Hold Everything Dear: A reply (of sorts) to Diarmuid Fogarty

We hope the poem below answers some of your comments made in reply to our recent piece on Dogme ELT. A somewhat unusual step in a polemic, we know, but we didn’t want readers to revisit the same issues in exactly the same format. Moreover, we are aware that the Dogme discussion list (around which the collective is based) has been devolved to its membership and with this symbolic gesture, Scott Thornbury is giving the Dogme collective more say in how the movement develops. However, it is still our belief, that Dogme ELT is a distraction and despite its avowed commitment to learner needs, it is trapped in the limitations of its own history.

For us, at Marxist TEFL Group, we always seek to explore origins, not dismiss them or treat them lightly. We do not begin with the present and subordinate the future and past to its domination. We do not see language as something we slip in and out of like an off-the-peg clothes range. We see ourselves steeped in history, internalising language which gives shape to our thoughts. Language is an artefact, as is a course book, offering itself up to us to be engaged with in a critical manner. We do not seek to make a fetish of particular teaching techniques. Rather, we see the flow of human relationships in our classrooms, caught in the co-ordinates of time and space; co-ordinates of time and space which grow ever more alien, ever more out synch with basic human needs. To seek refuge from the flow of history in a methodology which is blind to its own history, to the co-ordinates of power, is merely to perpetuate the inequalities of the present.

We call on those who want a critical ELT to build a movement inside ELT which speaks to history, which is capable of understanding and challenging the institutional limits in which we are trapped; a movement capable of looking outside of ELT and connecting with wider progressive movements.

Hold Everything Dear

for John Berger

as the brick of the afternoon stores the rose heat of the journey

as the rose buds a green room to breathe
and blossoms like the wind

as the thinning birches whisper their silver stories of the wind to the urgent in the trucks

as the leaves of the hedge store the light
that the moment thought it had lost

as the nest of her wrist beats like the chest of a wren in the turning air

as the chorus of the earth find their eyes in the sky
and unwrap them in each other in the teeming dark

hold everything dear

the calligraphy of birds across the morning
the million hands of the axe, the soft hand of the earth
one step ahead of time
the broken teeth of tribes and their long place
steppe-scattered and together
clay’s small, surviving handle, the near ghost of a jug
carrying itself towards us through the soil

the pledge of offered arms, the single sheet that is our common walking
the map of the palm held
in a knot
but given as a torch

hold everything dear

the paths they make towards us and how far we open towards them

the justice of a grass that unravels palaces but shelters the songs of the searching

the vessel that names the waves, the jug of this life, as it fills with the days as it sinks to become what it loves

memory that grows into a shape the tree always knew as a seed

the words
the bread

the child who reaches for the truths beyond the door

the yearning to begin again together
animals keen inside the parliament of the world

the people in the room the people in the street the people

hold everything dear

19th May 2005
Gareth Evans

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Hold Everything Dear: A reply (of sorts) to Diarmuid Fogarty

  1. dfogarty

    I always seem to end up as the dogged defender of dogme! Perhaps I need to contextualise a little: I do not see in dogme the hope of a brighter dawn, but the breathing space of a more agreeable present. Perhaps it is this to which you refer by “Seek[ing] refuge from the flow of history.” However, I don’t think it is possible to take refuge from the flow of history, so I think it highly unlikely that I would be seeking it.

    I appreciated your marxist take on the present. I remember approaching this idea of time and space in marxism and wondering what the hell this had to do with economics or politics. It sounded as if it belonged to Star Trek or something similar. Now, I think I understand it better. I assure you that I am not subordinate the future nor the past to the domination of the present; but the present is where we are; and whilst it is possible to look back and see where we came from, I am not convinced that it is possible to look forward and know with certainty where we are going to.

    Dogme, I would suggest, by standing up and shouting that the publisher has no clothes, does us a disservice. It introduces the concept to many that teaching language is about working together with the students and letting them share the responsibilities that were hitherto the work of the teachers; it seeks to place itself, it would seem, within a broadly liberal stream within education; it’s greatest failing, in my oh-so-humble opinion is that it doesn’t seem to be able to point to the map and say where it would like to go.

    In some ways, Dogme ELT is like a trade union: it can only ever hope to be reformist and it can only grow by being tolerated (or explited) by the very organisations it puts in its sight. Would MarxistELF encourage us to withdraw from the trades unions? (At this point it would be disingenuous of me were I not to point out that I HAVE left my TU).

    Errico Malatesta, whom I hold in very high regard, spoke to the anarchist movement of the early twentieth century. Anarchists argued that as reforming bodies, trades unions were an irrelevance to them. Malatesta took a more pragmatic view: the revolution is NOT going to be an anarchist revolution; we simply cannot afford to isolate ourselves from the very people that our beliefs speak to; anarchists need to militate within the milieu within which the workers are to be found. If our arguments hold water, we will at least be respected, even if we don’t swell our ranks.

    Malatesta has always spoken more loudly to me than old Bakunin or Prince Peter because it seems to me that he took a more pragmatic stance rather than a dogmatic one. We work with whomsoever we can in recognition of the fact that we are in the minority and cannot afford to be too choosy. At the same time, we never compromise our principles nor our message.

    I suppose that I am not too much in disagreement with you. Dogme IS a distraction, but distractions are necessary – even for revolutionaries. I would be fearful of living in a utopia that had been fashioned by an ideology that demanded complete and utter subordination to its ends.

    I am interested in exploring this metaphor of language as off-the-peg clothing. I’m not sure if you included this because I had given you the impression that this was how I saw it. I don’t.

    Off-the-peg clothing has been commissioned, designed, and made by somebody else who may have a broad idea of the wearer, but essentially makes the clothes to be used by whoever. This, to me at least, seems to be closer to what you are saying about language. It’s historical baggage is beyond the influence of the user; it comes, prepackaged with meaning and historical nuance, ready to be used by the wearer.

    For me, the issue is less clear. Clearly, there is language that has the weight of history behind it; our very dialogue is shaped by rules that we are bound to follow despite never having formed them. My earlier mention of “brighter dawn” is loaded with more meaning than “a better future”. One sounds vaguely maoist and the other could have plopped out of the mouth of Anthony Blair, ex-MP. Incidentally, if it is not too much self promotion, I would like to append this post with a poem of my own. The form, for those of you who like such things, is that of a double-dactyl but I have had to make modifications (largely due to my inexperience as a poet).

    But language is more than a tool fashioned by our progenitors. It is also used to fashion the here and now. To go back to the clothes metaphor, I think this equates to something like, “Man maketh the clothes and the clothes maketh the man.” Please forgive the exclusion of women, but I wouldn’t have got the right nuance were I to have rendered it less sexistly. So, yes, language comes to us steeped in history, but we have the option of using language to make history too. I find myself confusing myself whenever I talk about such things, but essentially I am saying that we must always be wary about interpreting the words and actions of others. It is always better to engage in dialogue WHERE POSSIBLE to uncover the intended meanings. Naturally, this does not extend to sitting down and saying, “Well, Mr Pot, what exactly do you have in mind for Year Zero?”

    Anyway, enough for now. I am flattered by the reply of sorts and honoured by the choice of medium. Poetry seems to exemplify what I mean by the dual role of language. The poem that you put forward has moments of true beauty. Please do not put my double-dactyl too near, in case it appears even more tawdry than it already is:

    Poodley doodlely
    Anthony Blair, M.P.
    Started a war to see
    How people die;

    Thought it a lot of fun;
    Undemocratically
    Started another one
    Telling pork pies.

    • marxistelf

      Thank you Diarmuid for your well-crafted reply. Also, special thanks for sharing your engaging poem with us. This “poetic turn” (we notice Jeremy Harmer has even gone “stand up”) is certainly something we wish to encourage in ELT. Somehow the economy of words (sustainability) in poetry acts as a counterweight to their political abuse (political manipulation) elsewhere.
      You raise many key issues which we would prefer to carry over into future posts, allowing this reply of yours to stand as a final comment on our recent Dogme debate (for now!!).
      However, we certainly do not wish to foreclose the discussion and will return to issues of trade unions, anarchism and the philosophy of language in future posts. We do, of course, hope you visit the site to continue these key debates.
      In comradeship
      Marxist Elf

  2. Pingback: Reaching out to a broader anti-capitalist (anti-TEFLocracy) alliance. « Marxist TEFL Group

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