26th July 2005. Its been some time since we spoke. This conversation meanders. But sputters too. And as often becomes a ghost. Welcome P.
Phaedrus: Tell me. What was yesterday like.
S: Nice. Better. I may have broken through. We are a long way from a robust radicalism – and an even longer way away from robust resilient thinking. There are too many bad habits; too many things that have been privileged; years and years of going down pathways that promised safety – the safe options road.
P: But surely you don’t object to that. I do remember your being very interested in following a step behind thought processes.
S: Ummm. You are right. I am not making value judgements. Though I admit it sounds like that. I am a student of patterns and ways. The aboriginal way of categorizing components of life is very different and as significant as any other. I am not a missionary being deprecating about the practices and ways of the other. That would be incorrect. However with the 17 students I have not had much time to sit down and comprehend their vocabulary, their universe of discourse – which states what is important and what is not. Given how rushed I am these days I sometimes wish I could just proscribe all that they consider important – hoping in some way to turn a switch which makes them all open to a wide variety of options. But alas that cannot be done. Education is about a slow and delicate process – which has to be done in a sisyphusian fashion – one step at a time. And each step has to be taken by the child herself – I cant give information, for that would put all of them into wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. At any step they could turn around and cut me out – we don’t trust you. So yesterday was a turning point – and it was visible. The bodies did not slouch as much, the deprecatory look was confined to a few, chests were forward, eyes were open wider – you could begin to see a different form of engagement. The drawl in the voice and the fear of commitment is still there – but there is a little bit of trust – a flicker of faith. We may pull it off. But still they are mildly nasty.
P: Tell me about the ‘eager restless student’ again. Been a while since I heard that.
S: It has been, hasn’t it. 1987 – School of Architecture, New Delhi, and then again TVB 1991. Okay. I took this group of students to the basketball court and pushed the ball away from me. A minute later I found myself watching an enthusiastic soccer match in progress. There must have been 25 of them there that day. Years later – I was standing similarly with Randhir – and watching the furious kicking of the ball. Many of them had never played soccer. But had thrown themselves into the kicking. But it wasn’t about the ball was it? It was the first thing – I didn’t have to say anything – they just took off. But it was a class – and they had changed it into a game. But more importantly they were not standing around asking to be instructed – tell us what to do. Now imagine you walk into a class and there is a buzz. They are eager – as though you are what they have been waiting for – and cannot get enough of what you have to offer. They snatch, they push, they are open and give themselves totally. Ah but how strange is that. What is more likely is a group of students crouched – defensively – silent, watchful for tricks, deprecatory and dismissive of the teacher just to get a few laughs from the other students, always fearful lest they look ridiculous. But one day I had a class in Jerusalem. 35 students like open-mouthed vacuum cleaners – snapping up everything I had to offer, sucking up everything. Throwing themselves into the discussion, running, running, here there and in the end they were exhausted. Totally drained. They would ask what is going on, why are we SO tired – this has never happened to us even when we have trekked huge distances in the army. Ah! that is your mind – you use it and it tires. Can we build up the stamina of our mind? – of course you can. I will help – it will take time. But you have to use it – not a little – you have to strain it, push it, and keep doing that; till your brain is strong and grows in all directions – and is hungry for the limit experience. And so it was that I encountered the eager restless student.
P: Will these students go that way?
S: That would be wonderful to speculate. We are still building confidence – “no don’t be scared, say it aloud, I am here to strike down the judgemental, good on you”. And so on – again and again – pushing, pushing always. Its happening, I amplified one or two things that the fearful do – stand away, hands cupped under face, crossed arms – classic, classic. Leaning back to speak – always conscious of themselves; till they look around and see the others – you cannot play soccer this way, you have to throw yourself at the ball, the question, the idea. But like I started saying at the beginning – its slow, its taken two weeks, I have been gentle (this is not Israel), and they are responding. They are beginning to trust me. Or in their words ‘ now they get it’ or have begun to see “what is going on”.
(But then – Why cant they just speak English – and be done with.)
What did we do …
11.45 AM – 12.45 AM
What is Design?
Spider Diagram: Understanding Categories (5 minutes)
2.00 PM Lets fill out the chart (1)
2.30 PM Paper lamps – Fringe Festival entries, ways of thinking(2)
3.00 PM On Blogs
3.30 PM On Games: War Games, Policy Games, Stock Market
4.00 PM Design the Corporation game(3)
These were the notes of the lecture I was doing in Class. My job is to bring the points alive and make you attain the concepts. We have done 1 to 3. 4 onwards next week.
1. Design is what designers do!
a. Categorize the population of designers on this planet
b. Categorize work places
c. Categorize works
d. Categorize pathways, staff inclinations
2. How do they design
a. Understanding design process,
c. Communities of practice – and therefore construction of meaning.
d. Nature of Industry differs and so also
e. The role of the designer.
