memoir, and of course, I continue to write op-eds and reviews and other essays, as I have regularly done. As for reading, there are books stacked all over this house in various stages of completion, but the two with which I’m occupied at present are Claire Dederer’s book-length work of criticism, Monsters, and Percival Everett’s new novel Doctor No. Both are exquisitely written and deftly rendered, and both are full of fascinating and provocative ideas.

 

About David L. Ulin

David L. Ulin is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, which was shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, and The Lost Art of Reading: Books and Resistance in a Troubled Time. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and Ucross Foundation. The former book editor and book critic of the Los Angeles Times, he is a professor of English at the University of Southern California, where he edits the literary journal Air/Light. Most recently, he has edited Didion: The 1960s and 70s and Didion: The 1980s and 90s, for Library of America.

Teoría contra teoría, por Lic. Juan José Scorzelli


Alexandre Koyré

 

Teoría contra teoría*

 

“Ahí reside la revolución filosófica de Schelling: no se limita simplemente a oponer el dominio oscuro de las pulsiones preontológicas, o lo Real innombrable que nunca puede ser totalmente simbolizado, al dominio del Logos, de la Palabra articulada que nunca puede «forzarlo» totalmente (como Badiou, Schelling insiste en que siempre hay un resto de lo Real innombrable, el «resto indivisible» que elude la simbolización)… La clave auténtica de la «locura» no es por tanto el exceso puro de la Noche del mundo, sino la locura que supone el paso a lo simbólico, la imposición de un orden simbólico sobre el caos de lo Real. ” Slavoj Zizek.(1)

 

EXPERIMENTUM MENTIS

Un texto para reflexionar, tal vez de manera inversa. En principio, debemos decir que  son teorías y no verdades absolutas, terminales. Así como la física de Newton tuvo que soportar una nueva teoría (Einstein, la relatividad) que mejoraba los impasses de la teoría anterior, cada teoría tiene el tiempo que dura su potencia, hasta que otra (supuestamente superadora) venga a ese lugar. Se trata finalmente de: teoría contra teoría. A  partir de Galileo y su ‘experimentum mentis’ (experimento mental), ya no se parte exclusivamente de la experiencia sensible (Aristóteles), que dé garantía sobre determinadas elaboraciones conceptuales, y sobre todo dentro de la física moderna (cuántica, etc., aquella que Einstein rechazaba porque allí sí, Dios juega a los dados). Ya no es el experimento (luego puede haberlo, o no) lo que certifica cualquier teorización científica, sino su coherencia interna y su contrastación con otras teorías.

LA OPERACIÓN DE LACAN

La operación de Lacan sobre el psicoanálisis va en esa dirección: “no hay realidad pre-discursiva”. Es decir, en el principio está el Otro y el significante, aportando una teoría de lo real muy afín al de la física moderna, opuesto a lo planteado aquí por Zizek (un gran autor). Lo real de Lacan (que toma su definición de Koyré, su maestro también) es lo imposible, no algo que esté allí para simbolizarse, sino que pertenece al campo interno de la simbolización: sus impasses. Por ej: “es imposible que las paralelas se corten” que luego, para una nueva topología se convierte en: “es imposible que no se corten, en el infinito”. Para eso se necesitó la creación de una novedosa topología de superficies bidimensionales (banda de Moebius, botella de Klein, cross-cap, toro, etc) Por tanto, la ciencia avanza de imposible a imposible, de manera teórica, abstracta, que luego puede dar lugar a experimentos, o no.

HIPOTÉTICO DEDUCTIVISMO

Únicamente las teorías son refutables por teorías mejores, siguiendo la línea epistemológica de Popper. Lacan trabajaba hipotético-deductivamente. Lo real de Lacan no es algo fuera del discurso que hay que simbolizar, sino un efecto, un impasse del mismo trabajo significante. Lo real aquí es efecto del significante, depende de él (definiendo significante como lo que no significa nada, salvo en relación a otro/Otro significante). Es por esa razón que se puede trabajar con lo Real desde el significante, no siendo prediscursivo (“No hay absolutamente ninguna realidad prediscursiva, dice Lacan).

