Saturday, September 12, 2015

In search of lost time: social constructivism in the 1910s

via Marcel Proust:

Mais même au point de vue des plus insignifiantes choses de la vie, nous ne sommes pas un tout matériellement constitué, identique pour tout le monde et dont chacun n'a qu'à aller prendre connaissance comme d'un cahier des charges ou d'un testament; notre personnalité sociale est une création de la pensée des autres. Même l'acte si simple que nous appelons “voir une personne que nous connaissons” est en partie un acte intellectuel. Nous remplissons l’apparence physique de l’être que nous voyons, de toutes les notions que nous avons sur lui et dans l’aspect total que nous nous représentons, ces notions ont certainement la plus grande part. Elles finissent par gonfler si parfaitement les joues, par suivre en une adhérence si exacte la ligne du nez, elles se mêlent si bien de nuancer la voix comme si celle-ci n'était qu'une transparente enveloppe, que chaque fois que nous voyons ce visage et que nous entendons cette voix, ce sont ces notions que nous retrouvons, que nous écoutons.
English translation:
But even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as "seeing some one we know" is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognise and to which we listen.
Every once in a while I make time to read a timeless classic. And every so often I discover ideas there that some more contemporary individual, or school of thought, has claimed to have invented. Besides the socially constructed personality of À la recherche du temps perdu (1913), I remember rediscovering the subconscious, supposedly discovered by Freud, in an intricate discussion by George Eliot in Adam Bede (1859). Then there's the postmodernism meta-textual self-referentiality in Tom Jones (1749) and Don Quixote (1615)--claimed by some to be the world's first novels.

Who knows how many other supposedly breakthrough ideas of modern times date back hundreds of years? But probably one of the best places to start looking is education theory, with its Grit, its Growth Mindsets, and, of course, the more reasonable aspects of its version of Proust's Constructivism.

No comments: