Friday, May 01, 2015

Radical, too, is in the eye of the beholder?

"You are a radical" the student said.

I laughed.  I could only laugh.

I explained to the student why that was funny.

"There are lots of faculty even in this corridor who think I am a far-right nutcase."

The student's quizzical look said it all. Students who know me know all too well that I am anything but a far-right guy.  Nutcase, yes; but then aren't we all!

"I am not a member of the faculty union.  So, to them, I immediately become a right-wing conservative."

It was class time and the student left.

I continued with my thoughts on my "right-wing" life-in-exile enveloped by a "hallway culture" of unionism.  Among the fanatical believers, I am an apostate; I should be happy that I have not been burned at the stake.  No cup of hemlock, yet ;)

I was reminded of the old GK Chesterton quote:
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
Which, therefore, leaves people like me wondering how to dodge the mistakes that the left-wingers make, and how to point out to the right-wingers that they, too, are a part of the problem.

I suppose the left and right wings continue to have their good times, while I get my angst out through this blog!

But, I know that I am one heck of a radical.  A subversive element.  And I thank Azhar Nafisi for validating it for me:
SOME ASSUME that the only way academics can engage the politics of the day is by coming out of their ivory tower and protesting in front of the White House. But in conveying knowledge, the academy has a far more important and subversive way of dealing with political issues. Knowledge provides us with a way to perceive the world. Imaginative  knowledge provides us with a way to see ourselves in the world, to relate to the world, and thereby, to act in the world. The way we perceive ourselves is reflected in the way we interact, the way we take our positions, and the way we interpret politics.
Curiosity, the desire to know what one does not know, is essential to genuine knowledge. Especially in terms of literature, it is a sensual longing to know through experiencing others—not only the others in the world, but also the others within oneself. That is why, in almost every talk I give, I repeat what Vladimir Nabokov used to tell his students: curiosity is insubordination in its purest form. If we manage to teach our students to be curious—not to take up our political positions, but just to be curious—we will have managed to do a great deal.
I am a radical. Get used to it! ;)



Anne in Salem said...

Radical seems to be an overused invective. Some people think anyone who disagrees is a radical. Some intentionally use radical in an inflammatory manner. Some wear the intended insult as a badge of honor. Is it even an insult anymore, or has the word lost its power?

Curiosity is a wonderful trait. A favorite quote from Edith Wharton I shared with Ramesh just this week: One can live long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways.

My friend, I believe we may both be destined to live well past 100.

Sriram Khé said...

Crap! Thanks for telling me that I am destined to live past 100, when I am planning for only 24 more!!! ;)

Yes, curiosity is a wonderful trait. Most kids--I mean kids--I have come across in my life have been curious about the world. But then somehow we adults--as parents, educators, and more--manage to dull that trait and even kill off that curiosity. I wonder what the deal is :(

Ramesh said...

I don't think you are a radical at all. There is a touch of extremism to a radical. There are also small doses of inflexibility, irrationality and obstinacy to be mixed in to the recipe for being a radical. All of these, you are not. You have reasoned points of view which you are willing to debate level headedly. No self respecting radical would do that :)

Sriram Khé said...

Oh my ... the break has done you good. Absence made your heart fonder, eh ... muahahaha ;)

I agree with you--it is impossible to have a dialog with "radicals," whether they are the Tea Party kind or the liberal anti-GMO kind ...