ANUDADOS

Hay distintas teorías de lo real, incluso en ciencias. Lo interesante es que, cuando Lacan dibuja el enlace borromeo de tres, ubica en lo real la ex-sistencia y allí escribe ‘vida’, justamente por lo imposible de definir qué es la vida. Pero ese mal llamado ‘nudo’, es un enlace de tres registros y no se puede tomar ninguno por separado. No es entonces un real por fuera de lo simbólico y lo imaginario, sino que están anudados. Se habla del gozo como si equivaliera a lo Real, pero no es así (al menos en la teoría de Lacan). El ‘goce, no sería aquí entonces lo no dialectizable o no castrable, etc. (que es la vía que elige Miller para plantear el goce o mejor dicho ‘gozo’), sino que, al depender del significante, el ‘gozo’ es dialectizable, no perteneciendo al campo de lo Real. Siendo errónea la mención ‘lo real del cuerpo’ (ya que el cuerpo es Imaginario), o ‘lo real del gozo’, ya que ambos dependen del significante y por lo tanto son transformables.

LO REAL

Lo real aquí no es res extensa como la carne y el hueso, o las cosas tridimensionales del mundo, ni lo que no se puede decir (Lacan critica lo inefable, pero no dice que no exista, sino que, si es inefable, ¿para qué ocuparnos de ello?). Los imposibles entonces no son fijos, dependen de las variaciones de los impasses teóricos. Son distintas teorías sobre lo real: en una, lo real es como lo que Freud llamó pulsión de muerte, que una vertiente lacaniana transformó en goce del cuerpo o lo real del goce. Pero para Lacan el cuerpo no es real, sino imaginario: así lo escribe en el enlace borromeo de tres (Simbólico, Imaginario, Real), aquí lo Real es lo imposible lógico matemático, algo interno al propio orden simbólico y no por fuera de él.

UNA TEORÍA NO INDIVIDUALISTA

Hay mucha confusión en estas cosas, pues remiten a puntos de partida epistemológicos distintos. Freud se decía inductivista y quería ubicar al psicoanálisis del lado de la biología como modelo de ciencia. Lacan es deductivista, partía del lenguaje y no de la cosa sensible, 3D.  Su inconsciente (el de Lacan) no estaría ‘dentro’ del individuo, como planteara Freud (el huevo freudiano: Yo-Ello-Superyó, que delimita interior de exterior es un ejemplo de ello), sino estructurado como un lenguaje y, según su fórmula: el inconsciente es el discurso del Otro. No se trataría entonces de una teoría individualista, sino en Immixión de Otredad (No hay sujeto sin Otro) (2).

————————————-

*Comentario que realicé a propósito de la locura y lo real en Zizek, en una publicación de Daniel Freidemberg en su muro (FB), a partir de una cita de Slavoj Zizek.

  1. Anexo: La locura (el otro ítem que menciona Zizek en su texto, en este sentido y en Lacan, es tomada desde las elaboraciones de Hegel y tiene que ver con las identificaciones, con las identificaciones directas al Ideal sin pasar, es decir, puenteando, el lazo con el Otro, el lazo social. Lacan la llama ‘…nuestra doctrina de la locura’ “Subversión del sujeto y dialéctica del deseo” Escritos 2.
  2. Esta expresión se deriva de una presentación de Lacan en Baltimore (EEUU), en 1966. Acerca de la estructura como mixtura de una Otredad, condición sine que non de absolutamente cualquier sujeto” [Traducción de Leonel Sánchez Trapani, en la Revista Acheronta.

Referencias de lectura: S. Freud, J. Lacan, A. Eidelsztein, ‘Otro Lacan’, ‘El origen del sujeto en psicoanálisis’, y otros textos que responden al PIC de Apola, [Apertura para Otro Lacan. PIC: Programa de Investigación Científica].

 

 

Biografía

Lic. Juan José Scorzelli

Psicoanalista

Miembro de APOLa Internacional (Apertura para Otro Lacan)

Fundador de la Asociación de Psicoanálisis S. Freud en Paraguay.

Ex Adherente de la Escuela de Orientación Lacaniana de Argentina (EOL).

Coordinador de Grupos de Estudio sobre psicoanálisis en Buenos Aires y en Asunción del Paraguay.

juan.j.scorzelli@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/Lacanos-Asunci%C3%B3n-106351344447063

6) Tienda de abalorios: columna por María Mercedes Di Benedetto

Tienda de abalorios

por María Mercedes Di Benedetto

 

Se denomina abalorios a diversos tipos de elementos confeccionados en múltiples formas, materiales, colores, diseños y calidades. Las más de las veces, sirven sólo como ornamentación carente de valor. Así pretende ser mi columna en el prestigioso edificio cultural de Interlitq: una oferta de temas varios sin pretensiones filosóficas ni literarias, una simple tienda de abalorios y palabras.

