“No trace of slavery ought to mix with the studies of the freeborn man”— The Republic.
Last Wednesday inaugurated my Outline Survey of Western Philosophy 101 Introductory Short Course; the first in a series of crunchtime, birds-eye-view classes on the pillars of Classical Knowledge– all engineered to catch everyone up to speed. Matching names with ideas basically. I was the professor. Nate Davis, the T.A., was away on business.
The class was held in the kitchen, with a squeaky dry-erase board and a handful of notes. The student body was pretty focused, considering the bottle of vodka being passed among class. Each swig added another tangent and ever more centrifugal force. This is good though. Philosophy is all about implication rather than knowledge, anyway. Even when you’re slicing up the history of philosophy.
What are we doing with this, opening up a philosophy department, with other departments like Electronics and Astrobiology well on their way?
We’ll take a minute here to talk about the University Ideal. About the University Ideal at work in the South Philadelphia Athenæum. In the smallest number of words, there are secret truths to the social organization of college life. The confluence, the freedom and floating schedules, the exuberance and experimentation, the breadth of and non-specialization of learning, dorm life, and and the democratizing poverty. More cities should organize themselves like universities rather than corporations. In turn, fewer universities should organize themselves like corporations; and instead chisel into their plaques and friezes D’Alambert’s timeless motto “Truth, liberty, poverty.” That is one to live on.
Advertisement: The South Philadelphia Athenæum is currently seeking professors and overdriven know-it-alls to trade words and wisdom at the SPA. We want to become the greatest center-of-learning in Philadelphia, by the same modus operandi by which we always triumph: pure enthusiasm. By eliminating money and legitimization and accreditation, we prune away all those who have come for the wrong reasons. What’s left over is sure to be nothing but a phalanx of superstoked and accessible individuals who enter in the true spirit of manic inquiry and action. A true thinktank. That pure enthusiasm is the precondition of all rela cultural awakenings. I cannot be too emphatic about this: we are totally sidestepping professionalized learning, professionalized philosophy, and the kind of vocationalism that fucks up the proper confluence between the Spheres of Culture.
The play Hellenism behind the Athenæum is not all for nothing: I am personally inspired by the totalizing, playful, superengaged idea of a “Learning Polis,” by Vittrino Da Feltre’s La Casa Giocosa, by the notion of a space that is more than just a venue or showspace, but a whole polis unto itself, where every aspect of life can be exaggerated and experimented on and dissected and played with. The ancient agora was not an airless classroom. For one, it was outside. But above that, there were contests of skill and mind, amid breezy, brightly-colored, stimulating environments, with networks of razorbrains and wise tutors to help those eager to learn— and most importantly, there was a lot of fucking around. They were playful; consciously adopting a shrewd balance between synagonism and antagonism for the freest and playfullest of freeplay possible. So even modern universities, as you see, do not live up fully to this University Ideal. We have to be a little revivalist to get it in gear. We’ll see how it pans out tomorrow at class.