Musings on a ‘monsterous’ conference call

Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness. . .

(Ted Hughes, “The Thought-Fox”)


In the wake of the recent announcement and call for contributions for the HEA’s Arts & Humanities ‘Heroes and Monsters” conference, there have been a number of posts and blogs on various sites wrestling with what the call is actually about!One that caught my eye was by Susan Deacy.

Dr. Deacy writes “The particulars make clear that the event is looking for ways to challenge current ways of learning and teaching to ‘make strange’ academic practice and challenge what is taken for granted by its practitioners. On the conference’s definition, monsters dwell in realms just beyond our own; they can come into our world to ‘unnerve’ us and ‘innervate’ us, and thus a ‘monstrous pedagogy’ can ‘disrupt habits’ and ‘articulate…different ways of being’. But who are ‘we’?”

There is a strong implication in the conference description, that ‘we’ are the ones who are disrupted and unnerved. But ‘we’ are, or can be, or may wish to be also the monsters and/or heroes (heroic monsters? monstrous heroes?). The teacher as Theseus and/or the Minotaur?

What has struck me in recent weeks (and, before I proceed further, I need to declare my interest as a member of the HEA’s Arts and Humanities team) is that I have newly encountered and had conversations about not just our own ‘Heroes & Monsters’ conference, but also the influence of Punk and the punk aesthetic in learning and teaching (did you know there’s an active group of scholars called Punkademics?); the establishment of a university Centre for Gothic Studies; and a course entitled Vampire Studies.

I do wonder, as the significant pressures of standardisation, marketisation, consumerisation, etc. in higher education bear increasingly down on us (then again, who are ‘we’?), whether this is a form of resistance.

But we don’t resist change, per se. We resist loss, and we replace that loss not with the known, the common, the understood, the accepted. We replace it with ‘the other’ or, better, ‘an other’: one that has genuine meaning in an environment in which so many things have become de-referentialised, that strikes a chord, that ‘chimes with the times’.

It is also no accident that the ‘Heroes and Monsters’ conference call connects directly with the allure and fascination of the myth and the quest. As I’ve got a book chapter to write on key aspects of teaching and learning in dance, drama and music, I’ll end (I may return, hauntingly) as I began, with Ted Hughes, and this in his essay ‘Myth and Education’:

“The myths for [Plato] were not very different from what they are for us, imaginative exercises about life in a world full of supernatural figures and miracles that never happened, never could happen. Yet these, he suggested, were the ideal grounding for the future wise and realistic citizen. We can imagine what would happen if we proposed now that all education in England up to the school age of 11 be abolished and there be put in its place a huge system of storytelling.

If we think of that we can see how far the wisdom in our educational system differs from what Plato would have called wisdom. Our school syllabus of course is one outcome of 300 years of rational enlightenment, which had begun by questioning superstitions and ended by prohibiting imagination itself as a reliable mental faculty, branding it more or less as a criminal in the scientific society. And what this has ended in is a completely passive attitude of apathy in face of material facts. The scientific attitude, which is the crystallisation of the rational attitude, has to be passive in the face of the facts if it is to record the facts accurately.

Such is the prestige of the scientific style of mind that this passivity in the face of the facts, this detached, inwardly inured objectivity, has become the prevailing mental attitude of our time. It is taught in schools as an ideal.

The result is something resembling mental paralysis”.

Author: Paul Kleiman

Academic, researcher, writer, musician, gardner, narrowboat owner, dog owner, cat servant

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s