Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


Discuss / diskuter

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B—The case of Nasruddin Hodja

1—Teaching: The Preacher

Nasruddin on a trip stops by a small town where the imam just died. Hearing he is a preacher, a group of faithful comes to get him in order to give the Friday sermon. But Nasruddin does not really want to do it, he feels tired and protests. But the people insist and he finally accepts. Once on the pulpit, he asks "Dear brothers, do you know what I will talk about?" And everybody answer in one voice: "Yes!" So Nasruddin answers: "Well then, there is no use for me to stay here!" and he leaves. But the people, frustrated of the good word, fetch him once more in spite of his resistance, and when he asks again the question "Do you know what I will talk about?" everyone answers "No!". To this, Nasruddin answers with a tone of anger: "Then what I am doing with such a bunch of infidels and pagans!", and he leaves in a huff. But another time again, the faithful, somewhat irritated fetch him, in spite of his protests, and he comes back. Everybody is ready for his terrible question. "Well, do you know what I will talk about?" asks he for the third time. "Yes!" shouts half the crowd. "No!" shouts the other half of the crowd. So Nasruddin answers: "Well I propose that the ones who know explain everything to the ones who don't know!" and he leaves.

The preacher is a very interesting story that poses the paradox of teaching in a Socratic way. The postulate of it is that a teacher can only teach what the students already know, implying for example that it is not worth teaching someone if the ideas involved do not speak already to him, and if it does, he can teach himself. For this reason, the students actually do not need a teacher, as tries to show Nasruddin when by three times he leaves the assembly. And the only way the group can teach itself is through discussion, a sort of mutual teaching, where each student is a teacher. The lazy teacher, or foolish teacher, is therefore a good teacher: he gets the students to be active and "force" them to mobilize their own knowledge and be creative, therefore practicing Socratic maïeutics. And of course he does not explain this to his students: he expects them to figure it out, because he trusts them, even though he treats them in an apparently "rude" way, which can hurt their "feelings". And he should not be worried that they merely stay at the level of appearance: his laziness. That is the risk to take. No teaching, even the "best", guarantees understanding anyhow, especially when there are long explanations.

In our work as a philosopher, many interlocutors will act as the faithful and expect from us the good word, if not the truth itself, especially when they have difficulties they want to resolve, or simply because they want to be charmed by a "beautiful speech". And they will be very unhappy if they do not get what they want, not understanding that the "man of knowledge" does not do his duty. But our work here is to teach them to trust themselves, not by explaining this to them, which would prolong an infantile relationship to the authority, but by posing a paradox that will make them become conscious—by themselves—of their own heteronomy, the statute of minority that they impose on their own self. This situation is even more acute when someone is looking for "motherly" consolation, asking for a soft touch that will make them feel better: for those, such a behavior is actually intolerable, it will make them feel rejected, and maybe rightly so. Nasruddin's practice is pitiless, a lack of mercy that might just have its own legitimacy. It might make one angry, but on the long run, it might make him think in a more profound way.


Page created: 12.10.05. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:36.