The Trauma of Absolute Freedom From the Academia

This is an interesting post, but I disagree with the last paragraph, both empirically and conceptually.

1) From many years of experience, as I am a teacher in a French technical high school. One requirement for many classes is a year long unit called TPE, Travaux Pratiques Encadrés (guided practical work), done as the collective work of 3 students collaborating. The TPE involves setting up a problematic and asking a question, then producing a response (not necessarily a single answer). At first I was surprised at the ability of our students to accomplish such a task, but now after 15 years I am used to it.

2) Conceptually, the way is traced by the use of the noun “problematic”, a word that all French high school students know. They learn from the age of 14 to create a problematic, in both French classes and in History/Geography, and later in Philosophy. I think it is not only excellent training in thinking, but epistemologically and heuristically advantageous.

Some students are so used to thinking in terms of problematics that when I give them a task where I ask no question but give them a theme to analyse in terms of their own Anglophone culture (articles, books, films, series) they ask me if they can include a section elaborating a problematic, which I accept readily.

So I think that the example of Zizek’s classes is more a case of initiating students formed into the Continental mode of proceeding. Conceptualising this in terms of an opposition between absolutes (the Master, Freedom) is missing this intermediary realm of “guided freedom”. This thinking in absolutes may be behind the phenomenon of self-demolishing behaviour by those who leave academia.


I can not tell you how many of my friends and colleagues have confided in me throughout the last 16 years of my ‘higher’ education that they wished to depart entirely from academia. Their reasoning was rather simple: academia, they believed, impeded their otherwise productive tendencies. Naturally, if that is the underlying belief system, it only follows that a departure from academia would usher in a new dawn of creative freedom: one might publish poetry, short fiction, new and more ingenious musical productions, and so on. However, in each and every case that currently comes to mind I have noted the following: a frightening and noticeable decline in artistic productions, an alarming decrease of intellectual interest in ‘big’ questions, and an insanely quick retreat into the day-to-day world of necessity. Paradoxically, it is the departure from academia that has secured a world of drunkenness, depression, and resentment.

Mikhail Bakunin once…

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2 Responses to The Trauma of Absolute Freedom From the Academia

  1. JH says:

    This “problematic” approach you teach seems really helpful. I wonder how the classes are graded?


    • terenceblake says:

      They are graded in terms of structure (quality of the problematic and of the plan), quality of research, argument, and, as the TPE are oriented towards an oral presentation, the ordinary criteria of any oral apply. If the presentation is in English then the quality of the language is included in the grading.


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