Phaedrus: Its been a while. And I see you have been attacked and mauled. But that is another story I guess. So tell me how will you respond to Ben’s impassioned prose.
S: I guess that is my reward – the pain, the angst, and the proof of the engagement. Its taken 6 weeks for the cry to emerge – but when it did it came from the heart. Anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance and wisdom ( this is that quote from ‘all that jazz’ – with the last word changed from Death). I guess we are still only getting past denial here. But let me tell you something that is interesting about B’s post.
P: Tell me?
S: B mentions the class as equally trying to understand Soumitri’s mind. So that makes two of us – because I am trying to understand the students’ mind – though not as a collective. And it has been so hard – more so than in many occasions in the past. Maybe I am growing old fast and have less and less stamina for the questioning process. I saw some of them, covertly watched their faces, on sunday and the engrossment was reward itself. 4 o’clock came too swiftly, too quickly. And I had to hold bcak from saying – see wasn’t it fun? This my dear friends is the joy of design. But I cant say that – because they would have said ‘what’ – and that would have destroyed the magic. The value of that experience has to stay like that hard lump of sorrow and has to be recreated each time – ‘let me get into a sorrowful state’ – and more importantly has to be felt like a longing. ‘I want to get into that state’. And it will take years for each of them to make space for that kind of meditative practice – and most will probably put it away as that sunday!
But B does say that it is about process and not product. So the mind does understand. But does it have faith that this is the ‘right way’? Can beautiful things emerge from the often trivial and jocular game? Or does it have to be a ‘rational and varbal sequence of events’. Years ago – in the Denon design studios in Shirakawa in central japan – I had a music sysstem mockup readied for presentation. I stood in front of the design team and got ready to present. Kitagawa-san motioned for me to sit down. And the team spent the next ten minutes studying the mockup – what can be seen need not be explained. It was astounding. Never again I was to tell myself will I use my mouth when the eyes will do the job better.
And so it was lst sunday – quiet absorption, and that inner joy like that of an engrossed child making a sand castle. And like the sand castle what we make must be swept away, broken, set aside, and touvhed but not spoken about.
P: Is it time to talk about the paper lamps?
S: It may be. The paper lamp is a trick exercise. It is simple – just paper and wire. But it is a craft object, and an object which makes significant the play of light on paper important. It is to be feast for the eyes – and so has to be subtle and refined. But the trick is in the realisation that you cannot design this by using the ‘way’ the students have adopted – that of thinking through and executing. It demands exploration, trials and a realisation of the value of light as an actor in the final result. Then there is paper which demands exploration. This is an exercise that rewards one who can keep doing this again and again. It is a project that hurts if the student cannot spare time. This cannot be rushed. And through this the realization of the true nature of design dawns. Sunday saw the students spending 6 hours on this. And at the end all they had was a feel for the paper and a knowledge of possibilities – so how many more six hours are needed before a lamp can be made? But let me put it another way – the more six hour slots that are deployed the more awesome the result will be. And in that will be a mature practice of design that will blow away the opposition. And there are no short cuts possible.
We have come a long way from that fateful day when I said; ‘so ready to start work on the paper lamp’ and they said they knew how to do it and were going to go away, I said for 20 minutes, to make something. And I said then – that is not it my friends, that is not it at all. (TS Eliot)
“In the room the women come and go talking of Michaelangelo’ (TSE again)
P: So you want to talk about the journey? Are you hurting less?
S: I could. Yes early in july the mouths used to curl wryly, and it was awful to go into class. Just me alone and 20 strangers – each with an expressions saying ‘yeah whatever’. It was hard and it is at this point that the authritarian teacher is created – for you want to wipe that awful slouch and negativity off their face. And what better way to do it that to slam into them with a nasty assignment with a harsh deadline. But having never done that – I can only say, yes I understand. Also having walked into classrooms filled with strangers in different parts of the world it should’ne matter. But it does – because I am human, and because it is also so un-necessary. Why do they fight learning, why do they fight in letting go of their ways which may be quite unsuitable for practicing design. In 99 in Jerusalem they were angry but couldn’t walk away. In 87 in Delhi I said I was going home and did not want to continue teaching – and we stepped out for a basketball game to sort the energies out.
Here they dont do that – they just go into the shell. But to be fair Brandon smiled from the first day, and so did Ben. They were eager for the journey. But it only takes one curly lip to suck your energies out. I then count till ten to calm down, but more importantly become impasssioned again.
Minds are incredibly resilient things, but amazingly tough too. But that was then,july and the start of the course.
Things are different now. I am now getting waves of affcetion floating my way. Some of the students are accepting that they are changing – they are usually easy to spot – like they wear the suit, or tie, or just office clothes. And ridiculous though it may seem it is a gesture of support. They have started doing little things – small signs that on a one to one basis I have their trust. But they still will not come out openly, still the distancing. ‘I then want to say – A its okay to belong to a group – let go of your identity, dont sit apart’. ‘just become learners’. But I dont- I have to say very little as Schmier used to say to me. Let them speak – they will learn by that. He also used to say – what they learn does not matter – what is important is they take charge of their learning.
And this they are beginning to do. I will volunteer to do and thru this I will learn.
P: Is it over then?
S: Pretty much. Some have reached the top of the hill, the others will look at them and follow. Now its the ‘down hill run’ (CSNY), and they can do this unaided. They have produced some amazing stuff – that should rightfully be patented. But they will take time realizing the value of it. Some have come through as leaders – and have contributed to peer learning.
The magic is over. We may be getting past the denial stage. And time for me to sit back and watch things unfold.
Jai hind (Stafford Beer)