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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to Mooc: 1.000 Lectures

Desde el año 1918, que ingresé en la Residencia de Estudiantes de Madrid, hasta 1928, en que la abandoné, terminados mis estudios de Filosofía y Letras, he oído en aquel refinado salón, donde acudía para corregir su frivolidad de playa francesa la vieja aristocracia española, cerca de mil conferencias.
That's the beginning of Lorca's duende lecture: "From 1918, when I entered the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, to 1928, when I left, having finished my studies of "Philosophy and Letters," I heard in that refined salon, where the old Spanish aristocracy came to compensate for their frivolity of French beaches, nearly 1,000 lectures."

I have some notes on this first paragraph:

(1) It is not included in the translation of the lecture that Ben Belitt includes in his translation of Poet in New York. He skips over the introduction to the lecture completely.

(2) The Residencia (or Resi) was a special kind of elite university dorm, affiliated with the most prestigious institution of the Krausist movement: La Institutición Libre de Enseñanza, founded by Giner de los Ríos. Lorca met Dalí and Buñuel there. This was a kind of elite laboratory for (male) Spanish intellectuals, carrying on the tradition of the previous generations from the 19th century. Lorca was born in 98, so he lived there between the ages of 20 and 30.

(3) The lecturers were people of the caliber of Einstein. The list of people visiting includes "Albert Einstein, Paul Valéry, Marie Curie, Igor Stravinsky, John M. Keynes, Alexander Calder, Walter Gropius, Henri Bergson, and Le Corbusier." Lorca studied law and Filosofía y letras, but he was not a good student. His real education was in the Resi, arguably.

(4) The number of lecture he says he attended is "nearly a thousand." This sounds exaggerated, even for 10 years. That would be a hundred a year obviously. Still he wants his audience to know that he knows what it is like to sit through a lecture or two.

(5) Wealthy people, aristocrats, would come to hear lectures; it must have been fashionable thing to do. I like the idea that the aristocracy would want to "corregir su frivolidad de playa francesa."

(6) His purpose in beginning the lecture that way was to apologize for giving a lecture at all. It is a classic captatio benevolentiae. He doesn't want to bore his audience. In the next paragraph, he will talk about being bored many times and needing some fresh air after sitting through a lecture. Hence the dichotomy "boring lecture" vs. "poetic contact with nature." This contradicts, a bit, the idea of "frivolity" vs. self-improvement.

(7) Lorca was a charismatic figure and a gifted public performer. The kind of lecture he is about to give will make us of his oratorical skills, and the topic of his lecture, the duende, is a kind of gift that is characteristically performative. Thus you need a lecturer like Lorca to drive it home. You can't just read about the duende on the page and get the same effect. So there is another dichotomy: the dull academic lecture (even if given by Stravinsky or Einstein?) and the the poetically performative lecture that Lorca himself is about to give.

(8) So the lecture itself can be a work of art, and needs to be performed as such. Now we have a lot of lectures we can find on the internet. It is relatively easy to find vast amounts of material on almost everything. The lecture is just one kind of resource. The lecture given by a professor at your own campus, whom you can ask questions of, is also a wonderful resource to have.

(9)But you also need someone to explain the lecture to you. You need to have an idea of why it's so special to hear about the duende from Lorca, why you need to be listening rather than reading (or vice-versa for other kinds of sources). Otherwise you get the pearls-before-swine phenomena. I am directing a study abroad program now and get the "why do we have to look at castles and museums" question. Even Lorca himself does not seem sufficiently appreciative of hearing lectures from high-caliber people.

(10) Doing this right is as difficult and expensive as doing other kinds of education right.


Anonymous said...

The anti-lecture fervor is not actually anti-lecture, since MOOCs are lectures with a lot of students talking to each other on the margins of these -- as well I know, two weeks into my second one and after a lot of dissection of the pro-MOOC arguments.

The anti-lecture fervor is actually anti-research and anti-faculty salaries ... the idea being to replace faculty and research with ed-tech consultants who will keep finding new gimmicks with which to re-present old research.

Jonathan said...

Right. What I'm trying to get at is the value of the celebrity lecture. I could be a better lecturer than a more famous scholar because I know my students, what they don't understand...

Anonymous said...

Well yes, the question is who and what is a celebrity. You can have a guest lecturer who is good on a specific topic, or show film of lectures that are downright historic.

In my current MOOC the professor is more famous than I. But the material is fairly standard and while he is doing a perfectly good job, many others worldwide, famous and not, are also giving good courses on this topic and these authors. And have the advantage of knowing their audiences.