ON GIVING LECTURES
Anthony Blake, from The Institute Magazine, c.1980
Giving a lecture is ordinarily stated in terms of the efficiency of transmitting information. A. G. E. Blake takes a different approach, focussing on the sphere of action and meaning that can be shared by audience and speaker.
After a lecture I gave in London last year a member of the audience asked, "Who was giving the lecture?" 1 was quite nonplussed. It was not a totally mechanical performance; but even then in that moment, it was borne home to me that what had been speaking was an almost inevitable consequence of a combination of factors that had gone before. It was as if this voice of mine has become trained to produce a certain kind of manifestation in certain circumstances. My thoughts had an influence that can be summed up by the words "the constraining effect of doubt, worry and perplexity, sometimes turned into the liberating effecting of deciding not to operate in a certain way".
So, as in anything with the possibility inherent in it of becoming real, sacrifice is important. This is not something I know how to do or have the ableness to do; it has to be brought about in me by the disappearance of what I hope to rely upon to make my way.
In my recent thinking, under the influence of a new business associate, I have acquired the practice of expressing an understanding by means of a 'trigram' of simple words. Any elaboration of these simple words is misleading. In the case of giving a lecture:
What makes the lecture is "in the middle" where the three meet. The trigram is a way of pointing exactly to what cannot be put into words.
What do I enter when with my thoughts I come to give a lecture? I enter the audience. The audience is what is there. What speaks is simply all the lectures that I have given in the past. There is not any person speaking but the total effect of previously expressed events. What I say works itself out in the middle of what is represented by the trigram. Every lecture is the only lecture, even when it is part of a series. The implications of past and future are always present.
But what haunts me, and the only useful turning point, is the question "can I say anything real?" I ask myself and try to feel in myself whether I have understood anything. This is done within the act of speaking. Sometimes I hope that the action of the talk itself demonstrates something, embodies the laws I try to describe. I do not have to believe in what 1 say. I merely have to be living through the dilemma.
Maybe speaking can do: because this is said, people see and therefore they can decide. This is "preparation for the future": preparing a conviction about reality allied to new kinds of events.
The talk is a whole world itself. It has to be. It strives for its own completeness, including its own description. I have to say what my saying is. The bits and pieces of the words, the so-called 'content', are there anyway. What am I saying? There is a sort of spectacle, a performance. The words falter and break down, but the talk is more there.
Ted Hughes saw about this. The articulate people tell wonderful stories but they don't have any depth, any weight. Like Gurdjieff's Aheze and Seze [the two monks spoken of in Meetings with Remarkable Men]. The one who speaks as the waters of paradise is immediately forgotten; the one who mutters in decrepitude endures and what he evokes evolves in people. How much life-blood has been distilled to stutter a few words, to catch one's breath? How much realization of failure to communicate? How much presence of the silent region into which our suffering passes to become unthinkable, unemotional? The inadequate words are then enough.
Words hypnotize, cast a ring around minds. There is need of stumbling blocks, sharp edges, gaps, laughter, fear, interruption. The Masters provide their own. They twist around the requirement of a beginning and an end.
Whatever understanding the speaker has — of what he is speaking about and what is happening in the speaking and listening — it can only be one-sided. It is in the nature of things that he has to be in a distorted world. Completeness comes from the world he does not know. One of Shah's latest stories runs: The Master was haranguing his audience. "And if I were to tell you anything of what I really, deeply know, you would not believe me. If I were even to hint at the truths which are understood by those who have attained to Truth, you would scoff; if 'I were to give you any statement of the amazing realities behind what you imagine to be reality, you would not credit it . . ."A member of the audience held up his hand: "Surely you cannot expect anyone to believe that?" (Special Illuminations.)
According to Gurdjieff and Idries Shah the prospects for a lecturer are dismal to the extreme. He can perhaps settle for entertaining himself, or learning something. But if this is his aim, he is in a sorry way and will never learn anything. It is the very recalcitrance of the audience that enables him to see something new, his very inability to get something across to people who do not want to learn.
The audience can only work in opposition to the speaker. They need to put themselves, their function, into the space, even reciting their own chosen soliloquy.
Another digression is needed. To denounce all those -utterly stupid representations of communication with bits coming out of one person and going into another — as if nothing else was going on! As if speaking and listening were separate from each other! The great speaker is one who can listen. You see, at one 'level' he is listening, at another speaking, It cannot be otherwise.
It is a secret in music. The real musician is not essentially producing, that is doing something. The doing part comes from the training of his functions. The essential part is listening. Within the sound is the wisdom that he needs. He must listen.
Listening can be a creative act, not merely part of a function. What the speaker demonstrates is the presence of audition. He is announcing that there is something to be heard — not merely that he has something to say. This translates into the form of speech as self-cancellation; every statement is cancelled out by another one in the totality so that the sum content is void. This is really where nothing is added to the original expression of thought — because any addition takes us into something else. The logic of progression in speech closely parallels musical forms. Shakespeare is helpful in being so clever with language that the words dance around each other leaving one free to see.
How does the speaker guide himself? When I first began to lecture I would prepare four or five significant points; then talk around those. Then it became two or three points and even one. I remember being very impressed by the story of a philosopher who gave the most brilliant lecture anyone had ever heard about the development of philosophy over the last two thousand years. When it was over, someone recovered the small piece of paper to which he had been referring. It read: "Plato. Aristotle. Plato." When one really knows a subject, it is like that. There is no need to prepare any information. All that is needed is a meaning-form.
I am sure that some speakers work according to an image-form — usually when the object is to produce an emotional effect. The difference in the two forms lies mainly in the emotional bias and predetermined colour of the latter. There are even word-forms which are just slogans.
I find these days that there is not even strictly speaking a simple significant point: the ideal becomes an emergence from chaos. But, in fact a great deal of preparation lies behind this approach. I remember twenty years ago visiting the Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery and hearing a visitor complain, "How long did he take to do this painting? Half-an-hour!" The woman guide was delightful. She said, "You have got it wrong. It took twenty years to do that painting." Similarly, it is absurd to expect to change the history of every member of the audience.
Boredom is more useful than interest. On the verge of falling asleep, something different can enter. I begin to understand why Bennett criticized Steiner. Steiner advocated the way of image-forms, not of meaning-forms. Image-forms do not serve the will, the T as well as meaning. Meaning is the medium of all speech and listening and consequently cannot be contained in a verbal package or in an image.
But one of Steiner's images is very valuable. In his lectures on agriculture, he describes the germination of the seed and explains that this does not come from the complex molecular structure it contains, but only through this structure being rendered chaotic. Preparation and structure are necessary, but they do not 'do' it. The breaking down of structure can lead to a higher level of action.
A wonderful area of exploration is the domain of conversation. There are few things more pleasing than a conversation endowed with the spirit of discovery. One cannot hold on to one's own structure or the conversation disappears. Released from talking to oneself, one can actually listen.
The primal world of the lecture is audition — listening. It is simple, but not understood: the 'word' can be heard but does not speak. Between audition and speech lies the shadow of the image: all the beliefs and representations out of which come the Maya of telling. From form comes names and the obscuring of silence.
to listen to speak to see