Álvaro Restrepo: ‘Education is useless’

‘If education does not strengthen us, if it does not reveal us our vocation, our inner voice, and if it does not help us to get rid of frustration and the fear of failure, then what is the bloody purpose of education?’

Álvaro Restrepo is a Colombian artist, choreographer and educator who has run an extraordinary youth dance organisation in Cartagena-de-Indias for the past 20 years. El Colegio del Cuerpo is not just about teaching young often vulnerable people about movement and creativity. It is a holistic educational programme that changes lives because its vision of child development is so profound. Children learn about dance and self-expression in a school of the body that also addresses nutrition, biology, narcotics, violence and sexual health. The effects of Colombia’s decades-long civil conflict are the inescapable background for artists working so that children can ‘be as happy as [they] can humanly be in the midst of this terrible and wonderful world‘.

I first met Álvaro, his co-director Marie-France Delieuvin, and the rest of the team in 1998 when they invited me to Cartagena and I’ve watched their evolution with huge admiration. Ten years ago, I was able to help in bringing the company to Yorkshire for an unforgettable week (some of the photos here are from that visit). A few days ago, Álvaro published an article in El Espectador, Colombia’s leading newspaper under the title ‘La educación no sirve para nada’ (‘Education is useless’). reading it I understood for the first time some of the roots of his thinking about education. I’m very happy to be able to share an English translation of that article, with Álvaro’s permission, here. His inspiring vision has a universal resonance.

El Colegio del Cuerpo - 12


Álvaro Restrepo – ‘Education is useless’

Several months ago, I received a call from Pedro Medina, a self-described ‘business man, educator and catalyzer’ and an alumnus of the same Catholic private school for boys where I studied—and suffered—many years ago: the elite Colegio San Carlos in Bogotá. Pedro is an interesting and complex character. He successfully introduced McDonalds into Colombia and during 7 years served as CEO of the operation. He is also a university teacher with a lot of titles and degrees and directs a foundation called I Believe in Colombia. I had never met Pedro until recently but found him to be a high-speed motor of optimism and ideas. I once heard a talk he delivered at a conference and had to really concentrate in order to follow his fast-paced rhythm. Pedro is also the vice president of the board of alumni of Colegio San Carlos, my alma mater.

Here’s why Pedro reached out. In the year 2007, I wrote a long and painful article about the eleven years I spent at Colegio San Carlos entitled, ‘Llora et Labora’ (‘Weep and Work: Memories of the Flesh’). It was published in one of Colombia’s main newspapers El Espectador and in Número Magazine. I indeed wrote the piece with genuine tears and blood and maybe because of this, it made a great impact on people. That year, the article earned me the  Simón Bolívar National Prize for Journalism.  The process of writing ‘Weep and Work’ served as both a catharsis and an exorcism for me. In this chronicle I related, year by year, the physical and psychological ordeals and abuses I suffered at this very prestigious training ground for high-class kids in Colombia which has groomed the likes of President Juan Manuel Santos, former  President Andres Pastrana, former Vice President Francisco Santos, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, the President of the Inter-American Development Bank Luis Alberto Moreno, the President of one of Colombia’s leading universities, Universidad de Los Andes, Pablo Navas, and many other successful men. In my case, I always knew I was in the wrong place. However, eleven years had to pass before I could gather the necessary courage to turn on my heels and walk towards Liceo Boston, the school that saved my life in a moment in which I had been convinced by the guardians of my education that I was a good-for-nothing.

El Colegio del Cuerpo - 9

The article ‘Weep and Work’ fell like an atomic bomb on Colombian society. It was published at the same moment when the Colegio San Carlos was celebrating its 45th anniversary and its  headmaster was receiving the most important award my country bestows upon its citizens: the Cross of Boyacá. My intention was not to ruin the party. However, I did consider that it was important that a voice, my voice, could speak out to give its version of what had happened in this strange, and for me, sordid place.

Most interesting and revealing to me after the publication of my article were the different and very acid reactions that were sent to the mailboxes of El Espectador, Número Magazine and to my own mailbox: alumni, teachers, writers, journalists, young students of San Carlos and ordinary people wrote very polemic reflections. Some alumni insulted me and classified me as mentally weak; other people expressed their solidarity and thanked me for my courage; yet others said that my story was a pale reflection of what they had lived or were living at the moment at the institution. In response, the school decided to maintain a total and very mysterious silence. I had been expecting—indeed,  I was almost hoping—that the school would sue me for defamation. That would have helped to cast some light over a serious debate on the very sad matters I was denouncing. Yet apparently, the decision was to let matters be and to wait until the storm passed.

