Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pulled Up Short

I will be a participant on a Blue Ribbon Panel next week, and they sent us some reading materials. I was struck by a chapter in some book (they only sent us the copy of the chapter, and I don't know the book) by Deborah Kerdeman on "Pulled Up Short: Challenging Self-Understanding as a Focus of Teaching and Learning." What a moving piece of writing! I looked her up on Google, and apparently she has published parts of this in another book: , as well as in some articles. I highly recommend it. She writes about Hans-Georg Gadamer's idea of "being pulled up short," which emphasises not proficiency and power, but proclivity for self-questioning and doubt. As part of this excellent chapter, she gives the example how King Lear pulled Professor Denby up short, during his sabbatical year at Columbia. Denby decided to re-read texts he'd encountered 30 years earlier and was attending a class by Professor Edward Tayler on King Lear.

The description of this marvelous teacher was so moving. Until reading this, I don't think I really and truly understood how to transform education, which we often talk about in nursing. However, now I am beginning to see the light.

Kerdeman quoted the following from Denby's (1996) Great Books:

"When we got to King Lear, Professor Tayler begain by analysing metaphor and structure, recounting the play's bounty of negatives - the many 'nos' and 'nothings.' But suddenly he said: 'Nobody can lay a glove on this play. this is the greatest thing written by anyone, anytime, anywhere, and I don't know what to do with it.' In a case like this, no one else knows what to do with it either."

"He had never made a remark remotely like that one, and my wife, who had accompanied me to class that day, looked at me oddly, as if to say, Who is this guy?' for Tayler, the hipster wit, nomally imperturbable and allusive, was now on the verge of tears. Quickly, he returned to a notion he had developed back in the fall, when we were discussing the Odyssey: the difference between surface, or nominal, recognition, and deep, or substance, recognition..."

"Lear was similarly about deep recognition - an experience accompanied by pain as well as pleasure. 'The play starts out bad, and gets worse and worse,' Tayler said in his baritone murmer. 'What we've got here is delay, protraction, until moments of supreme recognition.' And we read through the scenes of the shattered Lear at the end of the play encountering his old friend, Gloucester, now blinded, and soon after, Cordelia. Tayler, following Harvard philosopher and critic Stanley Cavell, focused on a plangent exchange between Gloucester and Lear. Gloucester says, 'O, let me kiss that hand,' and Lear replies, 'Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.'

'I'm sorry, this stuff gets to me,' Talyer said haltingly, looking down for an instant. 'Lear feels shame. Shame is one of the biggest emotions.' He paused for a second, and then glared at some of the men in the class. 'You're breaking out in pimples; your girlfriend comes upon you when you're masturbating. It's shame!' The men looked up, electrified but silent. 'Shame, the most basic emotion. Lear wants to be loved. Lear says, "Which of you shall we say doth love us the most?" But what won't he give? In order to receive love, you have to be seen through and not just seen. You have to let people see your murderous impulses as well as your benevolent ones. En route to recognising Gloucester and Cordelia, Lear has to go through a process' (Denby, 1996, pp. 305-306)."

It was that class that pulled Professor Denby up short. He had read Lear before, but deconstructed it like other works, piece by piece, analyzing the metaphors, etc. However, after Tayler's class, he now felt a "peculiar, unsought intimacy with this play." Now...that was a teacher!

Has anyone read Denby's book? I bought it tonight and intend to read it. What about the philosophy of Gadamer? Or has anyone read some of Kerdeman's work? Does anyone by any chance know this Professor Tayler at Columbia? I'd love to read more about this concept of being pulled up short.

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