As a sophomore I took the History of Literary Theory and Criticism class and learned about Foucault and institutions and my mind was blown. I left with the knowledge that we’re never going to escape these institutions, none of us are actually ever going to be ORIGINAL; pretty depressing stuff.
This class was awesome because we read geniuses like Kant, who told us to try to shed our nonage anyway. And even if this never may be possible–to be truly original; independent of others’ influence–we still read a ton of cool stuff from the Enlightenment and tried to use it to make meaning of today. To question what was happening around us.
If institutions always define us, can we at least educate ourselves enough to shape institutions in the most positive way possible? Though we never may truly escape these institutions, we should still try our best. La Mettrie wrote “As for the rest—the willing slaves of prejudice—they can’t reach the truth any more than frogs can fly.” Even if we never TRULY reach enlightenment, at least we didn’t become the willing slaves of prejudice. We never may reach “truth,” but we’re trying.
This class wasn’t even mandatory, and people still showed up to class — every day — to debate what these smart dead guys could add to our understanding of today. And we always left class disagreeing with one another, but we were forced to think critically, for ourselves, and try to shed our nonage.
So, that’s what this class taught me. It’s a pretty important life lesson to be reminded of. Think for yourself, engage with other smart people, debate, and look to the intelligent people of the past to interpret the present (but debate with them too). We might not ever truly reach enlightenment, but that’s no reason to not try.