Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shut Your Eyes and See: The Spaces Between Things

John Berger's drawing from Bento's Sketchbook
How can destinies be named? They often have the regularity of geometric figures, but there are no nouns for them. Can a drawing replace a noun? I thought so this morning. Now I’m not so sure. I gave Luca the drawing, and the next day he framed it (Berger, 2011, 634-635 Kindle Location).

John Berger concludes a section of Bento's Sketchbook with this observation about language and art and his uncertainty. He has just finished telling a story about the bike's owner, a man named Luca.  The story he tells is too moving and after reading it I feel desperate as if some of the intimacies of Luca's life that were revealed are too much, too quickly stated, too soon to know.  It is not the stories told that surface these feelings, but more so the ones I imagine that were not stated, but that I heard.

This is art.

Faith on the Street (Reilly, 2008. South of Dublin)
It's easy to confuse art as a placeholder for life.  A few years ago while in Ireland, I was out walking at Sandymount and met a woman (pictured to the right).  She was begging on the street--or at least that is how I recall her--how now I characterize her.  I know she was more than this.  Just as I was the photographer who took an image of her does not define the whole of me. We are more than we can say, no?

Language fails me.  Perhaps that is why I am drawn over and over to image.

I asked her permission to make an image and she agreed.  That much is true. The photograph though is not the woman.


Between our utterances are worlds worth knowing. This is what I think as I wonder about schooling and evaluation.  We've grown interested in naming the parts, so much so that the distance between the named parts is becoming less obvious, less privileged, less known.  In a standardized world, the given is a god.

I was thinking about this earlier today when I followed a tweet to Scott McLeod's blog post about teacher evaluation.   This is what was posted:

From Scott McLeod's Blog, Mind Dump.

When I read this, when I see the numbers listed with such certainty so neat, so sure, I am thinking about Stephen Dedalus and what he has to say about gates and doors. In the Proteus episode of Ulysses, Stephen (like me) is walking along Sandymount.  It helps to remember he has lost his glasses and cannot see well.  Here's how it opens*:

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.
Stephen closed his eyes to hear...
James Joyce seems to know something about the spaces between: five fingers through it, it is a gate. Understanding is based not simply on what is present, but also on how the spaces between what is given are seen, named, unnamed, ignored.  All are important.   The five statements that Iowa Commissioner Jason Glass is quoted as saying are overpopulated with intention and as such are more gate, than solid door.

To situate this as otherwise will not serve us (or children) well.  I tend to agree with Scott that the devil is in the detail and want to suggest it is a devil we need to know. Nonetheless, we are deep in pretense.  It makes me wonder why we continue to only privilege what is situated as obvious.  We need to look at the spaces not named.  For example, what would happen if we substituted school or school district for educator/teaching in Mr. Glass's five statements?  What would be the difference if we believed that the relative health of a system was critical as opposed to only measuring the relative "effectiveness" of each teacher? Would this dual view make a difference?


What is solid and what is not?
What is transparent and what is opaque?

These inquiries on my part are an attempt to point at our need to experience, as opposed to relying on being told. After coming to know Luca's story, Berger is unsure of the visual art he makes and sees and questions what the image means and what it represents.  Stephen wanders the beach, relying on sound as a way to name the known.

We need to wander too.  We need to wade into our work, our classrooms and listen in an effort to deeply experience.

We need to shut our eyes and see.

Work Cited
Berger, John (2011-11-08). Bento's Sketchbook (Kindle Locations 634-635). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

* Here's a lovely reading of this section.


  1. Dang, Mary Ann.

    This is beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  2. @Shelley, it was on my mind. Thanks so much for taking time to read it and comment. lways appreciative.

  3. love this dear. love it.

    reminds me of the little prince.. important things can only be seen with the heart.
    also.. of my friend.. an expert of wilderness.. runs with wolves.. he says, there is never nothing going on. that space.. where we assume.

    esp love this:
    between our utterances are worlds worth knowing.

  4. Thanks Monika. How true: there is never nothing going on. That's why measurements need to be situated as fallible, not as truths or gods.

    I imagine historians will look at us as highly naive--well at least those who were attempting to be kind.


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