 

  1. LA REVOLUCIÓN DE MAYO, JOSÉ DE SAN MARTÍN, LA MÁQUINA VOLADORA Y EL SUBMARINO DE MADERA.

Para los tiempos de mayo de 1810, no era tanto una fantasía como sí una posibilidad cierta la idea de contar con un submarino como arma secreta en la lucha contra los realistas. Los patriotas del Río de la Plata conocían el hecho de que el 7 de septiembre de 1776 un submarino de los Estados Unidos de América había atacado  a un buque británico en el puerto de Nueva York. Tampoco ignoraban que  el 26 de junio de 1794 los franceses, utilizando un globo aerostático, habían logrado crucial información que les daría la victoria en la batalla de Fleurus frente a los austríacos. Por estos antecedentes, tanto la Primera Junta de Gobierno como líderes de la talla de José de San Martín veían con interés la posibilidad de sumar estrategias militares bajo las aguas y desde el cielo.

Máquinas voladoras, como globos de aire caliente y dirigibles, ya venían utilizándose en Europa  y EEUU en guerras y revoluciones, y se dice que el primer intento de navegación submarina habría ocurrido en España en 1562: «dos griegos entraron y salieron varias veces del fondo del río Tajo ante la presencia del emperador Carlos V, sin mojarse y sin extinguirse el fuego que llevaban en sus manos». El primer sumergible del que hay información cierta fue construido en 1620 en Inglaterra.

 

EL CRUCE DE LA CORDILLERA DE LOS ANDES CON SOLDADOS VOLADORES

Desde 1783 y con anterioridad a los preparativos del cruce de los Andes existieron proyectos para el empleo militar de los aeróstatos.  Desde la invención de estas máquinas voladoras, técnicos e ingenieros pugnaron por idear el mejor modo de conducirlas a voluntad, y así surgieron distintos sistemas de comandos y una sucesión de proyectos de potenciales controles: velas, timones, hélices, todos muy ingeniosos pero a la vista inocentes y poco confiables.

Cuando la utopía del cruce de los Andes mutó a un verdadero plan en ciernes, todas las tareas de fabricación de las armas quedaron en manos de un joven cura mendocino, Fray Luis Beltrán, el oficial de arsenales del Ejército Libertador. Beltrán debió dejar los hábitos para dedicarse de lleno a esta tarea ciclópea, y al mando de unos trescientos trabajadores, fundió metales y creó cañones, proyectiles y granadas; la fábrica de pólvora era dirigida por el Mayor Álvarez Condarco.

En ese entorno febril, y colaborando estrechamente con el fraile Beltrán, el molinero Andrés Tejeda, había armado  una tejeduría y una tintorería para proveer los paños para los uniformes que luego coserían las damas patricias de Mendoza. Tejeda era un hombre de unos treinta años, de carácter sombrío, algo introvertido y de notable ingenio, estudioso de las artes del vuelo. Y un día le llegó el rumor de que el mayor problema para el cruce de la cordillera era transportar la artillería a través del accidentado terreno montañoso. Se le atribuye el siguiente pensamiento: “¿Así que el General San Martín quiere alas para sus cañones?” La respuesta no tardó en llegar: Tejeda ideó el ornitóptero -del griego ornito (“pájaro”) y ptero (“ala”). Era un sistema de alas batientes construido en cuero delgado, alas que, sujetas al cuerpo, eran accionadas por los brazos al modo de los murciélagos (¡que no son pájaros!).

Lamentablemente el molinero-tejedor-tintorero se fracturó ambas piernas al tratar de volar su invento y, pese a su entusiasmo durante la convalecencia, no hubo modo de progresar en la propuesta del ornitóptero, dado el escaso tiempo, porque ya estaba dispuesta la partida del ejército para cruzar la cordillera de los Andes. A pie y por tierra, sin soldados aleteando a tres metros del suelo por sobre el Paso de los Patos.

