A Prehistory of Histories of Meaning


of Meaning 

A Seminar

Jackson, Jr.

University of California, Santa

Winter 1999

Earl Jackson, Jr.

University of California, Santa Cruz



A Prehistory
of „Histories of Meaning“

In 1997 the curriculum planning committee and the chair of undergraduate
studies of my department (the Literature Department at the University of
California, Santa Cruz) asked me to teach a senior seminar on premodern
Japanese literature under the aegis of PEMS, Pre- and Early Modern European
Studies. I had serious reservations about doing this, not because I teach
primarily contemporary
Japanese literature
and film, but because there is no Japanese literature
concentration offered within our department. The students would have had
little to know prior exposure to these texts, textual practices and historico-cultural
contexts. Because the senior seminar is a preferred exit requirement of
our majors, I felt that the course should reflect more closely the areas
of literature on which the students had focused during their four years
of study.

I decided to try an experiment, to do an intensive selective survey
course on premodern „semiotics“ – or, as the seminar came to be entitled,
on the „Histories
of Meaning
.“ which would include texts Plato to Augustine.

I hasten to emphasize that at no point in planning this course did
I presume that just anyone could teach „Classics“ without special training
and years of intense and dedicated study. I never considered my position
comparable to that of a trained classics scholar. I wished to transform
the contradiction in the teaching assignment [a modernist assigned to teach
the „Classics“] into a self-conscious confrontation between contemporary
theoretical preoccupations and tendencies of speculation in the past that
to cover similar territory.

I hoped that a rigorously conducted dialogical approach to the material
would answer the ethical questions surrounding a non-classicist
teaching the Greeks. But my philosophy of teaching in general, moreover,
I felt, made an argument for the ethical imperative for non-classicists
to return to these texts and traditions.

To me the classroom is a unique temporal-spatial event – in which teaching
and learning co-occur and coarticulate each other within a self-selective
and dynamically self-fashioning microcommunity of scholars [students and
teachers] who come together for a specific period of time to engage collectively
in a specific inquiry. I have been teaching now for nearly sixteen years.
This vision of the practice has never lost is power to reenergize me and
to rehumble me. It makes me realize the privilege it is to be a continual
part of that experience and also what responsibilites that privilege entails
in order to be a constructive part of that experience, that infinitely
open opportunity.

Anyone who has experienced that conjunction of teaching and learning
will also realize how relevant the archaic Greek educators are to those
who engage in this opportunity, regardless of which „role“ the individual
plays in that nexus, and no matter what the discipline or subject of the
inquiry, as long as it is taken up with a similar earnestness and a similar
intuition of its importance. This is why it struck me as an ethical and
intellectual imperative to reconvene around the tremendous curiosity of
Thales, and Herodotus, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.


Even granted the importance of revisiting the Greeks and presupposing
the hermeneutical structure of a dialogical encounter between „us“ postmoderns
and „those“ premoderns, I felt it absolutely imperative that I prepare
myself as thoroughly as possible and instill in the students the need for
a respect of the radical distance and difference between the archaic cultures
and our own. . And I had to reeducate myself quickly. I then went to the
Internet and gave myself a Classical re-education.


The prehistory and history of this course could be represented in a
narrative with roughly the following sequential structure:

[1] Earl reviews Classical Greek using resources from the Internet.

[2] Earl continues searching the net for other resources which augment
his linguistic reeducation with other disciplinary contexts. These resources
help him refine his conception of the course and to plan the syllabus.

[3] Earl drafts the syllabus and the requirements.

[4] Earl conducts the course.

This narrative would be clear and often to the point. But it would be
very much off the point for several reasons. Teaching/learning is a dynamic
group event. The above is monotonous and monolithic. It does not allow
for „others“ or for alterity in any form. Fortunately the very technology
I am using to describe this impasse provides multiple routes beyond it.


I will proceed here in specific and practical
steps. But in deference to and thanks to the digital medium in which I
„insist“ [amid these electrons], the linearity of any set of steps will
be traversed by hypertextual alternatives to that linearity. In other words,
I will provide organization within units and options out of and across
those organizational unities.

This is not as lofty as it seem. To be more specific: the next steps
are organized according to specific pedagogical aims and directives, but
their interrelations and resonances and/or contradictions will not be determined
in advanced by their arrangement, but will remain open to reinterpreation
and reinterrogation initiated by the visitor’s mode of navigating with,
through or across these units.


This reeducation process is represented on this site in two divergent
forms. The first is a personal narrative of my private review of Classical


The second is a compendium of annotated Internet resources, broken down
into eleven categories. http://www.anotherscene.com/meaning/metapaid.html

Here they serve as a meta-resource for the students, but they also
mark the continuing narrative of self-education and construction of the
course in question.



The Prehistory
of the „Histories of Meaning“ 

A Cybermental
Re-collecting Classical Greek via digital technology 


The Metaindex
of annotated resources for cyberclassicists

Eikasia. Envisioning
the Course. 


Envisioning the Engagement 


Communicating the


The Syllabus.

Critical Conditions.

On the conversation as

method and lifestyle.

do you say ’nephropathy‘ in Bulgarian? – Netcasting in Daily Life
is a chapter from my book
Web Resources Directory
I post it here because it details how to do versatile and time-saving searches
on the Internet for research in the humanities and other disciplines.
Illustrated with heart
warming true stories
of the virtual life.

Trouble Shooting

From here the possible navigations routes include:

Histories of Meaning




Fantasy Campus

Netcasting in
Daily Life