The Master and the Apprentice
Mar 25, 2010 [11:49]
Mar 25, 2010 [11:49]
Let's talk about the master and the disciple, a relationship that seems archaic in this day and age, the scientific age. We should first distinguish it from /schooling/, which we tend to forget is a modern phenomenon that overevaluates competition, learning by doing, experimentation, creativity, and so forth. We forget that what used to be known as schooling has traditionally emphasized the authority of the master, under the notion that, while competition can make you king of the hill, you still need someone to point you towards the mountain.
Incidentally, one of my defining characteristics is that I, and many others like me, have always sought out the master-apprenticeship relationship, which is why we do so well with almost no companions, no equals -- for friendship pales in comparison. This avoidance of competition, even this natural inclination to appear as /weak as possible/ is not, then, merely a matter of hypocrisy.
Our consideration of schooling leads to the more general case of the difference between teaching and /research/: the purpose of schooling is to teach research. By research, I don't really mean the literal connotation of looking through databases, but rather, something like "lab work", "experimentation". Research is the work of science. Our tentative purpose here is not so much the critique of research, which is obviously very valuable to society, as the defending of apprenticeship. It needs defending because it seems archaic, backwards, or contrary to independent thought. For example, it would seem that looking towards, say, the Bible for guidance, rather towards research, could lead only to dogmatism.
Well, let's look at the difference between /teaching/ and /research/. Anyone who believes themselves to be in possession of a rare, even pessimistic truth, can never be depressed. This is because /all truth is teachable/. There is nothing about truth that would ever indicate it is individual or private, while it is possible, of course, that truth be ineffable or difficult to communicate directly. This difficulty of communication is why the master is often a roguish figure, especially in Kung Fu movies (like Karate Kid). The idea is that the only way to give proper guidance is to at first misguide, or mislead. Thus, the idea is that the Karate master didn't really care about getting his fences painted, but it was the only possible course of guidance. As another example, the same structure is said to exist in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, where he has revealed in letters that the only way to guide the people towards questioning or irony is by leading them astray and making them uncomfortable with a purposely over-romantic (or, in the book, "Dionysian") work.
In thinking about the master, we should be thinking about the writer in general, or even the genius, in general. For example, we think of Mozart, as a musical genius, we don't really think of him as a master or a teacher, but he really is. He was not merely a good entertainer, but had something to say. When we insist that Mozart was a master, we are saying that /we do not know him yet/. We think we can hear, say, the 7th piano concerto and get the full effect already, and then, later, move on, believing ourselves to have heard it before. The key concept in this erroneous attitude, of Mozart as entertainer, is /novelty/. Novelty speaks not only of the loss of the original effect, but also of the possible absorption. Ie, there is this notion that we have /grown desensitized/ -- but see here this word, "grown", which always implies an absorption, a having already understood, even a personal crisis (as in the idea of pain causing growth).
It would seem, then, that to insist on the master is to insist on /difficult thinking/, rather than something already understood. This very same opposition characterizes the difference between schooling, where there are classes that one "passes", with credits earned, various accomplishments, etc. -- like experience points in a video game -- to apprenticeship, where one /always stands in the shadow of the master/, even after the master is dead, in which case one is haunted by his ghost.
But at the same time, it's still possible for this oh-so-difficult truth to come out. Even as we always stand in the shadow of the master, even as we are haunted by ghosts, it's still nonetheless possible, perhaps, for this truth to come forth. Should truth be obvious? Should it illuminate our world? If it is the nature of scientific truth to be verifiable, is it then the nature of philosophical truth to be difficult? If so, then philosophy can never do without a master; even the most accomplished philosophers of an age would have to concentrate their efforts on /reading/.
Philosophical truth is always difficult, it exists right on the very edge of comprehensibility. We can think about, here, the position of the genius. The genius is aware that he is a genius, ie, he is aware of what people seem to expect of him. The genius is aware of what he can accomplish, who he can be. In that case, then, we might say that the genius "overcompensates". But, at the very same time, he really is a genius, that is, he is genuinely clever -- he is able to say all these things that evoke a new world. That is, I am saying that the genius is not merely a good performer, it's not simply that he does precisely what people expect of him. But there is also something genuinely evocative about what he says. In other words, we need to think both the social self-awareness of the genius (as in the Nietzschean molding of his personality) and the ... genuine thinking of the genius, which we said earlier, is often mistaken for music or entertainment. Music illuminates our world briefly and then disappears, and we are caught in mourning. But the thinking of the genius remains and haunts us, it does not illuminate the world but it still seems to come forth.
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