El Colegio del Cuerpo - 8

Several years later, Father Francis Wheri, the school’s headmaster for more than 45 years, declared in an interview for Semana Magazine  at the time of his resignation, that the most difficult moment in his career had had to do with my case: a talented and misplaced artist, whom the school had not been able to deal with because he (I) didn’t fit in one of the school’s accepted ‘boxes’. In his interview, he recognized that my failure at San Carlos, had also been a failure for the institution. It was a vindication, of sorts.

But let’s go back to Pedro Medina and the alumni association. A recent series of suicides and deep depressions of students and alumni of San Carlos students had raised serious alarm bells at the school. Pedro wanted to have my opinion. He had read my article and had closely identified with it. In a recent conversation he had had with Father Francis about this crisis, the former headmaster recognized that the school prepared the students very well for traditional success, but not for failure, nor to be artist, nor even just an average professional-citizen, anonymous or even mediocre. I remember that while I still was part of the school’s pack, the message was very clear:  the world is divided in two types of ‘hombres’ (a very North American classification and very much in the line of the present ‘Trumpian’ sensitivity): winners and losers. Success and most importantly, economic success, were the only means of measuring achievement and fulfillment. I rejected and still reject this premise.

El Colegio del Cuerpo - 3

Very often I say that my decision to establish my socially-oriented dance centre El Colegio del Cuerpo (The School of the Body) was an act of resilience, a loving way to come into terms with my own educational process and with education in general. In recent times, I have been giving talks about what I consider should be the main and most important goal of education: to help us discover who we are and why we came into this world. I’m convinced that education is useless —absolutely useless—if it does not help us in this discovery to find our mission, to enhance our talents and our gifts. I’m convinced that we are all geniuses for or at something—and that our education should help us to be as happy as we can humanly be in the midst of this terrible and wonderful world. If education does not strengthen us, if it does not reveal us our vocation, our inner voice, and if it does not help us to get rid of frustration and the fear of failure, then what is the bloody purpose of education?

There are no tests, no evaluations that can measure our degree of realization and fulfillment when are doing and being what we love. This is a new notion of wealth and of success that a good (new) education should instill in us. I will never tire of quoting Gabriel García Márquez’s magical formula for happiness: ‘work in what you love, and only in that’.


Mathematics, science and language are the three main axes education is based upon today, a very rationalist and square education that we are consumed with delivering and measuring. The arts, humanities, creativity, intuition, imagination, perception are considered minor, ornamental and accessory dimensions. We are preoccupied, indeed obsessed, by quantity indicators of an education that is concerned in over-developing just one of our mental hemispheres, as well as just one type of intelligence, as if our mind was solely confined to our poor brain and not as if our body, our whole body (physical, mental, spiritual body) was not the channel and the vehicle to incorporate knowledge, as a whole. When we speak today about educating a ‘complete child’, we should be speaking about a thinking/feeling individual who is able to deal not only with concepts, but also, to use the term of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, with ’percepts’.

Are success, failure, fulfilment and/or or frustration related to a short-sighted education that only contemplates and respects only one type of human being? Today, rational intelligence (related to the studies of mathematics and to science, serious and ‘virile’ subjects) is considered more important than felt or sensed intelligence (related to the arts, humanities, creative imagination and to those subjects that are regarded as ornamental, or effeminate). This can’t continue.


At the time when I was studying at San Carlos, artistic careers were reserved for women and sissies.  Engineering and hard sciences were made for real men, true machos. Education for financial and political success, the one Colegio San Carlos has been adept at delivering for nearly half a century, is surely not answering the questions of those beings that are looking for other notions of fulfilment, of happiness and self-respect: what I consider real wealth and plenitude. It is very likely that  had I not had the courage and the clairvoyance at my 17 years to give myself another chance on earth, I would today be one of those sad cases Pedro Medina came to talk to me about, with authentic preoccupation and compassion.

