Tuesday February 24, 2009
If inerrancy is indeed a virtue (and I’m not sure it is), it is certainly not one of the virtues of which I can be accused. If I was pressed to make a choice, I would usually prefer suppleness of thought to rectitude of thought, and this is reflected by the “wayward” in the tagline of this blog. Perhaps it is for this very reason that I can be found these days not in a philosophy department but in a department of creative writing. When I read – whether I’m reading philosophy, Buddhist texts or anything else – I tend to do so as a writer, as a lover of stories and poems and words and language. And perhaps this is also why I spend rather more time working on writing for this blog than I do writing academic articles for obscure journals, however unseemly this may seem to some of my more upright academic colleagues. Writing blog posts is a liberation from the burden of having to always, at all times and in all places, be right, and when liberated from this burden, it is possible to enjoy once again what might be called the sensuality of language and of thought. Academic articles often come with arguments so well defended (note the martial imagery) that they are about as sensual as grumpy porcupines. Without claims to authority, with a sense of discovery and exploration, pushing towards ideas that are not yet fully formed, occasinally foolish, frequently misinformed, always partially informed: this, it seems to me, is the kind of writing that is possible whilst blogging.
Wandering, waywardness and errancy are much underrated. For most of my education, errancy was considered as something to be stamped out, something to be avoided at all costs. In the classroom, back at school (and even now, in the conference room) it was always better to be silent than to be wrong. But errancy is absolutely central to thinking, which tends to dessicate unless it allows a certain kind of wandering; and wandering, as Michel Serres writes in The Troubadour of Knowledge, “includes the risk of error and distraction”.
No wonder, then, that the drive for efficiency, for the fastest route between two points, for absolute inerrancy, has led to severe consequences in the education system in the UK. As the Guardian newspaper reports on the recent Cambridge review of education, “Learning that requires time for talking, problem solving and exploring ideas is sacrificed for […] a ‘memorisation and recall’ style of learning”, leading to the decline of “natural curiosity, imagination and love of learning.”
To err may be human, perhaps. But perhaps this should not be understood as a complaint about all that is wrong with us. Instead it could be seen as a recognition that we are creatures who are continually questing, who have curiosity born in us from the very beginning (unless it is killed by our education or our circumstances or the manufactured stultifying stupidity of certain parts of the media), who are capable of bringing about newness, of creating, precisely because we are capable of wandering. “No learning,” Serres writes, “can avoid the voyage.” What if errancy wasn’t a fault, but was instead the lifeblood of learning, of knowledge and of creation?
Comments are turned off for this article.
Today's Most Popular
Mental Discontents: Monday June 12, 2006
Can we eradicate mental discontent?
Saltwater Buddha: Tuesday July 14, 2009
A review of Jaimal Yogis’s “Saltwater Buddha”.
What is This?: Monday April 24, 2006
Thoughts on meditative inquiry.
Out of sight of land: Sunday August 8, 2010
Does travel broaden the mind?
Part Time Vegetarian: Monday July 19, 2010
tofu and flesh – matter and anti-matter?
Buddhism and Philosophy Part III - Practices of Wisdom and Love: Friday December 16, 2005
Philosophy: the love of wisdom… or the wisdom of love???
Philosophy and Practice: Saturday January 26, 2008
Stoicism, Foucault and philosophy as a practical pursuit.
Groundlessness, not Relativism: Monday April 16, 2007
Thinking ethics without grounds…
Knowledge, Wisdom and Ignorance: Friday June 22, 2007
There is no such thing as esoteric wisdom.
Fluidity and Thought: Tuesday January 6, 2009
The snagging of thoughts
Zen, Brains and Making Friends With Your Own Head: 10 Nov, 2008
It’s a complicated business having a brain.
Lies in Which not Everything is False: 10 Sep, 2008
Stories – they are nothing but a pack of lies.
The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: 30 Oct, 2007
Aidan Delgado on Buddhism, ethics and the war in Iraq.
Baboon: 06 Jun, 2006
Feeling like a grumpy old baboon?
Meditation as Unphenomenology: 07 Feb, 2008
Meditation, cartography and the territory of the mind.