Pero Tejeda no estaba solo en su quimera de un ejército volando hacia Chile con cañones y todo: un maestro relojero holandés, Miguel Colombise, se había establecido en El Plumerillo, terrenos a la sazón convertidos en acampe del Ejército Libertador del General San Martín. Este Colombise ya en 1809 había enviado al entonces virrey Santiago de Liniers una solicitud de cuatro mil pesos para “fabricar un Aérostat”. Afirmaba haber construido dos prototipos de tamaño reducido (proyectos en escala de la versión real que había ensayado con buenos resultados) y agregaba que el aeróstato se desplazaría por sí mismo a una velocidad de por lo menos “un cuarto de legua por minuto”.

Por lo que, créase o no, dos inventores de máquinas voladoras convergieron singularmente en el mismo lugar, en el mismo momento, en los primeros años del siglo XIX y en medio de una gesta histórica para América del Sur.

Sin la respuesta afirmativa que esperaba de Liniers, Colombise marchó a Santiago de Chile a fin de intentar, ejerciendo su oficio de relojero, ahorrar la suma necesaria para construir su máquina voladora. Una vez producida la Revolución de Mayo, el holandés volvió a la carga y ofreció a la Junta “su persona y servicios” para realizar el proyecto del aérostat. Lamentablemente, el gobierno patrio tuvo por unanimidad la misma opinión que el Virrey, y su petición terminó archivada. Hay divergencias sobre este hecho puntual: algunos historiadores señalan al secretario Mariano Moreno como su responsable, en tanto que otros atribuyen la decisión a “un anónimo funcionario subalterno”.  Sin embargo, el expediente de resolución de la Junta expresa por documento escrito que su plenario estuvo de acuerdo en rechazar el proyecto del aparato volador. Apenas unos años más tarde Colombise, enterado de los preparativos de la campaña libertadora dirigida por el General San Martín, propondrá nuevamente la fabricación de su aeróstato para sumarlo al cruce del macizo andino.

El aérostat del relojero holandés fue el segundo antecedente aeronáutico de los tres más importantes registrados en nuestro país en la primera mitad del siglo XIX. El primero fue el protagonizado el 5 de julio de 1807 por el Teniente José Antonio Leyva con un precario paracaídas conformado por dos banderas británicas luego del combate del convento de Santo Domingo en la segunda invasión inglesa. Y el tercero, el fallido ensayo del ornitóptero construido por Andrés Tejeda.

 

EL SUBMARINO TORTUGA

Samuel William Taber era un comerciante estadounidense de 30 años  que había llegado a estas costas rioplatenses en 1810 con sus dotes de inventor y sus planos secretos. Entusiasmado con el aire revolucionario que se respiraba en todo Buenos Aires,  proyectó la construcción de un submarino para ayudar a los patriotas en su lucha contra los realistas de Montevideo.

El submarino en cuestión tenía la forma de una tortuga y estaba construido en madera, como los barcos. Medía 10 metros de largo, con espacio para varios tripulantes. En el exterior de la proa  había un taladro que se accionaba desde el interior, para perforar el casco de los barcos enemigos y por allí colocarles explosivos.

Los encargados de analizar el proyecto del submarino de Taber fueron Cornelio Saavedra y Miguel de Azcuénaga, Presidente y Vocal de la primera Junta de Gobierno, respectivamente. Como la inferioridad de nuestras flotas en relación con  las de España, Inglaterra o Brasil siempre era evidente, los jueces aprobaron el plan y el inventor  inició la construcción de su tortuga marina. Milagrosamente, no quiso aceptar  dinero del gobierno y se financió él mismo. Contrató obreros que fabricaban las partes en forma autónoma, para que nadie pudiera tener el plano general del invento. Todo avanzaba bien, pero la política exterior se tranquilizó, el peligro naval se esfumó, y el gobierno perdió interés en comprar el submarino. Taber entonces viajó a Montevideo y se asoció con un militar llamado Ángel Monasterio, dedicándose al espionaje. Finalmente el norteamericano regresó a Buenos Aires, y la encontró convulsionada por preocupantes temas políticos y militares, luego de la derrota de Huaqui en el Norte. Taber, que seguía persiguiendo el sueño de construir un submarino, escribió a la Junta ofreciendo nuevamente su tortuga. Para el 11 de octubre de 1811, ya tenía todas las partes terminadas y pintadas de color negro: pensaba unirlas y poner a prueba el submarino en la Ensenada de Barragán, que era un lugar con mayor calado para sumergirse. Con el plan en marcha, Bernardino Rivadavia, secretario del Primer Triunvirato, destinó un enviado para una inspección de rutina, pero algo sucedió, no sabemos qué, y el invento fue nuevamente dejado de lado. Samuel Taber continuó en Buenos Aires dedicado al espionaje y falleció poco después, en 1813, víctima de una enfermedad. Nunca pudo llegar a ver su invento armado y funcionando. Donó todas sus pertenencias al gobierno revolucionario, pero los planos del submarino se perdieron. En nuestro país, los primeros submarinos de la Armada llegaron recién en 1933, comprados a los Astilleros Tosi de Taranto, Italia, y fueron, por ese motivo, bautizados como los “tarantinos”.