3. There are many Technological discourses in design
a. Formalistic: Cars, Consumer Electronics
b. Formalistic/ problem solving: Medical Equipment, Capital Equipment
c. Formalistic/ production thinking: Chairs, Homewares
d. Art Practice: Objects orientated to one offs and museums.
e. Sustainability: …
4. There are many ways to categorize design
a. Linear/dialectical opposition: Engineering vs Aesthetics:
b. 2D Cartography: Mapping Tendencies
c. 3 D lattice: Function (analytical) to Form(intuitive); simple/clear to complex/fuzzy; reductionist to complex constructions
5. The Propositions designers make are like everything else Arbitrary and completely contextual:
a. 10 Principles of good design: Rams and Braun
b. Neo Primitivism: Branzi
c. Form follows function: Sullivan
d. Form follows fun: ?
6. Design communities may agree on certain shared Key concepts:
a. Design Process
7. Designer often talk about Good Design? But what is really challenging is to talk about bad design or Anti Design.
a. Broaden the range of possible
b. Visually Challenging
c. Invent a way
d. Ah – Ha ha – Aha
8. The Spider Diagram – 8 dimensions. Problems in categorizations
Have Spider Diagram – Will fill our learning Contract
The Matrix Filled Out and the Grade aspirations finalised. Let us think about where we want to get – and ask Soumitri to do these kinds of lectures, and these kinds of things in the studio. Let us help him get a life – by diving into work and doing it all ourselves – so that he can do other things he needs doing, rather than neglect it all.
a. Lectures List
b. Studio tasks
Capability Development thru self motivated action:
c. Talks by Visitor: Start with Trades Hall, make a list of all the possibilities and then work your way through that. Do not ask yourself – will that be something I will like. It’s not about linking – ask if it will provoke your somnambulant brain.
d. Films: Make a list of films; take care to make a list of films from Eastern Europe. Stay away from English language programming if you can help it. The stay away from Western Europe for a bit. Give your brain a chance.
e. Visits/ Field Trips: Lets go somewhere, can we go to the Lonely Planet Offices and to the Ford Museum. Just two trips which we do together. Can you set it up pl?
f. Term Paper: Lets write up this thing. Let us see if we can construct something in English – not that sort of strange dialectish thing you speak with that strange accent and English words in incorrect places in the sentence.
g. Assignment: Lets do CSI, or this journalistic assignment, or an expose or an investigation. Like the design profession is a racket – a charade – ‘blue’, or slaves to the ‘blue’. In fact the categories may all be things to do ‘tear the mask off’ investigations into. Wont that be exciting.
h. Case Studies: Lets do a story – a good news story. Like the children’s parliament. Lets find people who are doing amazing things in their lives. Lets find people who are people orientated.
Check list of the learning contract:
i. It should be what you like doing. Like watching films.
j. It should then change the way you do this thing. You become an avid Tarkovsky fan.
k. It should inform your ability to work with the idea of the corporation. You get a totally different take on society.
l. It should develop capability. Your thinking is improved.
Some years ago Soumitri got air dropped into a curious and arcane community of people who lived on this island. They were vibrant, enthusiastic and very physically accomplished. Many in this country – he was to discover – had travelled very little. They had a phrase ‘comfort zone’ that described their cultural practices – and of this there were many. So while they shared a common culture, and many didn’t realise how strange this culture was to foreigners, and assumed that their culture was an international western culture. Which it wasn’t and Europeans and Americans found the local culture equally arcane and strange. One day a group of people got together to catalogue their ways and this is how they went about it. How? Read on….
1. The Look: Extreme Makeover Issues
Its been 20 months since Soumitri came to Australia. His shoes have given out. His clothes are getting frayed – and he is having problems rotating items in his wardrobe. He could have gone out and bought clothes – but seems paralysed and unable to figure out, in terms of the look, what he should buy and from where. He is aware that there is right way – and clothes in this country are the crucial and fundamental way to comprehend a person. Unlike other countries where it is possible to wear traditional clothes – here it seems to be the norm to be ‘with in’, or it is required to be careful in dressing and people have to do it “the right way”. What you wear defines who you are – like the look of the real estate salesman being specific to them.
So in short Soumitri NEEDS to buy clothes, but cannot until the different possible ways for him to dress are explained to him. He has asked you to make 8 categories of ways people dress in Melbourne and explain the options to him.
2. Ways of Speaking: Chill Factor Issues
Last year he got tired of people treating him like an inarticulate foreigner. People would speak slowly – and one day Simon used the word Déjà vu, and proceeded to explain what it meant. Soumitri stopped him and said; ‘has it ever occurred to you that I am twice your age and may have a vocabulary twice as large as yours. And anyway déjà vu is a French expression’. On Saturday this girl began to explain that ‘my fair lady’ was this English play – and my think bubble said ‘and when I first saw it you probably were not even born’.
