Laurie Taylor column

November 1, 2002

"We... the tutors, are not the possessors of a static body of knowledge that we can pass on, but participants in a many-sided conversation" - THES , October 25.

Could we all squeeze up a little more? It might help if those who are squatting at the front could draw up their knees. That's better.

Well, let me welcome you all to this seminar on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick . As you will recall, you were asked to prepare by reading the first two chapters.

So how many of you managed to complete that modest task? Could I see hands? Fourteen out of 17. Not bad.

Let's start by asking if you found it a difficult read. Yes, you there, the eager young man with the Lemon Jelly T-shirt.

I wasn't waving, Professor Selby. I was trying to keep my balance on the radiator.

Right. Anyone else? The young woman in the fourth row.

Erm...

Speak up. Difficult or easy?

I'm afraid I don't know the right answer.

There isn't a right answer! How many times have I explained that to you? We don't go in for passive learning in this seminar.

What did I tell you about myself in the first seminar? All together now.

YOU ARE NOT THE POSSESSOR OF A STATIC BODY OF KNOWLEDGE.

Excellent. Well, time seems to have beaten us once again. I look forward to seeing you all next week.

The reading will be chapters three and four of Moby-Dick . And I'll be asking you to tell me whether you think the book is or is not a precursor of literary modernism.

Your opinions will be as important as mine. Why?

WE ARE ALL PARTICIPANTS IN A MANY-SIDED CONVERSATION .

Now that's what I call progress.

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