Tuesday, January 26, 2010

La dissertation

Today, I visited La Sorbonne - yes, the famous one. We walked around with Marie and Chantal, but it was kind of pointless since I won't be taking any Sorbonne classes at that one site. The classes I'd want to take are in another part of the city. It was still really interesting to see such an old, historic school, though. It makes Hopkins seem like a baby! Then, in methodology class, we talked about the Sorbonne and what a student used to do in order to get a degree from there.

Basically, during the Renaissance when everything was changing, the invention of the printing press with movable type made the spread of literature, specifically the ancient literature, a lot easier. At the Sorbonne, they had a "disputation," where two students (male, of course) would argue about a topic, and whichever one referenced more classic tests would get a doctorate. As my methodology professor said, that sort of test only requires memorization of ancient texts and isn't a real education. So, with the philosophy of Descartes inspiring the French Revolution, there was a revolution in La Sorbonne too: la disputation became la dissertation. For a dissertation, a French student is given a question. In class, the example he gave was: Can a hero be mediocre? The student doesn't answer this question - instead, he or she thinks, "Why was I given this question?" and with that line of reasoning and analyzing, comes up with a problematique, which is a fancy way of saying that the student rephrases the question so it makes more sense. Then, instead of picking one answer and writing a paper supporting that answer, French students analyse every answer to the question, and then combine them all to come up with a conclusion at the end.

It seems to me that French people are very philosophic in everything - not just philosophy. That's why their dissertations are organized like this; that's why their literature classes seem to involve lots of philosophic texts; that's why their mathematicians are also philosophers and writers like in l'OuLiPo. It's neat that they spend so much time thinking, and philosophy is certainly interesting. One of the examples the professor gave of a philosophic question that interests the French is that of the slave and the master - the slave is a slave because the master exists, but without the master, there is no slave and vice versa. It reminded me of Jacques le fataliste et son maitre by Diderot. The point is, I can't wait to be in a French course and see how differently they're taught. I'm sure that this experience is going to make me a stronger student - I already feel like a better student because I'm thinking about different ways of approaching writing. Even though it's all in a different language, the ideas translate well.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your blog today - it is amazing how much you haved learned about French culture in just a week!