 

NI MURCIÉLAGOS, NI PÁJAROS NI TORTUGAS

El apasionado Samuel Taber se ilusionó en dos oportunidades con ver en funcionamiento su tortuga submarina y ambas veces terminaron en fracaso; el ornitóptero le dejó a Andrés Tejeda sólo el saldo negativo de dos piernas quebradas y una ilusión maltrecha, y el holandés Miguel Colombise no tuvo más remedio que ver cómo hombres y armamento encaraban el cruce de los Andes bien afirmados a la tierra, a fuerza de voluntad humana y mulas de arreo, mucho más cerca de la piedra que de las nubes.

Un siglo después, aviones de gran porte y velocidad cruzan nuestro cielo, y los submarinos ya no son una quimera salida de las páginas de Julio Verne. Pero para que esto sucediera, muchos hombres (y mujeres, quizá anónimas hasta hoy) trabajaron apasionadamente entre planos, bocetos y desplomes varios, para soñar un sueño premonitorio que sólo pudo concretarse décadas después.

A todos los que quizá se fueron de este mundo con el alma marchita y amarga, con las alas vencidas como ícaros sin laureles, va hoy el homenaje de Tienda de Abalorios, esta ilusión que también sueña con la eternidad.

 


María Mercedes Di Benedetto (Photo: Mauricio J. Flores)

Biografía 

Argentina, egresada de la carrera de Guionista de Radio y Televisión (ISER), ha sido docente de esa casa de estudios y  de institutos terciarios y universidades en las carreras de “Locución Integral”, “Producción y Dirección de Radio y Televisión” y  “Guion de Radio y Televisión”. Durante 20 años fue docente en escuelas medias en Lengua y Literatura y en talleres literarios y de periodismo.

Especializada en la investigación del radiodrama en Argentina, lleva editados tres libros sobre el tema, el último en 2020, “HISTORIA DEL RADIOTEATRO NACIONAL”.

Autora y docente de ficción radial, recorre el país brindando seminarios y talleres sobre el tema, dirigidos a docentes y público en general, a través del Ministerio de Educación y de ARGENTORES.  Sus obras se han emitido por radios nacionales e internacionales.

Ha recibido numerosos reconocimientos por sus obras teatrales y radiodramas; ganadora del Fomento INCAA  con su documental de cuatro capítulos para televisión “Artesanos del aire / Historia del Radioteatro Nacional”. Obtuvo el 1er premio en la convocatoria 2004 para radioteatro del Centro Cultural R. Rojas de la Univ. de Buenos Aires UBA, además de cinco Premios Argentores a la Producción Autoral, ganadora también en 2020 en la convocatoria del Instituto Nacional del Teatro con su radiodrama sobre la vida de la soprano Regina Pacini.

Con un profesorado en Historia inconcluso, ha escrito más de cuarenta docudramas y obras de teatro para sus ciclos “Mujeres de la Historia Argentina” y “Hombres y Mujeres con historia”, presentados en diversas salas del país.

Su obra para niños “Las Hadas de la Tierra Encantada”  ha salido en gira nacional abordando temas como la ecología  y el cuidado del medioambiente. El elenco, convocado por la Secretaría de Medioambiente y por el Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación recorrió 23 provincias brindando funciones en forma gratuita para escuelas de todo el país.

Ha participado como expositora en diversos Congresos de literatura y de medios de comunicación y en Bienales internacionales de Radio, así también como Jurado y Tutora de Proyectos en certámenes nacionales de literatura y de Arte Joven. En septiembre 2022 integró con su ponencia el Symposium por los 100 años del Radiodrama Internacional organizado por la Universidad de Regensburg, Alemania.

