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  • Reflections from Rancière:five villanelles
  • Christopher Norris (bio)

A man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know. He cannot search for what he knows – since he knows it, there is no need to search – nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for.

—Plato, Meno

The master always keeps a piece of learning – that is to say, a piece of the student's ignorance – up his sleeve. I understood that, says the satisfied student. You think so, corrects the master. In fact, there's a difficulty here that I've been sparing you until now. We will explain it when we get to the corresponding lesson. What does this mean? asks the curious student. I could tell you, responds the master, but it would be premature: you wouldn't understand at all. … Thus does the triumphant Achilles drag Hector's corpse, attached to his chariot, around the city of Troy.

—Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation

It's Meno's paradox I take to heart.You taught me this yet proved your teaching vain.If naught's foreknown how then can learning start?

It seems those plus-marks on my progress-chartWere things that I forgot, then learned again.It's Meno's paradox I take to heart.

Forgetting's a much underrated art,Said Nietzsche, one that helps us to keep sane.If all's foreknown how then can learning start? [End Page 42]

Well known to you but not to poor DescartesWho thought all truths must show up sharp and plain.It's Meno's paradox I take to heart.

You taught me: no thought-strategy so smartIt yields up truths fresh-minted in the brain.If naught's foreknown how then can learning start?

That's how my anamnesis plays its partBy setting your maieutic skills in train.It's Meno's paradox I take to heart;If all's foreknown how then can learning start?

* * * * *

Let's see that neither of us takes the lead.Such pedagogy begs a modest air.The Meno ploy's much likelier to succeed.

The ignorant schoolmaster finds his creedIn this shrewd maxim of Jacques Rancière:Let's see that neither of us takes the lead.

The old-style pedagogues still say 'Force-feedThe ignorami,' but those dotards err:The Meno ploy's much likelier to succeed.

It says we'll both get more by heart once freedFrom that old itch to hog the teacher's share.Let's see that neither of us takes the lead.

It's classroom inequalities that breedThe teacher's rage and pupil's vengeful prayer:The Meno ploy's much likelier to succeed.

Else they'd have recognized the mutual needFor ignorance between that mind-locked pair.Let's see that neither of us takes the lead;The Meno ploy's much likelier to succeed. [End Page 43]

* * * * *

Unwise to think you're holding all the keys.That way, you'll find they've jammed the lock and fled.Make your best guide the eiron Socrates.

His wager was he'd lead them, by degrees,To think 'No telling lead from being led.'Unwise to think you're holding all the keys.

His way, I guess you'll not do much to pleaseThe ruling class (think hemlock!), but insteadMake your best guide the eiron Socrates.

Then it's both parties feel the tightened squeezeOf an elenchus, yet still think ahead:Unwise to think you're holding all the keys.

Old pedagogues would have you on your knees,Not thinking inch-by-inch along the thread.Make your best guide the eiron Socrates.

The end's what neither party yet foresees,Since each has no fixed aim to take as read.Unwise to think you're holding all the keys;Make your best guide the eiron Socrates.

* * * * *

Wise ignorance but not the holy fool.Let folly not be praised for heaven's sake.No yield from nescience except in school.

'Seek truths unthought-of' is the only rule.Think dialectically where they're...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2095
Print ISSN
0049-2426
Pages
pp. 42-45
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-15
Open Access
No
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