Friday, February 8, 2008


Today's the second Friday in a row that I'll be sitting on a featured panel of experts at an academic conference talking about something I'm supposed to know.

Last week, it was ESL, and I said (I'd say) something about how an ethnographic approach (or "tagmemics" or "afrafeminism") is revolutionary for adult second language learning.

This week, it's rhetoric, and I've said I'll say something about how the male political philosopher-rhetoricians of Greece got their practical wisdom from the women they subjugated (but that the fall of the Greek democracies came because of the low view and disrepect of females in society)

There’s some special irony in people saying they know the meaning of this phrase:

ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ

If we read it in the original context of the letter in which it was written, then we find ourselves eavesdropping. Because, as Richard B. Hays reminds, we’re reading somebody else’s mail.

But we can gripe that it’s not our fault that there’s now no original letter and that it’s posted publicly on the internet. And those of us who read the Iliad and Odyssey hear bellows and horses about to kick over in exhaustion and some freaky-horned bovine dying: φυσιοῖ. Phhhew.

For some reason, I woke up thinking about fingernails. Now that’s something all of us are experts on. Did you see the American Idol try-out who had saved all his fingernail clippings in a clear plastic sandwich baggie? Did you see the ESL speaking student alone in front of the abortion clinic trying to convince Juno that the thing inside her had “fingernails,” the very explanation the pregnant girl gives her friends and family as the reason she’s going to give birth to the baby who she gives up for adoption (in the movie, of course)?

Words, and meanings, and knowledge, and puffiness, and expertise. Can we ever escape our bodies and our own insider perspectives? And isn’t the best learning the acknowledgement, the understanding that, I don’t have all the answers? Next time I hear a fingernail make that sound, I’ll try to remember why I’m not the only one in the room.

No comments: