Consensus and civility often mask the ultimate foundations of authority — political and otherwise. Gramsci warned that we are all “experts in legitimation.” I’ve long been haunted by the insight of Bourdieu and Passeron in Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture that we teachers — no matter what we intend — can never shed the ermine robe of authority, an authority honed through years of training to say the right thing — the tasteful, distinctive, assuring thing. Teaching Under the Volcano has been a sinking experience. How difficult it is to get students to follow Dr. Vigil’s call, “Throw away your mind.” In the face of the casual slaughter and commonplace cruelty that define our contemporary moment, how do we, through Lowry, move beyond the human, all-too-human frames of knowledge (political, intellectual, academic, theological)? While packing his pages full of arcane, occult, and learned references, he demands that his readers question the classical categories of “natural” and “supernatural,” even “cultural.”
Throw away your mind. Throw away the acquisition of knowledge, the tempting ballast of academic learning, the heavy quoting of past literary masters, the pile-up of clever echoes.