My twin sister, Anitra Nottingham, is doing a masters by research in the Faculty of education at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis is about graphic design education. She’s been struggling with the prescribed coursework lately, but struggle can be a good thing – as she tells you in this post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter and do their homework late on a weeknight might already know, I have been in the throes of writing a paper on Derrida for my Critical Theories subject. If you had told me early last week this would be one of the most rewarding learning experiences I’ve ever engaged in, and that I would come to kind of love Derrida (in a kind of hating him kind of a way), I would have smacked you.
It’s been that difficult.
I hated Derrida with a red-hot flaming passion of a thousand suns for ooh, about 2 weeks. Then something happened while I was crossing the road on Friday and it all clicked for me. I got it. Talk about a clichéd threshold moment. I now describe Derrida to the Thesiswhisperer as my B**** in capital letters.
Yes, it’s not nice, but that’s the truth and don’t tell me you haven’t felt that way about a philosopher/scientist/designer/whatever when you figured out their trick (or one of them anyway). I might get his idea of “free play”, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it, or Derrida – or speak nicely about him.
This experience has taught me two things. First. You don’t have to love your subject in order to go through the pain of learning it. It’s OK to hate your subject, whatever it is. I mean really just want to reach-through-time-and-belt-the-old-french-guy-over-the-head-with-your-paper kind of hate. Hating your topic of study doesn’t mean you can’t, or won’t, learn from it.
Hate is actually kind of motivating.
The second thing I realised is this hate is a different kind of hate than the “I scorn your ideas because frankly they sound stupid” kind of hate. That kind of hate is the kind of thinking people like Tea Party activists engage in, i.e.
“I think your ideas fundamentally challenge my way of thinking. Therefore I will know them superficially enough to sound like I know what I am talking about – and then I shall dismiss them”.
The hate I was feeling about Derrida is motivating instead of dismissive. It is what you might call the: “maybe I am too stupid to figure this out” instead of “You are definitely stupid for me to bother really figuring out” hate.
The “Maybe I am stupid” hate is uncomfortable. It emerges when you have the sneaking suspicion that that the person’s idea is important, but you might not like what it has to tell you. This second kind of hate is what drove me nuts, because I felt stupid, and no one likes feeling stupid.
Understanding that I hated Derrida because potentially I was too stupid to figure him out, and maybe he would challenge my ideas, is very helpful. It makes me want to know, to not be stupid. It’s a feeling I now think I should pay attention to, because honestly, sometimes, there’s a danger here for me. It’s all too easy to indulge the first kind of hate, when it’s the second kind of hate, the hate which is difficult, that can make us dig deep enough to really understand.
Of these two kinds of hate (now I am setting up one of Derrida’s “binary opposites”, but never-mind!) one is productive and the other isn’t. The hating-enough-to-gain-a-superficial-understanding will only get you so far. The other kind, which drives you to challenge and battle an idea until the very end, is a more informed position. Using this hate the right way might change how you think profoundly.
That’s what makes it scary, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.
(The third thing I learned was how to think a bit like Derrida, and my goodness, who would have known how useful that could be?! But that’s a post for another time.)
So how about you, who’s (or what) ideas or work have you hated? Do you think you hated them enough to really understand them?
(Editor’s note: What Anitra is too modest to tell you is she aced the paper. So much so that she was briefly, falsely accused of plagiarism! But that’s another story for another post)