Camus and the Art of Teaching

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<ul><li><p>EDUCATIONAL THEORY Summer 1987, Vol. 37, No. 3 0 1967 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois </p><p>Camus and the Art of Teaching By lgnacio L. Gotz </p><p>INTRODUCTION </p><p>The purpose of this paper is to explore the connection between art and teaching. This connection, which is often sloganized in statements claiming that teaching is an art, has remained for the most part empty because the meaning of art usually has been left unexplained. Without a reasonably clear understanding of art it is meaningless to claim that teaching is an art. </p><p>In this paper I shall explore first Camuss view of art. As an artist himself, Camus paid considerable attention to the notion of art, especially to its implications for twentieth- century artists. Once Camuss notion of art is as clear as it can possibly be, I shall relate it to the practices of teaching. </p><p>1 must add that my concern here is not to develop a general theory of art, but to explain Camuss own views. Hence, reference to other contemporary theories of art are excluded, not because they are not significant, but because they would distract from the focus of the article. One must know ones limits, and Nemesis watches out for the transgressor. The Greeks never maintained that the limits could not be crossed, only that no one did so with impunity. </p><p>1. In her book about Camus, Germaine Bree speaks of the artist as Ihomme absurde par excellence.2 The characterization is adequate and appropriate. For Camus, art is a paramount way of living under the shadow of the absurd. Consequently, the artist is the most absurd ~haracter~ Camus deals with in his writings. This connection between art and the absurd must be investigated. </p><p>For Camus, the absurd is basically the relation that exists between the human longing for order, peace, beauty, happiness, or whatever else humans may yearn for, and the unhappiness, ugliness, strife, and disorder experienced in the day-to-day process of living. The absurd is a relation between question and answer. For Camus, the longing is innate. To be human is to long. But the problem does not arise with the longing alone; neither does it consist in the chaos of the world taken by itself or as an objective datum. The relation that is the absurd arises in the coming together of man and world, longing and disappointment. Camus writes: This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.4 And again: This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.I5 </p><p>The absurd, therefore, is the realization that the human longing goes unanswered. </p><p>Correspondence: 107 Barnard Hall, New College, Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, NY 1 1550. </p><p>1. I have explored the bearing of other contemporary views of art on teaching in Zen in the Art of Teaching, New Education 7, nos. 1-2 (1985): 5-9, and in Heidegger and the Art of Teaching, Educational Theory 33, no. 1 (Winter 1983): 1-9. </p><p>For a view linking Langers theory of art with teaching, see Elliot Eisner, The Educational hagination (New York: Macrnillan. 1979), and the critique of it by H. A. Alexander, Eisners Aesthetic Theory of Evaluation, Educational Theory 36, no. 3 (Summer 1986): 259-70. </p><p>2. Germaine Bree, Camus (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1964), 245. 3. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (New York: Vintage, 1955), 68. 4. Ibid.. 16. 5. Ibid., 5. </p><p>265 VOLUME 37. NUMBER 3 </p></li><li><p>266 EDUCATIONAL THEORY </p><p>But by realization is not meant a purely conceptual awareness. Rather, it is a matter of experience first, which is later reflected on and conceptualized. The experience comes unexpectedly, as it did to the young Camus at fifteen, when one day he spat blood, was diagnosed as tubercular, and had to confront realistically the possibility of death. </p><p>Further, the absurd is a relation, that is, a link between two terms. It is a relation between human longing and wordly rejection, between the human call and the worlds silence. Consequently, the absurd, properly speaking, depends as much on man as on the world.6 If there were no human query, there would be no absurd. </p><p>The absurd does not pertain to the inanimate or the nonhuman world. Similarly, if the human question were satisfactorily answered, there would be no absurd. If man realized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be re~onciled.~ But such is not the case. The hiatus remains; it is the gap that joins the precipices, and it is the absurd that joins man and world. The absurd is the relationship between the two elements, the human and the cosmic. This relation is not of comradeship but of estrangement. That is why Camus calls it divorce: </p><p>The absurd is essentially a divorce. It lies in neither of the elements compared; it is born of their confrontation.. . . I can therefore say that the Absurd is not in man . . . nor in the world, but in their presence together. For the moment it is the only bond uniting them. If I wish to limit myself to facts, I know what man wants, I know what the world offers him, and now I can say that I always know what links </p><p>Such, briefly, is the character and nature of the absurd. 2. To be an absurd person, according to Camus, is to live with full unclouded </p><p>awareness of the absurd. Negatively, it is to live in such a way that the absurd is never denied or escaped; yet it is never consented to. There can be no absurd outside the human mind, Camus wrote, for only the human mind can comprehend the nostalgia that is wasted upon the callousness of the world. Yet the absurd has meaning only in so far as it is not agreed to.1 Thus, the question is to remain true to the experience Out Of which the absurd has been born, without succumbing to it in nihilism and without denying it. Being able to remain on that dizzying crest - that is integrity and the rest is subterfuge. </p><p>For Camus, the primary imperative is to be honest - intellectually honest. This honesty requires that no experience undergone be ever denied or emasculated. The longing for total meaning, total love, total life, and the answer of the world - secrecy, indifference, and death - give rise to an experience that is primary and fundamental. It must not be obliterated, no matter how painful; it must not be covered up or denied. No matter how seductive the explanations and the partial satisfactions, the stark reality of the universes indifference to human longing, of its secrecy, and of death, must not be forgotten. To retain this memory, to be honest about it - and yet to fight against death, against indifference, against mystery, and against efforts to cover up the evidence - such is the life that transpires under the shadow of the absurd, and it is the only authentic human life. </p><p>3. Art, Camus tells us, involves extreme awareness. It is thought in its most lucid form.12 We are also told that creating is living d~ubly. ~ What do these two statements tell us about the absurd character of art? </p><p>In its most fundamental reality art, says Camus, is absurd because it marks both </p><p>6. Ibid., 16. 7. Ibid.. 13. 8. Ibid., 22-23. 9. Ibid., 23. 10. Ibid., 24. 11. Ibid., 37. 12. Ibid., 72. 13. Ibid., 70. </p><p>SUMMER 1987 </p></li><li><p>CAMUS AND TEACHING 267 </p><p>the death of an experience and its m~ltiplication.~ The profound experience that marks the genesis of the work of art cannot be reproduced entirely. Upon inspecting the world a profound feeling has gripped the artist, and he/she hastens to express it in his/her favorite medium. But the expression must perforce remain truncated, incomplete, because we have no way of expressing totally the contents of our experiences. This is due not only to the fact that our means of expression are inadequate to the task, but also to the unconscious or mysterious layer that surrounds any utterance, a fact of which Freud has made us aware. Deep feelings always mean more than they are conscious of saying,15 Camus explains. Consequently any work of art, by its nature, is condemned to be /ess,16 to express only partially what the artist has felt in the innermost recesses of his/her being and to convey certain aspects in a mysterious form. </p><p>And yet, wouldnt the artist want to express it all? Wouldnt he/she want to capture wholly and not only in part the vision seen at the moment of inspiration? This nostalgia for wholeness clashes with the limits of partiality imposed upon the artist by the universe in which we live. In art as in everything, the absurd rears up its head. </p><p>But true artists refuse to yield. Firstly, they must resist the temptation, often spawned by a successful work, to think that they have said it all, that they have captured the fullness of the moment or given sound to the full range of emotions. Secondly, they must seek to express ever more intimate aspects of reality. But they must beware: they must not believe the work perfect. To compensate, an effort is sometimes made: perhaps the multiplicity of works will more nearly exhaust what one work alone could never say. Perhaps quantity will do instead of depth and wholeness. And the temptation is to think that this substitution might indeed be possible, that the quantity of poems, paintings, songs, statues will comprehend and express what a single work could never do. But the true absurd artist knows that this can never be the case. The quest for wholeness will forever be frustrated by the partiality of expression obtaining in the present state of affairs. True artists know their efforts must miscarry. But they know, too, that to refuse the effort betrays the absurd as much as to claim completeness. Therefore they accept no subterfuge and remain lucid in their quest. Since art, given this tendency, is inclined to be repetitious, it bears witness, in a preeminent way, to the absurdity of the world. It makes the authentic