LEARN
LEARN
LEARN…

—Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du cinéma #300 (1979)

Godard fills a whole page of Cahiers du cinéma with this word, or rather, with these words. It appears in the middle of his report from Mozambique, where he was advising the government on setting up a television system. But the word is not addressed solely to Mozambiquans. What do all of us have to learn?

The easiest way to read the page is to see it as a syllabus or a to-do list. Learn one thing, then another, then another… Nowadays the universities sell “lifelong learning,” and there’s a mercenary ring to the suggestion that we should never stop learning. The notion that learning is a kind of nonstop training or perpetual stockpiling of knowledge seems perfectly in tune with the prevailing instrumentalization of education.

But what if we see the repetition of the word “learn” in a more disjunctive way? We learn, we re-learn, we learn again. That is how we might understand Lenin’s famous advice to young people: “learn, learn, and learn.”  It is not a matter of learning “the same thing” over and over, but of starting over and over, always facing the possibility that the process will confront us with something unexpected.

Now learning will present itself in a different way: not as a continuous sequence, but as a persistent practice. We have to keep learning, but not because of some pious reminder that we can never know enough. Instead we want to cultivate an attitude toward the world that is both actively engaged and attentively reserved: at every turn we have to combine what we already know with whatever might ask us to think things through all over again.

So when we read this long line of words, we need to see it as a kind of infinite loop. Each time the word “learn” appears, it is asking something different of us, depending not only on what came before and what might come next, but on what’s over there and what’s somewhere else. Sometimes the word is a solid stepping stone, sometimes it zig-zags in unpredictable ways, sometimes there are little rhyming passages, and sometimes every pattern flies apart. Perhaps this word starts to look like a string of images because every image asks us to learn.

LEARN
LEARN
LEARN
LEARN
LEARN

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