Neither knowing nor unknowing is good enough

28 07 2008

By Ashwini Falnikar

I am not fit for any category – academic intellectual, Gramsci’s organic intellectual or the ‘chappal intellectual’ who roams around on college campuses in kurta-chappals with a jhola slung on her shoulder. With the hope of complete exemption, I choose not to fall into any of these categories. I do not wish to claim that I possess knowledge. For claiming that might make people want to point fingers at me for not knowing something or for knowing it.

In a workshop on writing that my classmates and I attended, the coordinator Rahul Srivastava asked us to theorise about that dreaded concept: Knowledge. At such difficult times, you can never tell which skills will come to your rescue. For me it was that little training I had in acting which came handy. I only imagined myself to be a knowledgeable person, the same trick that we use during interviews to muster some fake confidence. So here is what I wrote.

Knowledge can be recognised when a person’s confidence is so convincing that not knowing something becomes natural to him/her. Knowledge implies humbleness and then, it ceases to be out of reach. The knowledgeable one shares knowledge and makes it accessible. A critical perspective is a symptom of knowledge. The ability to question cannot develop in isolation; it has to be accompanied by the ability to interconnect different branches of knowledge. Finally, knowledge is knowing and not knowing as well. So questioning, sharing and accepting ignorance become a part of knowledge building.

Well, Rahul’s trick worked better than mine. By just making us write this paragraph he made it so easy to understand that spaces of ignorance are in fact mandatory to build knowledge. It is just the acceptance of those spaces that is required to question knowledge with a capital k.

From then on, I’ve begun to feel that ignorance might not be so dishonorable and that knowledge needn’t be an accusation.




2 responses

11 08 2008
Rajesh Ranjan

Knowledge is not an inherent property of matter. It is a derived cognition of things around. The level of comfort sometimes is better when we do not know something because the moment we know, it becomes mandatory to express it and then to defend with all reasons.
Knowledge flows along the way seekings the path on its own. ‘Not knowing’ can never be dishounrable, the problem is unwillingness to know as it breeds arrogance which is detrimental to both the ‘being’ and ‘having’ of knowledge itself.


15 08 2008
Frames Of Reference


I don’t know if I completely agree with your statement above that “knowledge flows along the way, seeking a path of its own”. If only everything was quite so organic! It is a cultural construct, one that allows us to gain cultural capital (Bordieu), which we assert as an exercise of power. It’s like when you say: “the moment we know, it becomes mandatory to express it and then defend it with all reasons”. I wouldn’t use the term mandatory there because again we are often quite conscious of our exercise of power in our expression of cultural capital. Now, my own quoting of Bordieu above can be constructed as an exercise of power. To be completely honest though, I thought I’d reference the concept only because it isn’t my own. But to someone who isn’t familiar with Bordieu and sociological theory, perhaps that referencing might seem elitist, one-upwomanship. Who knows?

What do you think?


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