Dexter Sinister presents ``Write About the Back of Your Thumb for an Hour'' tomorrow SATURDAY JANUARY 29, 7 PM at the Contemporary Art Gallery, 555 Nelson Street, as part of the exhibition An Invitation to An Infiltration at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. A lecture-demonstration called ``Naive Set Theory'' will be delivered in the gallery. This is the fifth of five consecutive evening events. No further details will be announced, save this brief preparatory text:

Phaedrus, the autobiographical protagonist of Pirsig's Zen, is assigned to teach rhetoric to a class of undergraduates. Confused by the straightforward problem of how to activate a bunch of apparently lazy and uninterested students, his anger and puzzlement lead him instinctively to devise a ``demonstrator'' --- a task performed in front of the class in which the method of teaching embodies what is being taught. In line with the Werkplaats' maxim Only real work has the correct sense of requiredness, Phaedrus enacts his bald reconsideration of the question ``how to teach?'' in front of the students he is trying to teach.

In one particular passage, Phaedrus assigns his class a broad, straightforward task --- to write an essay on an aspect of the United States --- and becomes preoccupied with one particular girl who, despite a reputation for being serious and hardworking, is in a state of perpetual crisis through not being able to think of ``anything to say.'' He obliquely recognizes in her block something of his own paralysis in not being able to think of ``anything to say'' back to her by way of advice, and is baffled by his own eventual stroke of insight: ``Narrow it down to one street.'' This advice doesn't work either, but after subsequently suggesting, ``Narrow it down further to one building,'' then out of sheer frustration ``one brick,'' something gives and the student produces a long, substantial essay about the front of the local opera house. From this unwitting experiment Phaedrus reasons that she was blocked by the expectation that she ought to be repeating something already stated elsewhere, and that she was freed by the comic extremity of his suggestion to write about a single brick --- for which there was no obvious precedent, therefore no right or wrong way to go about it, and therefore no phantom standard to have to measure up to. By this curious yet perfectly logical method, the student was liberated to see for herself, and to act independently. He performs variations on the exercise with the rest of his class --- ``Write about the back of your thumb for an hour'' --- which yield similar results, and lead him to conclude that this implied expectation of imitation is the real barrier to free engagement, active participation and actual learning.

See http://www.contemporaryartgallery.ca

Posted 29 January 2010 13:12:11


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