Mary Cappello's Lecture is a song for the forgotten art of the lecture. Cappello draws on examples from Virginia Woolf to Mary Ruefle, Ralph Waldo Emerson to James Baldwin, blending cultural criticism with personal history to explore the lecture in its many forms--from the aphorism to the note--and give new life to knowledge's dramatic form.
The lecture, like the essay, like the state of awkwardness that Cappello explored so fruitfully 13 years earlier, operates in the gap between what a person knows is real and what that person is told is real ... 'All great essays,' Mary Cappello writes, 'investigate the space between what one is told about the real and what one truly knows about it. This is the essay, and the lecture’s, essential life-affirming disassociated ground.' It’s the ground that Cappello has tread throughout her two-decade writing career, and she not only explores this ground further in her latest book but makes its operating method into her central subject. In doing so, she ensures that Lecture — with its fragments and digressions, its considerable self-reflection, and its significant moral and political heft — serves as its own well-earned justification.
Remote learning asks us, as Cappello does, to reimagine the humanities lecture as a teaching tool that works even, or especially, for the distractible listener. To Cappello, in fact, distraction is the heart of the form. She argues that lectures are a tool for sparking thought, not for imparting information ... Cappello’s preference for deep but diffuse attention makes her close intellectual kin to the writer and artist Jenny Odell ... Odell seeks 'hidden springs of ambiguity and inefficiency' in contemporary life; Cappello suggests that lectures could provide exactly that, though only if speakers release themselves from the obligation to impart maximum knowledge in minimum time. In fact, she asks them to take less seriously the obligation to impart knowledge at all ... If I can meaningfully orient students’ minds toward new possibilities, then, by Cappello’s standards, I have provided a valuable service, even if, by the end of my writing class, half my students are ruminating on possibilities that have little to do with writing. What matters—in a lecture, and an education—is, after all, thinking itself.
Cappello opens with a defense of the lecture 'as a form of art,' rather than as a dull classroom ritual, and moves on to the alternate forms it might take, in order to become more rewarding and engaging for both the lecturer and the lectured-to ... In a gorgeous examination of poet Louise Bogan’s notes for a planned 1962 lecture at Bennington (with photographs included), Cappello explains that good lectures should show evidence of how to 'think with rather than of' ideas. After reading this eloquent book, anyone will agree that, even with the ever-increasing rise of student-directed learning and online education, the lecture is not archaic, but rather waiting for a vital new mode.