En los últimos años ha presentado en Madrid  obras para Microteatro: “Comer por amor”, “El día del huevo”, “Testamento” y “Viuda Negra”, con dirección de Marcelo Díaz.

Actualmente se desempeña como Secretaria del Consejo Profesional de Radio de ARGENTORES, Sociedad General de Autores de la Argentina.

Reflections On the Italian Educational System: An American Perspective, an article by David Garyan

16/01/2023
Trento, Italy

 

Reflections On the Italian Educational System: An American Perspective

Having not only lived in Italy as an American since September 2019, but having also studied and worked here continuously since my arrival, I feel it quite appropriate to comment on recent developments having to do with Elin and Benny Mattsson’s letter about the state of Italian education. Before I do this, however, I would like to briefly outline my background in order to show why I may be qualified (perhaps in a limited sense—I admit) to offer some thoughts on the situation.

My professional background is in English literature and creative writing, both of which I studied extensively at US universities. Apart from my B.A. in the subject, I also received an MA in English (with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition), along with an MFA in Creative Writing (with a concentration in poetry). After my postgraduate studies, I taught at San Bernardino Valley College in California for a year and a half as an adjunct professor, until May 2019. In the fall of that same year, I arrived in Italy to begin my laurea magistrale in International Cooperation in Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna (campus Ravenna), from which I graduated in 2021 with a score of 110/110.

During this time, I worked extensively at different Ravenna public schools as a madre lingua on short-term contracts. Needing something more permanent, I relocated shortly thereafter to Trento and secured a job teaching English at a private school called MyES.

Due to my lengthy sojourn and my varied experiences in Italian educational institutions (high school, middle school, elementary, and university), I can confidently state that much of what Elin and Benny have described in their letter is unfortunately (and I very much stress that word) true. Unfortunately, teaching methodologies and materials are often not up to par. Apart from the didactic component, the disciplinary problem they mention is highly relevant, and may stem, paradoxically, from the fact that it is not the students themselves who are poorly behaved, but that they are reacting to a largely obsolete system (at least in relation to highly developed countries) based on clearly delineated hierarchies—the teacher, never to be questioned, challenged, or engaged on equal terms, and the student, docile, meek, subservient and clearly inferior to the teacher. I have seen this scenario play out too many times in different educational settings here in Italy—both witnessing the phenomenon as a madre lingua in the Italian public schools and experiencing hierarchical limitations first-hand during my university studies.

Indeed, there is and should be a difference between educators and students, and the claim here is not that students know more than teachers (although they sometimes do), but that in comparison to the US, for example, the act of challenging professors (in a healthy intellectual way) is not only seen as academically productive, but such behavior is also encouraged. Professor routinely show up in casual clothing to emphasize the lack of formality, and some even encourage students to address them on a first-name basis—such things are not only rare here, they are, in many cases, absolutely unheard of. According to The Office for Global Professionals and Scholars, which provides immigration services for Mass General Brigham Institutions, “Americans treat each other in an informal manner, even if there are big differences in age or social position. It is also common for employees or students to act casually with their professors and advisors; however, this is not a sign of disrespect …. Informality also extends in the way people dress and communicate with each other. Look at other people where you work as an indication of how you should dress.” The exact opposite approach is taken in Italy, where there are two different “styles” of communication, the so-called “everyday” style of general situations and the “high” style one must adopt with academics and other professionals. Having heard it first-hand from many Italian friends, the “high” style is elaborate, ceremonious, and intentionally diffident with respect to the “inferior” party, and knowingly overindulgent—in the most hedonistic sense—with respect to the “superior” party. In other words, ritual over substance, showmanship over skill, presentation over depth.

Many have criticized Elin’s and Benny’s letter, and in the spirit of critical thinking, they have gone the right way about it. For example, Giangiacomo Farina, director of Siracusa News, stated the following: “Simply, the Italian school system is very focused on teaching content and less on teaching structures and open-air playing spaces.” And this is precisely where the problem lies. From what I have personally witnessed, neither the Italian schools nor universities are largely interested in teaching students to think for themselves—to think critically. It is perhaps for these reasons that the most prestigious Italian university (and also the oldest in the world—Bologna—founded in 1088 by Irnerius) does not even crack the top 150 in the world. Thus, the system does not, in fact, fail because it does not work, or has never worked—no, the system fails precisely because it is outdated (and oftentimes even medieval).


