Texts, lec­tures and cour­ses: Where do we­be­gin?

New Straits Times - - Higher Ed -

words change the world.

But “Ref­er­ences” re­main, as if de­creed from heaven, dic­tated by the idea of author­ity. The reg­u­la­tory authorities have de­ter­mined the tem­plate for in­for­ma­tion on cour­ses so much so that it is said to be un­al­ter­able. I sense our aca­demics fear the authorities, ei­ther within the univer­sity or ex­ter­nal to it, to make any form of al­ter­ation to the course out­lines — sub­stan­tive or oth­er­wise. There is much ob­ses­sion with what the reg­u­la­tory body says and de­ter­mines as “stan­dards”. The sense of in­di­vid­ual au­ton­omy is lost in the aca­demic ca­reer. Tech­no­log­i­cally, this is made worse by the struc­ture of the sys­tem. Such a cli­mate does not augur well for our uni­ver­si­ties.

Back to the text. And so I have en­coun­tered that putting the word “text” res­onates a con­de­scend­ing at­ti­tude, in the likes of what an aca­demic has de­scribed as a “school text­book”. Does our aca­demic body com­pre­hend what is a text and what pur­pose it serves? A text serves as a be­gin­ning of some­thing — in this case, knowl­edge and learn­ing — some ini­tial ex­po­sure to the cor­pus of a sub­ject. A course ti­tle is not only one, but rep­re­sents a sub­stan­tive body of knowl­edge de­liv­ered with a cer­tain rigour at a cer­tain level, in this case, within a univer­sity set­ting. We have to re­turn to the text.

In Said il­lus­trated that the con­cept of text car­ries with it an idea, if not an un­equiv­o­cal achieve­ment, of dis­tinc­tion, or of pres­tige. He was talk­ing of the novel. And re­cently some aca­demi­cians asked me if a work of fic­tion can be re­quired read­ing, a text, if you will, for a so­cial sci­ence course. I said “yes”.

The idea of a text — re­quired/com­pul­sory read­ing for a course — is the preser­va­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of a doc­u­ment — sym­bol­is­ing, pro­duc­ing and con­not­ing mean­ings in ad­di­tion to it­self. Said, in the con­text of ex­plained the text as as­so­ci­ated to an­tiq­uity, say, to the Homeric po­ems to clas­si­cal schol­ar­ship — its prob­lems and preser­va­tion. In the West the clas­sics and the Bi­ble are the best pre­served, the most worked over, the most trans­mit­ted, and hence con­sid­ered “the most orig­i­nal texts of all”. Many in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the univer­sity, are de­voted to pre­serv­ing the texts and pro­long­ing them.

In the Is­lamic tra­di­tion, tex­tual tra­di­tions oc­cur in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. One of them is the a con­cept de­scrib­ing the unique­ness of the Qu­ran as ren­der­ing all other text im­po­tent by com­par­i­son. All texts are sec­ondary (to the Qu­ran). There is a hi­er­ar­chy of dis­ci­plines and of books in re­la­tion to the Qu­ran. The sci­ences of jurisprudence

and tra­di­tion and sets of sys­tem­atic tex­tual cus­tom con­trol the ed­i­tor’s work.

There is a canon of valid sources. There is also the sys­tem of (li­cence to trans­mit) — or

(de­gree) in Ba­hasa Me­layu. In the “man­u­script age” — the pe­riod from the sev­enth up to around the end of the 15th cen­tury — ev­ery Ara­bic text gen­er­ally opens with a list of or wit­nesses, link­ing the text to a uni­vo­cal source through a se­ries of oral trans­mit­ters.

We may have to re­flect that a text fun­da­men­tally is that which is read, the pro­duc­tion of which is an event, phys­i­cally, in­tel­lec­tu­ally and spir­i­tu­ally, which has its own ge­neal­ogy which can­not be­gin with its read­ing. A text is a con­tin­u­ing de­sire to pre­serve a cor­pus, in which we have se­lected as a read­ing ma­te­rial for our cour­ses. And there is the pri­mary text/s, and the sec­ondary text/s (or pri­mary read­ing/s and sup­ple­men­tary read­ing/s). I am afraid, we have lost this, or have we?

Never mind if we think the read­ing cul­ture is dead. That is an im­pres­sion con­structed and con­de­scended upon by our­selves as if we have given up on read­ing and com­pre­hend­ing a text in the univer­sity. How can a stu­dent pass a course if he/ she does not, and is not made to con­sume a rel­e­vant part of the cor­pus through the lec­tures de­liv­ered in a course? No knowl­edge is trans­mit­ted and there­fore no should be be­stowed. And by text here, it in­cludes e-books and other dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als. The point is these have to be struc­tured as (re­quired) “texts” and not “ref­er­ences”.

And re­quired texts or read­ings must be made avail­able — in the li­brary and in univer­sity book­shops. There must be a sup­port sys­tem — from writ­ers/schol­ars, ed­i­tors, pub­lish­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and book­seller­sto the univer­sity lead­er­ship. One can­not be granted an (li­cence to trans­mit), with­out hav­ing gone through all the re­quired texts ( page-by-page/cover-to-cover), for ev­ery course, from se­mes­ter one to the fi­nal se­mes­ter.

And it is un­be­com­ing for aca­demics — at all lev­els — to com­plain about the read­ing habits of univer­sity stu­dents and so­ci­ety at large. The onus is upon them to make stu­dents con­sume the cor­pus by ac­quir­ing and con­sum­ing a text in or­der to be granted a de­gree. The top global uni­ver­si­ties have book­shops sell­ing texts, su­perla­tively much su­pe­rior to any book­shop in this coun­try. They are run by book­sell­ers, who take it as a pro­fes­sion - not rent-seek­ers look­ing for con­tracts. The book­sell­ers know the im­por­tance of texts and how they are to be used. And in some uni­ver­si­ties, both East and West, it is the book­shop that greets visi­tors as we en­ter the cam­pus. So, where do we be­gin?

The writer is a pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Univer­siti Sains Malaysia, and the first re­cip­i­ent of the Hon­orary Pres­i­dent Res­i­dent Fel­low­ship at the Per­dana Lead­er­ship Foun­da­tion. Email him at ah­mad­mu­rad@usm.my

Book­sell­ers should know the im­por­tance of texts and how they are to be used.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.