Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pedagogical Eros


There is something unusual about a pedagogue's love for his pupil. St. John of the Cross, in the Spiritual Canticles states (albeit in a very different context) that "the property of love is to make equal him who loves with the thing he loves." But, toward what or whom is the pedagogue's love directed? The pedagogue is supposed to guide his pupil in a certain subject area--he is supposed to inflame his pupil's intellect with a love for that subject. But, so often the pedagogue turns his attention toward his pupil instead in ways that are not so innocent. Abelard and Heloise are the archetypes of this dynamic, which has been repeated so many times down through the centuries. How many college professors have had affairs with, or secretly lusted after, their students?

That is one typical problem with pedagogues: they re-direct their pupils' eros away from the subject of their studies toward themselves, and seek fulfillment of their relationship in sex. But, there is also another common problem, which though chaster is perhaps even more insidious: pedagogues who wish to make out of their pupils converts to their cause, disciples to follow them. These pedagogues are less inclined to sins of the flesh, but their sin may be worse: they make ideologues out of their pupils in order to satisfy their own egos.

In The Magic Mountain, for example, Thomas Mann gives two good examples of the second type of pedagogue. In the novel Hans Castorp is torn between two pedagogues vying for his attention: Ludovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta. Settembrini represents the humanistic ideals of the Enlightenment, while Naphta is a bizarre Jewish, Jesuit proto-fascist. Both men live to debate each other (for hours at a time) and, after both become acquainted with Hans Castorp, they compete for his allegiance, forcing him to listen to their endless dialogues. Each man seeks to save Hans Castorp from the clutches of the other, and the competition is often unseemly, almost like two jealous women fighting over the man they both love. In the end, though, Settembrini turns out to be less selfish than Naphta when he displays a more selfless love for Hans Castorp; he is willing to let go of him, but does not stop loving him, when he finally understands that Hans Castorp will never think exactly like him. It is perfectly fitting, on the other hand, that Naphta shoots himself at his duel with Settembrini, since he has nothing left to live for now that his only pupil has turned away from him and refused to become his disciple. This act of suicide--and a very ostentatious, narcissistic suicide at that--is the act of a man who never really loved his pupil but only saw him as a potential follower or an extension of his ego.

The danger the pedagogue runs is that he will try to turn his pupils into lovers or disciples. Either way, he is not trying to turn his pupil into an equal, into a friend, but is re-directing his pupil's eros towards himself. The challenge the teacher faces is to cultivate common interests and to enjoy a certain intimacy while allowing for other attachments. How well the pedagogue can love without jealousy is one measure of his greatness as a man.
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