Jul 26, 2022Liked by Sara Hendren

Hi Sara, definitely have a lot of thoughts on this. I believe the classes you're teaching are Olin classes? Looking back on my experience on campus, I think it was difficult sometimes to have conversations because we had so little grounding in any sort of "humanities" literature, and as such words or ideas got thrown around without even a shared understanding of what things mean; e.g., if we're talking about "intersectionality," what are we actually talking about? Whose ideas are we invoking when we use that word?

Building off of the idea of readiness, one thing that I've found helpful in my post-Olin intellectual life is to view the act of reading a text as an encounter between you and a piece of writing, one which has an intellectual genealogy that you probably aren't yet aware of, and whose ideas have also been taken up by others towards various ends, some of which you may agree with and some of which you may not. The ZPD is actually sort of an interesting example of this. In my grad classes, Vygotsky was fairly contentious because he was known to apply his own theories toward ends that were pretty racist (or at least Eurocentric), and that generated a lot of discomfort with the idea of aligning oneself with his theories. At the same time, if you read up on Vygotsky, you find that he was also quite Marxist in his beliefs, and that the ZPD was part of his broader theory of the mind as inherently based in social and intersubjective meaning-making. Today, many of the scholars in my field doing crucial, justice-oriented work are broadly "Vygotskian." These facts can't be summed up into a single satisfying conclusion, but I've found it comforting to view each writing as part of a broader historical context and body of work, one that we can explore in search of a clearer sense of meaning.

Sorry for the long response; very interested to hear how the classes go. Hope you're doing well!

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Matt, it's so great to hear from you, and you are tracking along with all the things on my mind! You are absolutely right that at Olin we don't have enough shared humanities-speak, so our terms get diffuse and meaningless pretty fast. This post is in part an aim to correct that, at least in my own classes. And I didn't know this about Vygotsky, but of course it's no surprise that there are objectionable ideas among his many ideas in general. And as you say, this is the heart of the matter: can we disentangle people from their ideas? Can we imagine that we ourselves will be "read" in the future with an eye toward our own many shortcomings? I blogged about scholar Tyler Roberts's notion of "critical assent" (linked below)—just the idea that we can hold our misgivings intact while also assenting to some set of ideas in our search for what seems true, or true in part enough to contend with in a serious way, without glib dismissal. Roberts cites Hans Gadamer's reminder that "the text which is read (merely) historically is forced to abandon its claim to be saying something true." So—I'm hoping that we can manage both this fall at Olin: reading with criticality and with provisional-enough assent to discover insight. Miss talking with you! Thanks for showing up here.


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