L is for Line

| February 4, 2014

What is a transcript but the discrete itemization of the lines that constitute one’s educational trajectory? Line by line. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur has much to commend itself as the beginnings of a proto-educational lineage. A first line. The Minotaur, we should note, drops out, as if already slain. It is, rather, a story of the monstrous container itself. Just as Daedalus crafts a fake bull as a shell, leading to the monstrous hybrid of the Minotaur, he also crafts a fake Minotaur: the labyrinth itself will kill you, lost in its wilds.

The thread, then. Ariadne’s feminine craft. One artifice to solve another. Is this not the continual cleverness that exceeds and draws out the story, from one scene to the next? Cleverness and mishap. And yet the thread itself is oddly dumb. It just follows along, any which way. In logic, Ariadne’s thread stands for a method of trial and error that relies on no learning at all, each turn is made in the dark, while the thread is the record of all of these dumb choices. Intelligibility is determined only by the egress itself. Ariadne’s thread says nothing of the labyrinth, it only leads back to the opening, the surface. Descent and emergence, this is the education line. As in Plato’s Cave allegory, there is nothing to be said about any wanderings about in the cave itself.

Interestingly, the next line is a retracing, or we might say, a re-ordering, a repetition as a codification. Daedalus crafts, next, the dance floor, on which this labyrinthian journey will now become rhythmic, fleet of foot, assured. The labyrinth becomes an ordered line. Indeed, images of the labyrinth, on early coinage (and what might this all have to do with economy?) is decidedly regular and geometric. Not at all something one might actually get lost in. This formalized dance of education will find its thread in medieval “towers of learning” iconic representations of architecture that lead us from one lesson to the next, one floor to the next, mediating between the city of man and the city of god. One winds ones way through the halls of learning. Rooms arrange themselves around hallways. Is this not one of the ways we know schools?

What other lines do we find? The rows of chairs are a cliche: easy enough to critique, but strange in their organizing pull. Is it enough to circle up? To establish another form of line? And what, early on, of the incessant line making, that will allow transport of groups of children from one point to another. The practicing of lining up against a wall, of walking in line, of regulating one’s movement and conduct. The flirting with getting off a line. Much could be said, no doubt, if one could speak, of the relation between the line and silence. Or the gaze. Lines of sight. Power. Attention. Too much, often, is said, about these: the voice reinforces the domination of the eye and its lines.

All of this is to say nothing of the lines of writing and reading. The dominant shuttle of our educational lives. Left to right, return. Literacy as lineage. The codification of flight. Dream along these lines…


Sketches Toward a Binary Aesthetic

Education and the Dance of Death