No, I do not mean the television show, Glee. What I am raising, instead, is the place of laughter, joy, humor in relation to our joint enterprise: liberal education. The topic is a paradoxically serious one. Must liberal education be ponderously serious? Must great books education be somber? I think not. Part of the reason I believe this is my experience of Shimer -- where the utmost seriousness is combined with a significant sense of humor. But there is more, much more, to why I raise the question, "Glee?"
Many years ago, I read a book by Peter Berger (someone whose social constructionist work is read in Shimer's great books curriculum and appears on many sociology syllabi across the United States and elsewhere), entitled The Heretical Imperative. In this 1979 book, Berger conjoins his (methodologically atheist) sociological hat with his (Lutheran) theological impulses (as he does in other work such as A Rumor of Angels). Among other things, Berger argues for a variety of laughter as a bit of insight into what reaches beyond the human enterprise and gestures toward the divine. (For a review symposium on The Heretical Imperative, click here.) That I can remember (or, perhaps misremember) this decades after reading the book in graduate school is part of why the question "Glee?" seems so important to me. (Truth in advertising: Berger did write a subsequent book entitled Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (1997). I have not read it. Have you? Please share.)
Why else "Glee"? I have always loved Freud's book Jokes and their relation to the unconscious but that has absolutely nothing to do with why I am asking the question "Glee?" For those of you who know German well -- is it true, is the book funny? My German was never good enough to tell.
In any case, there is a serious reason why I am writing about laughter, humor, and related matters here, on this blog about higher education. And that is because I think one of the ends of education (note that I am not saying outcomes) is a meaningful life and meaningful work, both of which I also associate with humor. While I am not religious (or even spiritual, really), I am a scholar of religion. And, so I picked up a book recently which has contributed to my thinking about all this. The book? Between Heaven and Mirth by James Martin, S.J. (For more on him, click here.) As I read, I substituted the phrase "higher education" and then "liberal education" and then "Shimer College" for religion. Hmmm, I thought.
And, I noticed a whole array of "great book" types cited by Martin - from Aristotle to Aquinas, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King (not to mention Macchiavelli). Dorothy Day and Teresa of Avilla appeared in their humorous forms.
While I am not writing about the comic, nor exactly about jokes, I am asking: must what higher education accomplishes be ponderous? I offer a hearty NO to that question. In my view, homo academicus (for a review of Bourdieu's book of this title, click here) and homo ludens are not opponents -- but friends -- unexpected allies even. (And, I am returning to jot here, that I wrote this before beginning our social reading of Utopia together. Duncombe's introduction raises related issues.)
Homo ludens? Yes even play is important. Huizinga's work of that title reminds us that man (and I presume woman) plays. Think Shimer (and education more broadly) -- think riddles and puzzles and the "magic" of knowing. (Or, for a revisiting of Huizinga's work click here. Or, for a discussion of hte playful and the serious, try here.)
And you? Is there glee in your learning? If not, why not?