Perennial Education on Magic Mountain -or- Dead Poets Society
The Magic Mountain -or- Magic Moments in the Global Village
Educational perennialism is the idea that the primary focus of education is on "personal development". By applying the "Socratic method" a dialogue between teacher and student can develop a secure teaching space, where critical thinking can grow freely. A psychological balance between the "traditional" education and the experimental "avant guard" is envisioned. The forward looking Western perennialist understands that the "Great Conversation" is a paradigmatic work in progress. Nowhere can we see how we grow and develop, and how the Great Conversation paradigmatically changes than in our dreams.
The dream factory film, "Dead Poets Society" tells the story of an English teacher Mr John Keating (Robin Williams) and a group of sensitive boys and students, who are all trying to understand and find their place in the world, be it with a girlfriend to be, or to find a vocation, or simply to find the courage to stand up for what is right, in the face of that which is wrong. Keating tells the boys that they must learn the meaning of "carpe diem". Dead Poets Society is poetic shorthand for developing one's own life style, vision, voice, thoughts, hopes and dreams.
From a literary perspective, everyone develops a story of their education, growth, maturation (also known as a "bildungsroman"), and "coming of age", even if it only was by acquiring "street smarts". Literary sub-genres include the "educational novel" and the "artists novel". One famous example that illustrates the English literary educational process, is William Wordsworth's "The Prelude", which he reportedly simply called "the poem on the growth of my mind".
Being fluent in both English and German, from my own German language experience and perspective, the literary story of education told by Thomas Mann, known as the "Magic Mountain" is a narrative that resonates a great deal with my own story of education found in my experiences at the University of Zürich, Switzerland and in my dreams. Mann's German hero of the story is Hans Castorp, a young man who is introduced as being in his early 20's. Castrop travels to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, his stay that was intended to be brief, develops into one that goes on for years. Castrop who had left his German home still psychologically immature, learns about history, culture, art, music, nature, love, economics, politics, nationalism and philosophy. In Davos, Castrop has learned to see the psychological panorama of the pre-WW I European "Civilization and its Discontents".
He searches for a philosophical unifying "magic moment" on his intellectual journey, which comes in the chapter simply called "Snow". Castrop had lost his way in the snow covered mountains above Davos. Nature has unleashed an alpine blizzard, leaving Castrop lying close to death's door. It is in that moment, that Castrop is visited by a dream vision that provides the sought after transformative understanding. In this sense, dream vision becomes the archetypal literary vehicle to create his desired "magic moment".
It comes to him in his dream, "as if" he had found the "holy grail", Castrop poetically sees and recognizes the archetypal meaning of Western dream vision's perennial "mise en scene". In his own words, Castrop informs the reader; "Love stands opposed to death. It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death. Only love, not reason, gives sweet thoughts. And from love and sweetness alone can form come: form and civilization, friendly, enlightened, beautiful human intercourse - always in silent recognition of the blood-sacrifice. Ah, yes, it is well and truly dreamed. I have taken stock. I will remember."
Perhaps on a final note, from a popular music perspective there is no other song that fits the sentiment better than, "This Magic Moment" (watch music video) by Jay and the Americans.
- Norman O. Brown, "Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History"
- Aldous Huxley "The Perennial Philosophy"