What's the appeal of a massive open online series of lectures? Why did I agree to do it?


March 14, 2012

Part Two

My first Udemy (Udemy is a MOOC - for background, go here.) lecture is now available. Title: POETRY AND THE ARREST OF LIFE. Go here. (Scroll down.)  Nine more lectures are planned; if there's enough interest, I'll expand the number of lectures.

What's the appeal of a massive open online series of lectures? Why did I agree to do it?

Two main reasons: One, excitement at the thought of being part of the democratization and globalization of knowledge. Two, delusions of grandeur.

About One: In  "The Obscurity of the Poet," Randall Jarrell writes:

[I]f we say Art has always been a matter of a few, we are using a truism to hide a disaster.  One of the oldest, deepest, and most nearly conclusive attractions of democracy is manifested in our feeling that through it not only material but also spiritual goods can be shared: that in a democracy bread and justice, education and art, will be accessible to everybody.

Not everybody can attend a good liberal arts college - in fact, very few people can.  But everyone with a computer and a knowledge of English can watch - and respond to - lectures given by American professors at good liberal arts colleges.  They can do this for free.  UD gets no money; her students around the world pay no money.  No credits are involved.  It's a labor of love on everyone's part; the only thing her students get is whatever knowledge about poetry UD's able to convey.  And the only thing UD gets is the gratification she feels at being part of a generous and meaningful project.

Well, there's one other thing UD gets, and this is related to her grandeur delusions: She gets broadcast. The Udemy platform amplifies UD's web presence - world presence - in a way she could never do herself, and she's not above wanting that sort of attention. As George Orwell wrote in Why I Write, one's motive for writing has in part to do with

Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

UD, thanks to Udemy, is now a writer/performer, and this makes her selfish tendencies far worse than Orwell could have imagined. She even plans to sing some poems that have been put to music by great composers (note, if you go to her series, that she's standing in front of her piano) -- in order to talk about the transformation of poetic language into musical language, to be sure!  But also - obviously - to make you listen to her play the piano and sing.

As I speak, my course has been available for a couple of hours. I have seven students. Onward!



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