Gramsci’s “Optimism of the Will”


Isn’t it pointless to fight back? Antonio Gramsci, the Italian political writer jailed by Mussolini’s Fascist regime, believed in “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.” In other words, you can know your clapboard house is on fire, and you’re a long way from civilization. But you have to call 911, get out your garden hose and bucket, and keep acting as if the firetrucks are on the way.

Washington Post

The most important thing is insight

Another one less than enamoured with talent. William Faulkner in a Press conference, University of Virginia, May 20, 1957. (The audio is here)

“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.”

Beware of Artists & Things You Want to be True

Just came across a nice quote via Euan on Facebook. It was attributed to the McCarthy era.

“Beware of artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous”

Alongside taking exercise and eating healthily, one of the things I keep trying to do more of, not always successfully, is check the sources of things like this. I instinctively like it, and, probably too often, take it as a given that it is true. Partly thanks to the wise advice of Euan and others, I’m getting better at catching myself before I swallow these sorts of tasty quotes whole.

Thanks to all Julian’s hard work , I found out the full quote was actually from a letter from Leopold 1 of Belgium to his niece, Queen Victoria.

“To hop to escape censure and calumny is next to impossible, but whatever is considered by the enemy as a fit subject for attack is better modified or avoided. The dealings with artists, for instance, require great prudence; they are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that very reason dangerous; they are hardly ever satisfied, and when you have too much to do with them, you are sure to have des ennuis.
…Your devoted Uncle, Leopold R. “

So yes, it’s a similar quote, but I like the add-on of the ennui at the end. I’m somehow happier buying in to the idea of artist as classless dangerous hero with the health-warning of “may become self-congratulatory self-publicist”.

A Personal Vision of an Idealised School Culture – Roland S Barth

I would welcome the chance to work in a school characterised by a high level of collegiality, a place teeming with frequent, helpful personal and professional interactions.

I would become excited about life in a school where a climate of risk taking is deliberately fostered and where a safety net protects those who may risk and stumble.

I would like to go each day to a school to be with other adults who genuinely wanted to be there, who really chose to be there because of the importance of their work to others and to themselves.

I would not want to leave a school characterised by a profound respect for, and encouragement of, diversity, where important differences among children and adults were celebrated rather than seen as problems to remedy.

For 190 days each year, I would like to attend an institution that accorded a special place to philosophers who constantly examine and question and frequently replace embedded practices by asking ‘why’ questions.

And I could even reside for a while in a laundry dryer if accompanied by a great deal of humour that helps bond the community by assisting everyone through tough moments.

I’d like to work in a school that constantly takes note of the stress and anxiety level on the one hand and standards on the other, all the while searching for the optimal relationship of low anxiety and high standards.

via John Tomsett

Good and Bad Teachers

“People think of good and bad teachers as engaged in the same activity, as if education was a substance, and that bad teachers supply a little of the substance, and good teachers supply a lot. This makes it difficult to understand that education can be a destructive process, and that bad teachers are wrecking talent, and that good and bad teachers are engaged in opposite activities.”
Keith Johnstone in Impro

via Tom

Madness and glamour

From Adam Phillips’ excellent Going Sane:

“Sanity may impress us, but it has never been made to seem attractive; sanity may be a good thing, but it is somehow not desirable. The terrifying thing – and it is the only terrifying thing that is ever glamorized – is madness; and, as ever, it is the frightening that seems real. Violence in the street is more likely to stay with us … than, say, the more ordinary kindnesses of everyday life. We may be unaccustomed to valuing things, to exploring things, that are not traumatic. Sanity may be one of those things.”


Wasted Sweetness

Back from a great two weeks of reading, relaxing, exploring, mint tea and fearless driving in Morocco. A week ago I was a couple of miles outside Merzouga, in the desert, under a full moon, and staying in a Berber tent among the 300 foot dunes. Away from it all, it’s easy to draw a veil of schmaltzy naffness over it – “Oh the stars”, “It stripped me down to my bare essentials” etc. But it really was awesome, in the fullest sense of the word.

Two things the experience made sense of, and vividly so, were:

“Holiness in the desert is silence, in the crowd it is conversation”

(or something not too far off)

And probably my favourite line of verse, and top of my “Now That’s What I Call Poetry” compilation

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Of course, I’m glossing over the fact that the donkey had piles or something hee-hawed from about 2am till dawn, and the fact that the camels seemed to have shat everywhere, but testament to the whole thing is that when you’re there you really don’t mind. You’re a million miles away from everything.