It is this fundamental turnaround that the new reversal of the definition of man records: man is a will served by an intelligence. Will is the rational power that must be delivered from the quarrels between the idea-ists and the thing-ists. It is also in this sense that the Cartesian equality of the cogito must be specified. In place of the thinking subject who only knows himself by withdrawing from all the senses and from all bodies, we have a new thinking subject who is aware of himself through the action he exerts on himself as on other bodies.
Here is how Jacotot, according to the principles of universal teaching, made his own translation of Descartes’s famous analysis of the piece of wax:
I want to look and I see. I want to listen and I hear. I want to touch and my arm reaches out, wanders along the surfaces of objects or penetrates into their interior; my hand opens, develops, extends, closes up; my fingers spread out or move together by obeying my will. In that act of touching, I know only my will to touch. That will is neither my hand, nor my brain, nor my touching. That will is me, my soul, it is my power, it is my faculty. I feel that will, it is present in me, it is myself; as for the manner in which I am obeyed, that I don’t feel, that I only know by its acts. . . . I consider ideation like touching. I have sensations when I like; I order my senses to bring them to me. I have ideas when I like; I order my intelligence to look for them, to feel. The hand and the intelligence are slaves, each with its own attributes. Man is a will served by an intelligence.
I have ideas when I like. Descartes knew well the power of will over understanding. But he knew it precisely as the power of the false, as the cause of error: the haste to affirm when the idea isn’t clear and distinct. The opposite must be said: it is the lack of will that causes intelligence to make mistakes. The mind’s original sin is not haste, but distraction, absence. “To act without will or reflection does not produce an intellectual act. The effect that results from this cannot be classed among the products of intelligence, nor can it be compared to them. One can see neither more nor less action in inactivity; there is nothing. Idiocy is not a faculty; it is the absence or the slumber or the relaxation of [intelligence].”
Intelligence’s act is to see and to compare what has been seen. It sees at first by chance. It must seek to repeat, to create the conditions to re-see what it has seen, in order to see similar facts, in order to see facts that could be the cause of what it has seen. It must also form words, sentences, and figures, in order to tell others what it has seen. In short, the most frequent mode of exercising intelligence, much to the dissatisfaction of geniuses, is repetition. And repetition is boring. The first vice is laziness. It is easier to absent oneself, to half-see, to say what one hasn’t seen, to say what one believes one sees. “Absent” sentences are formed in this way, the “therefores” that translate no mental adventure. “I can’t” is one of these absent sentences. “I can’t” is not the name of any fact. Nothing happens in the mind that corresponds to that assertion. Properly speaking, it doesn’t want to say anything. Speech is thus filled or emptied of meaning depending on whether the will compels or relaxes the workings of the intelligence. Meaning is the work of the will. This is the secret of universal teaching. It is also the secret of those we call geniuses: the relentless work to bend the body to necessary habits, to compel the intelligence to new ideas, to new ways of expressing them; to redo on purpose what chance once produced, and to reverse unhappy circumstances into occasions for success:
This is true for orators as for children. The former are formed in assemblies as we are formed in life. . . . He who, by chance, made people laugh at his expense at the last session could learn to get a laugh whenever he wants to were he to study all the relations that led to the guffaws that so disconcerted him and made him close his mouth forever. Such was Demosthenes’ debut. By making people laugh without meaning to, he learned how he could excite peals of laughter against Aeschines. But Demosthenes wasn’t lazy. He couldn’t be.
Once more universal teaching proclaims: an individual can do anything he wants. But we must not mistake what wanting means. Universal teaching is not the key to success granted to the enterprising who explore the prodigious powers of the will. Nothing could be more opposed to the thought of emancipation than that advertising slogan. And the Founder became irritated when disciples opened their school under the slogan, “Whoever wants to is able to.” The only slogan that had value was “The equality of intelligence.” Universal teaching is not an expedient method. It is undoubtedly true that the ambitious and the conquerors gave ruthless illustration of it. Their passion was an inexhaustible source of ideas, and they quickly understood how to direct generals, scholars, or financiers faultlessly in sciences they themselves did not know. But what interests us is not this theatrical effect. What the ambitious gain in the way of intellectual power by not judging themselves inferior to anyone, they lose by judging themselves superior to everyone else. What interests us is the exploration of the powers of any man when he judges himself equal to everyone else and judges everyone else equal to him. By the will we mean that self-reflection by the reasonable being who knows himself in the act. It is this threshold of rationality, this consciousness of and esteem for the self as a reasonable being acting, that nourishes the movement of the intelligence. The reasonable being is first of all a being who knows his power, who doesn’t lie to himself about it.
Jacques Rancière/The Ignorant Schoolmaster (Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation)
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