I found myself recently offering one of my frequent attempts at describing what I hope for in teaching, and why. I call it a final admission of underlying conviction.
I start with the confession that my life is more gratifyingly complex and complete as I welcome the presence of texts as companions. This grounds a conviction about pedagogy in the humanities, generally, and in philosophy and literature in particular: let texts and art works sing beyond the reductive categories we invent to master them. Look for categories that let them bloom, as needed. And beyond categories, let them bloom on their own.
Works and texts are essential parts of our cultural surround, suffusing memory, tuning present perception, cushioning or sharpening a sense of the future. We need to relearn, over and over in our classes, what to cherish in texts and objects of worth, and this relearning is an activity over and above knowing what to deflate or demote or translate into something else. Having the “right categories” for analysis or placement of a text is only part of the story.
Exposing bad reasoning or whatever needs debunking can help us to see or hear what’s really before us. However, eliminating the bad or unsavory does not guarantee preservation of something of worth. Dismantling the bad is no substitute for mantling the fine. To relearn how to cherish and preserve is to relearn how to praise, have gratitude and how to risk the venture of poetic paraphrase and improvising riff, all to preserve what’s best and often fragile in all we attend to.