13 SES 14, Notes in/on Education
Recent articles in mainstream media praise the practice of taking hand written notes in the lecture hall, while recommending students to ditch their laptops and return to the trusted pen and paper. These arguments always presuppose that notes are taken in order to be studied after the lecture, something to facilitate learning post-factum. The notes appear to be useful only after the lecture, as a way in which information is extracted out of the live event of the lecture and solidified in some form of writing to be revisited. Thus, study and its thinking seem to happen only after the event of lecturing. This presentation will argue for an alternative perspective: student’s note-taking is an educational practice meqningful in and of itself, i.e. a specific way of relating to the live event of the lecture. In order to sketch out this perspective, a phenomenological approach will be employed, inspired by Vilém Flusser’s phenomenology of gestures. A phenomenology of gestures assumes that a gesture is always an event of thinking with media in which a certain freedom is expressed. While Flusser has described note-taking to some extent, his description always concerned the individual note-taker - the inspired writer scribbling something in one’s notebook after being struck by inspiration. In Flusser’s phenomenology of gestures there is no place for collective gestures such as the student’s note-taking in a lecture hall. Can this be called a gesture at all? There are thinkers which have pointed out its seemingly mindless aspect. For example, Nietzsche considered the student’s note-taking as ‘mechanical’ movements, as if students were automatons who mindlessly transcribe something. Note-taking is not an aesthetic gesture, at best it is boring, at worst it is ‘painful to watch’ – as Walter Benjamin noticed. Since nothing original is created there, is then note-taking a real gesture? This presentation will argue that the potential of note-taking can be seen only if we look at the medial specificity of this gesture – as writing which displaces the voice – and at its collective character. Note-taking gives us a way of seeing how collective thinking emerges, a thinking that does not belong to the lecturer only, nor only to the student, rather as something which emerges in the middle, in the relation of attention established among the lecturer, the students and the object of thought.
Benjamin, W. (1996-2003). Selected writings: Volume 1: 1913-1926. Cambridge, Mass., London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Flusser, V. (2011). Does writing have a future? (Nancy Ann Roth, Trans.). Electronic mediations: v. 33. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Flusser, V. (2014). Gestures. (Nancy Ann Roth, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Nietzsche, F. (1910). The Future of our Educational Institutions. (J. M. Kennedy, Trans.). Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis.
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