It is true that by now he can understand and be understood quite clearly. He still has to watch for his v’s sounding like W – which is a common Indian pronunciation problem. He can hear an Oye and know that what is meant is an I. He knows that there are many languages that are spoken in this city – and each language marks out the speaker as a particular cultural category of person.
Soumitri needs to understand the languages spoken in this country. He would like you make 8 categories of the ‘ways people speak english’.
But first let us learn to pronounce his name properly- Sow-mi (ttens) – three Vu(h) –ru(h)-du(h)—raa-jun.
3. Cultural capital: Cool Factor Issues
Two students in class had seen Tarkovsky, and a majority of the students consumed mainstream Hollywood fare. With its repeated construction of modern day fairy tales: typically the idea of the movie was to stick to the notions of feel good, heroic exploits and technological wizardry. Emotional explorations were to be kept out or if allowed in were to be extremely shallow and only the visible spectrum was allowed. It may be possible that what cinema meant for people who conflated film with Hollywood was only one of many genres of cinema. Which then makes significant genres in all aspects of cultural practice in the city. Either way, for his sanity and to maintain the spirit of the student group, Soumitri needs to understand the cultural dimension of the students.
But that’s one thing. Another is that the expression ’way cool’ is a mark of appreciation handed out by all people. And so there must exist un-cool ways too. Soumitri finds these value judgements and classifications of people based upon their manifest cultures quite confusing. He asks that you make 8 categories of culture – 8 dimensions denoting subcultures of the way people living in Melbourne may be classified.
4. Ways of Eating: Issues about Dogma
People in Melbourne tend to consume copious quantities of red meats and an even greater proportion of processed foods. All of this means their total intake of chemicals and factory machine oil must be quite high. They seem to keep coming together for food events – barbies, eating out. And even other events, like sitting in a park or at a meeting or sitting in class, are converted into food events. Chomp, crunch, crackle, slurp – is the constant refrain all over the country. Can they not eat at specific times and in specific places? Do we all have to impersonate cud chewing mammals 24/7? But that is the zone of Soumitri finding things irritating about Melbourne culture. We are not even talking about crumbs all over and foody breath all the time everywhere – onions, garlic, cheese.
But lets talk in a charitable vein. Soumitri needs to understand food practices. Lets make 8 categories of ‘ways of eating’ so that Soumitri is prepared to face strage practices as normal.
On 25th July you all did the exercise: Some well some not so well.
You are coming in on Monday next week with an AV in PDF of your two categories.
Soumitri will recombine these into the four big areas we were looking at.
But you will also have to be specific – a la extreme makeover – with costs, shops where he will buy things, places where he should eat, ways he can learn the new accent. Because – strange but true – he actually wishes to understand all this.
And once the male part of this is done we will take Soumitri out from the text and put Anara in there and do it all over again with a feminine take on the areas. Okay?
Soumitri Does Lectures. Each lecture is an undertaking. It takes days and hours ( and the development lasts for a few weeks if not longer) – I usually work from 3 AM till 7 , when my household needs me – to develop the lecture. And then I am often unhappy, so like a good surfer I throw away the draft and start all over again. I am not a perfectionist – because the end result is seldom perfect.
In doing these lectures I aim to make a whopping big difference to the listener. I believe that the lecture is something they will never ever forget. And I have been doing this for years – 19 to be precise. I have hundreds of students who still remember things I said, or so they claim, in some lecture. Years ago I was in a community of university teachers in Delhi, ah that haven of the intellect how I miss it, who all put in as much if not more into their every interaction with the student. Sheena used to do these awesome lectures which involved her building propositions upon propositions like building – and then saying at the end ‘viola’ or more her style ‘ there’. I learnt from her how to prepare, how to respect the student, and how to respect the window of interaction that is given to us – the class.
As I speaker I obsess about who you are, what you need to hear and how I can help. I often start by developing a provocative line of thought. I then start embroidering it and go on and on till often the line of argument has to be abandoned – because I begin to feel that the way the argument was developing was another lecture – and not the one I wanted to do now. So start again. How many starts, how many unfinished projects? Will give yo a peek into my folders.
On Friday like many of you I landed up at 10.10.01. But it was 12.12.01 – you have asked yesterday if I can do a repeat performance. I can – and I would be honoured to redo for you “Understanding the sustainability movement”. Thank you for asking. I live for encores. You asked if I could re-do the ‘different histories’ lecture – again I would be honoured. Like all those academies of higher learning where minds gather – I would like to propose a post dinner lecture on a day that works for both of us.
I also have a lecture I did for ‘politics of Space in the age of terror’ conference in June. The question session after my presentation was violent, fractious and deeply polarised the audience. I felt disturbed after that. Some thing similar happened on Friday. I must admit I set out to disturb the smug morality of the greens – and the result was not pleasant.
Usually after the lecture I am spent. Phew! Time to move on.
(For inspiration read Magister Ludi or The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse.