Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On the Elementary

One of the nice things about academia, if you do it right, is that you can connect with people in different disciplines who nonetheless share common interests. I had a lovely email exchange the other day with a built environments scholar. He's from Vojvodina, the northern region of Serbia, and now lives in Florida. He agreed to answer some questions by email as I sorted out some questions about the portrayal of the city of Zagreb in 1950s animation. He introduced me to a school of urban planning common in socialist countries in which the entire city was imagined as a kind of park. More traditional, nineteenth-century ideas of parkland returned to Yugoslavia in the 1970s. I'm now reading through material he recommended which I picked up at the Built Environments Library at UW yesterday. I haven't entered the Built Environments library once in five years. I'm sure this concept would be obvious to a lot of people, and probably comes up in introductory courses on urban planning and the built environment. But the idea was new to me and it makes me rethink a lot of what I've been looking at these past few months.

Someone close to me, someone who has seen almost as many "difficult" films as I have seen but hasn't taken a single film class in his life, told me about what he considered to be an interesting phenomenon in many movies, namely the tension between sound that characters can't hear and sound that they can. Of course, he was working through the concept of diegetic and non-diegetic sound, terms that we introduce to students within three weeks of any introductory film course.

If I were to define the most significant problem among academics, the problem that may encompass most scholarship, a problem, I might add, which affects many people outside academia, it is the fear of not-knowing, the fear of not being an expert, the fear of getting things wrong. That fear is tied directly to the fundamentalist mindset which can't accept the unknowable.

New suggestion: At least once every two years, every professor, no matter how advanced, should be required to take an introductory undergraduate course in any subject outside his discipline.

(I live in a fantasy world.)

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