I is for Stultification

| April 21, 2014

Oh, Holden...

According to Rancière’s accounts in the Emancipated Spectator and the Ignorant Schoolmaster, stultification occurs when the students’ intelligences are linked with the teacher’s, when they have to rely on the schoolmaster to explain what they have learned. Most people become stultified because they believe in their inferiority.

Reading his critique of stultification made me think back to my own experiences with adolescent ennui and rebelliousness directed at the dulling confines of my suburban high school penitentiary complex. During that period of my compulsory schooling, between my ‘awakening’ and ’emancipation,’ I took solace in several works of literature and music that reflected my senses of dread and dissent.  It all seems so trite and cliché now (as it did then). What’s most interesting to me is how much of these works ‘hold up’ over the years and which works don’t. For a while in my teens through my early 20s, I read Catcher every year or so, and as I got older, I sympathized/empathized with Holden less and less, to the point where I eventually thought he was just a terrible whiny brat who needed to buck up and grow a pair (irony intended). However, revisiting the Smiths in particular brings me right back to age 16, and I’m disaffected and misunderstood and angry and sad all over again. And I love it.

I started to think of the entire oeuvre of art, literature, and music that celebrates this particular feeling in young men and women, on the precipice of adulthood – the vicarious recrimination, rejection, and even destruction of the stultifying educational structures around them. Art that serves as an indignant, profane corrective to the headmaster and his cronies (read: the entirety of adult society).

Some of my favorite works in this light that I encountered firsthand during my adolescence and relied on for strength were the Smiths (the Headmaster Ritual in particular, the lyrics for which I’ve shared below), of course “Catcher in the Rye”, “A Separate Peace”, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (which could serve as a companion anthem to The Ignorant Schoolmaster), and pretty much every punk record ever made. Like I said, a parade of suburban cliché. But it was real when I was in it.

Morrissey is the truly the Michaelangelo of this genre. Behold!

Belligerent ghouls
Run Manchester schools

Spineless swines
Cemented minds

Sir leads the troops
Jealous of youth
Same old suit since 1962

He does the military two-step
Down the nape of my neck

I wanna go home
I don’t wanna stay
Give up education
As a bad mistake

Mid-week on the playing fields
Sir thwacks you on the knees

Knees you in the groin
Elbow in the face
Bruises bigger than dinner plates

I wanna go home
I don’t wanna stay

Belligerent ghouls
Run Manchester schools

Spineless bastards all …

Sir leads the troops
Jealous of youth
Same old jokes since 1902

He does the military two-step
Down the nape of my neck

I wanna go home
I don’t want to stay
Give up life
As a bad mistake

Please excuse me from gym
I’ve got this terrible cold coming on
He grabs and devours
He kicks me in the showers
Kicks me in the showers
And he grabs and devours

I want to go home
I don’t want to stay…

And it just felt appropriate to throw a little Dead Poet’s Society in here, for historical accuracy… I saw it in its original run. It genuinely resonated with me at the time, but definitely does not hold up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq_XBP3NrBo