The entry of students in the Natio Germanica Bononiae, the nation of German students at Bologna; miniature of 1497

In 2019, The Local ran an article called “‘Educational crisis’: Italy’s schools compare badly with the rest of Europe, study finds,” which cited data some of the following data: “only one in twenty Italian 15 year-olds is able to distinguish fact from opinion when reading a text on an unfamiliar topic.” Furthermore, “one in four has difficulty with basic reading comprehension, failing to identify the main idea within a medium-length text.” The article goes on to mention that “things have worsened in the last decade, as the country has dropped ten points when it comes to reading skills since 2009.” In light of the data, Michela Montevecchi, Vice-President of the Education Commission, has stated that Italy is “a country that isn’t thinking about the future. And further: “We are losing critical capacity, but our society isn’t dealing with it. Our children are less and less able to analyse the complex situations that they will find themselves facing,” she stated. The head of Italy’s teaching union (CGIL), Giuseppe Massafra, has echoed Montevecchi’s statement, saying that “the report confirms educational poverty is a national emergency.” These are just some of the criticism which have been leveled in recent years.

Countless studies have already shown that students need material relevant to their lives, things they are interested in talking about. Indeed, not only do they have the capacity to think for themselves, but, in fact, they want to think for themselves—they are eager to express their opinion about important issues related to what is happening in the world they live; many teachers inside the system, however, are more concerned about protecting their own authority, power, and image. They are more concerned with discipline than with education. Egos run high, and in a country where bella figura reigns supreme and decorum is king, it is more important to make sure that students follow all the proper codes of etiquette, rather than, perhaps, learn something new. Having witnessed those approaches time and time again, I eventually began trying different things in my own classes (always under the supervision of the head teachers); while the methods were not always successful, they did often reveal that the rebellion Elin and Benny have described almost always comes as a reaction to this off-putting hierarchical authority teachers impose (perhaps with good intentions of forming good, disciplined children). However, discipline is largely the job of the parent, not the teacher, and if the parents have already done a poor job at that, there is very little a teacher can do to change bad behavior, so it is better to focus on something else and perhaps try to win over problematic students not with yelling (God, how much of that I have seen), but perhaps some activity relevant to the lives of those students.

Despite the fact that Farina’s well-intentioned criticism falls short, it is, at the very least, polite. What surprised me most were the hostile reactions to the Elin and Benny’s letter. For example this comment by Rossano Sasso, a representative of the nationalist League party former education secretary, who said that he would not “take lessons from a Finnish painter.” This comment, astoundingly, represents the very hierarchy I have talked about: “I am Rossano Sasso, a qualified figure, and you, Elin Mattsson, are just some run-of-the mill painter, so sit down, be quiet, and take notes.”

In reality, I understand. Italians are proud people with a history that stretches back thousands of years, and when Marcus Aurelius was living up to the tenets of Plato’s ideal philosopher king (in this case emperor), Finland at that time was agrarian—to put it most politely.

So, yes, egos do run high, but perhaps a little too much so, because what Sasso has done is committed the classic ad hominem (that’s Latin, by the way) fallacy. You never attack the person—you always attack the argument. It does not matter if Mrs. Mattsson is a painter, a housepainter, or perhaps even an unemployed painter. She has made an argument that has obviously hit a nerve, which is why the response is so strong, I am assuming. I have encountered this kind of arrogance observing my lead teachers, both in the classroom and also as a student at the University of Bologna, where students, during exam sessions, where routinely belittled and even brought to tears—behavior that is unimaginable in any kind of US academic institution. Such actions would have been grounds enough to dismiss any educator, or at least reprimand them.

In addition to my own experiences, I have friends currently studying in Italy (I will not say where because their studies may be negatively affected by these statements). One friend has personally witnessed professors behaving in ways that are absolutely representative of the superior/inferior hierarchy I have mentioned. For example, during one exam session in 2021 (which I also happened to be watching on Zoom) a student (clearly nervous) had gotten flustered during an oral exam—he/she simply could not answer the question; it was clear, however, he/she knew the answer, but simply needed time. After answering some other inquiries not very successfully, he/she told the professor it was possible to answer the other one. The response was: “I don’t care what you know. The exam is over.” My friend and I were absolutely astounded because this was a student who had demonstrated excellence repeatedly throughout the course, and was now being punished for not answering questions with the proper decorum deemed worthy of “esteemed” professors.

The question is simple: Why have so many people attacked Elin and Benny? If ordinary individuals had done this, I might have understood the rude behavior, chalking it up to poor education and manners, but it seems that the ones at the very top are interested in silencing the debate with ad hominem attacks, because, clearly, there is truth in what she has written. And another more interesting question is the following: If the Italian education system is really as good as Mr. Sasso claims, then why does he not have the good sense to know that attacking and denigrating a person is not the way to win an argument? Again, you must defeat the argument, not the person, but clearly some teacher somewhere did not do his/her job, or perhaps the student may have forgotten.

There is, in fact, a term to describe Italy’s outdated education system, and it is called the “banking model of education,” famously postulated by the renowned Brazilian educator and social activist Paolo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Freire used the metaphor of the bank to describe a type of education system where the establishment of hierarchy is more important than actual education, meaning that teachers are simply interested in “depositing” large amounts of information into students—with no interest in critical thinking or self-reflection—and then “withdrawing” that information from students in exactly the same so-called amount they have “deposited” it. In other words, the formula is as follows: “I, the teacher, tell you exactly what I want you to know, and you, the student, repeat it to me exactly the way I told it to you.” Astoundingly, Mr. Farina’s criticism of Elin and Benny revealed precisely that this is how the Italian education system functions (“focused on teaching content and less on teaching structures”), and I am really not surprised that he admitted this, because some of my professors (along with my friends’ as well) have even stated that a student’s responsibility is to completely internalize what they have heard, and regurgitate exactly what they have internalized during the exam session. The problem, therefore, with the Italian education system, is as I have already mentioned—it is not that its methodology does not work, or has never worked; the problem is that it is outdated. While such a didactic approach may have been excellent in a class of four students, under the tutelage of Irnerius 1000 years ago, it does not work today.

For one, oral examinations, for example, are highly biased, and apart from being biased, they are unnecessarily tedious, in the sense that in some big classes, students are often forced to wait over five hours to sit their examination, because nobody knows how long each one will take (if you answer well, the exam is short; if you struggle, they will make you struggle—often with the good intention of finding questions that might allow you to pass). The more sadistic professors, however—and I have witnessed this personally—will deliberately ask obscure questions, intimidate, and obfuscate for reasons only God knows. The process is both unpredictable and unfair in many ways, because, by law, anybody is allowed to watch the examination, and grades are often given in public—no privacy whatsoever. Questions are arbitrary—some more difficult than others, and if you’re very lucky, professors might run out of ideas and repeat some questions (in the best case), or flat out ask something that may not have been covered (in the worst case)—and so, if you happened to be watching an exam at the right time, you might be in luck. It is survival of the fittest in the most barbaric, yet, paradoxically, intellectual sense. On the contrary, in the US, students are encouraged to use their own critical thinking skills—yes, they listen to lecture, yes, they pay attention, yes, they know who the professor is, yes, they know his level of intelligence, yes, they know the professor is the most “powerful” person in the room, but, at the end of the course, everyone is given the same objective standard to pass the class: Write an essay (with the freedom to challenge the professor’s point of view, if that’s what you want to do) using the class materials and create an original argument.

Fortunately, many within the Italian education system are beginning to come around to this view, and in the spirit of fairness and objectivity, I would like to say that I have witnessed plenty of those positive aspects as well. And so, I would like to take this time to praise those educators and professors with whom I had the pleasure of working for two years, and who are trying to buck the trends of tradition. Having now transitioned to a private school setting, it is indeed sad for me to admit that Italian public schools are, in fact, behind, although they are nevertheless much better than many inner city public schools in the US. The Achilles heel of Italian public school is certainly its teaching of English, which is why many private English schools such as ours continue to flourish—the public school system simply cannot provide the necessary, modern methodology. In this sense, the private sector has always been good at filling the void, which is why schools like MyES have become so successful here (almost every city in Italy—with a population of over 100,000—has one and there are four schools in Milan alone). Those who can pay come to us; those who cannot must, unfortunately, fall behind. One can only hope that this debate started by Elin and Benny will lead to real change, instead of continuous attacks on their character, background, and personality. One can only hope.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.