Monday, September 2, 2013

Know, now!

August has just ended, and we have entered into the venerable month of September. Summer is slowly fading away, and Autumn is gracefully flowing into the lives of those so fortunate as to breathe the outside air.

This is fortunate, as it means that August is over, and I can focus on something that is not written exams.

It is a strange feature that emerges from the bureaucracy of universities. There's a lot of exams going on, and there's a lot of people not quite getting it right the first time. Or the second time. Which gives rise to the occasion of third times, and thus to the need to administrate all these times all the time. A need fulfilled by the month of August, wherein every and all accumulated third times are discharged all at once. One after the other, in something akin to an academic orgy. All the answers are given to all the questions, and as the Autumn gracefully flows in, the administrators can put to rest the ghosts of Spring.

Written exams are strange that way.

The strangest thing about them is that you pass or fail them by how you answer them. Not by what is in your answer, or if that is in fact the correct answer, but by how that answer is.

Discourse is a performance, and the way to pass an exam is to perform adequately. Which sometimes leads you to the strange situation where you know what the answer is, but not how to perform it. You know that the answer is x, but you will not pass if you simply write x - you have to make the right noises, invoke the right authorities and nudge the right nudges. Otherwise, it won't count.

In the end, it comes down to this: do you fit in with the community of discourse?

Whenever someone says that knowledge is socially constructed, this is what they mean. Just knowing something in and of itself won't cut it - you have to perform it, knowingly. Otherwise, it won't count.

As in the case of the gay refugee that had to prove his homosexuality by naming five songs by Madonna.

As you might imagine, this is not a local issue. It is not specific to the month of August, it is not specific to the life of the university, and it is not specific to any one discourse. It is a feature of discourse as such. Of what it means to be a person who knows something, someone who can be said to know something.

It is something that makes itself known every day to those who go about life knowing things without knowing how to perform. Those who will never be privy to the obscure inner workings of the university as an institution, or indeed the often illuminated interior decor of the university as a building.

They don't count. In any number of ways.

This is not the Winter of our discontent. We're still a few short months away from that.

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