Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smart & Sexy

Overheard Recently:

“Post-colonialist theory makes me wet.”

“Ooh, your anti-racist analysis is soooo sexy.”

“Wow, I’m just, like, hypnotized by your lips right now, and I really just want you to stop talking so I can kiss you, only you can’t stop because I really need to hear where this idea is going because it’s fascinating, almost as fascinating as your lips…”

That’s right folks. Learning is sexy! Bet they didn’t tell you that in kindergarten.

I have long suspected that intellectual stimulation and sexual stimulation are not unrelated. For example, when I was in college, I noticed this pattern in my dating life. In the beginning of a semester, when I was starting new subjects, I would get lots of fast, intense, but not very serious crushes. Every text book and every face looked bright and shiny and new, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about them. Before long, I would settle in to my academic schedule. I figured out which classes required constant study and which I could breeze through, which really excited me, and which were just requirements to be completed. At the same time, my attractions would level out as well. There might be one or two people with whom I felt some mutual interest, and we’d flirt in a casual, unhurried way for most of the semester. Then finals would come around. I’d have five major papers and three exams all due within a week of each other. And that, against all logic, was when we’d finally fall into bed together.

The 3-day study period before finals went like this: Write for a few hours, eat, write for a few hours, fuck, write for a few hours, sleep, wake up and fuck, write for a few hours, … and so on.

Does this sound familiar?

For a long time I assumed that this relationship I'd observed between intellectual passion and sexual passion was just weird. Maybe it was just a nerd thing, or just a queer nerd thing, or just a “women’s” dormitory thing. But, I’m learning to interrupt this script of “Maybe it’s just me.” It’s usually not just me.

And anyway, my own sex life wasn’t the only evidence of a connection between learning and sexuality. In grad school, I was impressed by how some of us seemed absolutely addicted to interesting ideas. One might even say we took perverse pleasure in mulling over unsolvable problems and unanswerable questions. You know those “ah-hah! moments” we talk about? You ever heard someone shout, “Aw, yeah!” when they finally get a new concept or solve a problem? You ever stop to think when else people make sounds like that? And then there’s the badge put out by the undergrad students of a certain Women’s Studies department, reading, “Post-colonialist theories make me wet.” As my Bubba would have said, "Well I never!"

Turns out I’m not the first smart, sexy, queer theorist to think of this. Britzman (2000) uses psychoanalytic theories of libido and motivation to posit sexuality as the root of intellectual curiosity and creativity. Psychoanalytic theory says that in infants, learning is motivated by the instinct to seek pleasure, including both emotional and physical sustenance. If early learning is all about pleasure, Britzman argues, then it makes sense to assume that adults also learn because learning feels good. What did I tell you!

Given this intimate relationship between pleasure and learning, Britzman (2000) urges teachers and learners to consider,

“How does the experience of learning become pleasurable? How does one take joy in having ideas, in changing one’s mind, in encountering the work of learning? What sorts of relations exists [sic] between learning to love and loving learning?” (44).

Mmm-mmm. Now that’s sexy.

Portions of this essay were lifted from my article:
Queer (v.) Pedagogy:. (2005). Equity and Excellence in Education, 38(2), 123-134.

The Britzman article I reference is:
Britzman, D. (2000). Precocious education. In Talburt & Steinberg, Eds. Thinking queer: Sexuality, culture, and education. Peter Lang.

And another Britzman article that might tickle you is:
Britzman, D. (1998). Is there a queer pedagogy? Or, stop reading straight. In W. Pinar, Ed., Curriculum: Toward new identities.
Garland Publishing.

Enjoy. ;)

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