artist the most lucid kind of human. </p><p>From another perspective it is valid to maintain that true art necessarily points beyond itself. It itself is an implication of wholeness where only partiality has been expressed. True art never reproduces exactly, no matter what paintings may seem to represent to the untrained eye. It is impossible for art to be realistic in the usual scientific sense, in the sense that it can reproduce reality or the world as experienced in feelings and through the imagination. The World never reveals itself perfectly; indeed, if the world were clear, art would not exist. Why would one filter absolutely pure water? No; there is no true creation without a secret.l8 And it is this characteristic, perhaps, as Heidegger has maintained, that makes art so necessary a part of the human condition. For while science pretends that what it says about the world is the truth, art maintains that the truth lies rather in what it implies about the world. For the world is not merely what we see, but equally what we do not see - indeed, what would be betrayed in the saying or diffused in the seeing, as Goethe claimed and Heisenberg demonstrated. Art, then, remains the only means of depicting the dress of the world as well as its nakedness, the worlds appearance and reality, the visible and the invisible, history and mystery. It is in this sense that Nietzsche once wrote that art is the only truly metaphysical activity of </p><p>14. Ibid. 15. Ibid., 8. 16. Ibid., 72. 17. Ibid.. 73. 18. Ibid.. 84. 19. Friedrich Nietzsche, Attempt at Self-Criticism: chap. 5 of The Birth of Tragedy (New </p><p>York: Vintage, 1967), 22. </p><p>VOLUME 37, NUMBER 3 </p></li><li><p>268 EDUCATIONAL THEORY </p><p>The decision to create, then, implies a choice. The artist must decide what elements of the whole of experience are to be expressed on canvas or in words and which ones must be withheld. The whole is inexpressible, so to create is necessarily to limit ones world,2o the world one has experienced, the world one captured in the fleeting stirrings of ones soul.* </p><p>Choices must be made if there is to be art. Yet such choices are gratuitous. What evidence does one have that in describing the world this element chosen will be more significant than that, in the long run? What justification is there for the expression of filtered reality? We have art, according to Nietzsche, in order not to die of the truth. The truth, naked and uncovered, even if it manifested itself to us, would slay us in its power and its splendor. No one can see God and live. So we have art, and therefore all art is, in a true sense, unfaithful to reality. Even granting, arguendo, that objective, pure truth could be reached, could we live in the starkness of such truth, with the naked feeling of ourselves and our world? On the other hand, what grounds do we have to believe that it is better to live by art than to die by truth? None. But it is a chance that artists take without certainty of its outcome. Such a chance is characteristic of absurd art. In the words of Camus, </p><p>To work and create for nothing, to sculpture in clay, to know that ones creation has no future, to see ones work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries -this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions. Per- forming these two tasks simultaneously, negating on the one hand and magnifying on the other, is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors.n </p><p>Only in this way can the artist achieve the freedom essential to artistic work: to be free from the very undertaking of art. </p><p>The artist, then, lives a double life of affirmation and denial. True art hovers between failure and perseverance, negation and statement. It is an exercise between detachment and passion.26 It must maintain the longing, recognize the limits, and proceed with steadfast determination. Art, therefore, is a way of concretizing the absurd in life. Art is not absurd - and therefore it is not art - if the work does not illustrate divorce and revolt,27 if its main characteristic is not perseverance in an effort considered sterile.28 In a true sense, perhaps the greatest work of art has less importance in itself than in the ordeal it demands of a man and the opportunity it provides him of overcoming his phantoms and approaching a little closer to his naked reality. By its character, art seems eminently suited to exemplifying the absurd. It is one of the principal ways of leading a life under the shadow of the absurd. </p><p>4. It must be clear that to approach art under the shadow of the absurd is no easy matter. Characteristically, the artist is a person in revolt, a rebel. The rebel, says Camus, is a man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.30 </p><p>There is in revolt a simultaneous negation and affirmation. One says No because of a certain Yes implied; one denies access to a certain value that is thereby implicitly </p><p>20. Camus, The Myth of...</p></li></ul>