El Colegio del Cuerpo - 2

It’s the end of the world as we know it

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the arts (and culture) being in crisis. There will be much more, next week, when delegates gather for a big double conference in York and Bristol, generously funded by the British Council, Arts Council England and others. I imagine hand-wringing, soul searching, frustration and anger, some defiant optimism, but not much change.*

Arguments in defence of culture have always seemed self-defeating to me. Culture is not in anyone’s control, happily. It has survived religious fundamentalism in the Reformation and the political totalitarianism of Fascists and Communists. I expect it can cope with liberal democracy. Having an unshakeable confidence in the human value of art, I don’t – for one second – believe that it needs me, you or the Arts Council to protect it.

In different conditions, it will change. There has been a notable dearth of religious painting since the Church stopped paying for it.  Never mind. We’ve plenty left over from the days of Papal patronage and – more importantly – there are other things we want to express in our visual culture now.

It’s understandable that people whose work in arts and culture is subsidised by public funds feel that the world is in crisis when those funds are reduced, as they have been since 2010. It’s not that I underestimate the losses that will follow these cuts: I have experienced them myself. But, as Saul Steinberg brilliantly illustrated, the View of the World from 9th Avenue (or Great Peter Street, the South Bank, or any other bastion of the current arts world) is very selective.

Saul Steinberg

To put it simply, the arts profession ≠ the arts. Nor even, in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms (I can drop names too, on a bad day), is the artworld the same as the arts.

Art is vast, more or less equivalent in scale, nature and diversity to the human population of earth, and mostly informal, uncommercial, nonprofessional, unstructured, unregulated and unfunded. That world is not in crisis, except in so far as individual human lives and our collective future on the planet may be in crisis.

The world, as we privileged Westerners have known it, is indeed ending. What will follow, in the arts, in welfare, in global security or in environmental change is uncertain. But we won’t begin to think well about where we are and what might be coming unless we realise how misleading is the view of the world from our own windows.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…

* Update, 25 February 2014

Some of the streamed presentations at No Boundaries have been very good, and there are ideas I’d like to revisit with more time. It’s also good to see a discussion that would recently have engaged only the delegates in the room open to a much larger online and social media audience. That said, the view I’ve been  offered mostly overlooks a landscape familiar to the ‘we’ so often invoked. The idea of talking to different people, suggested more than once, is greeted as an insight, rather than everyday reality in a diverse world.

Beyond control

 I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now

Badlands (1978) Bruce Springsteen

‘Shackled and Drawn’

During the 1970s, when the NME was teaching me how to listen to music (and more besides) and punk challenged the Seventies rock nobility, their annual awards became funnier and less respectful. One was titled ‘Thanks for the Live Album, but you really shouldn’t have bothered’.

It neatly caught the ambivalence of fans to the expensive double or even triple concert records bands would put out to keep them happy while they were finding inspiration or just in rehab. Critics said there were great live albums but maybe you had to be there, and I never was. Anyway,  musos always said there was a better bootleg version.

Critics began to write about live records ‘documenting’ a moment in an artist’s development, as rock slid from being an urgent, critical form into an aspect of heritage. Now global corporations, wringing the final cents from casually-acquired  catalogues while they still hold copyright, turn out live recordings by the cartload.

The listenable outtakes have already been released in remastered, anniversary and deluxe editions, but there’s no shortage of concerts that can be labelled ‘historic’. The value of the live album, always slightly suspect, continues to fall.

Bruce Springsteen Cape Town 2014 (http://dnaphotographers.com)
‘We Take Care Of Our Own’

But digital recording and the Internet are reviving concert recordings,  just as they are giving  musicians new control over their work. Bruce Springsteen, at 64 still a passionately committed performer, has just played  concerts in Cape Town and Johannesburg  and is now performing  in Australia. Each of his South African concerts is already online as a digital download. The pricing—£6.30 for about three hours of music—is generous, certainly compared to the cost of those 1970s double albums.

But there’s something more interesting going on as well. These recordings really are documents, published a couple of days after the concert and therefore hardly open to much aural embellishment. As the tour continues, they will inevitably include some uninspired performances, though they might be preferred by fans who were there on the night.

This is an artist taking control of his publishing in order to cede control of his image. (Up to a point: this act becomes part of that image, but it is at least integral to it.) Where Springsteen’s past live albums have been carefully planned additions to a mythologised persona, this succession of wild recordings will go where it will.

It feels like a risk in a world where the powerful, whether in business, politics or the arts, seek ever more control over their image. But of course none of us can control how we are seen by others or how our words, films or music are interpreted. Artists have enough to do trying to control their creative work. The rest can take care of itself, perfectly well.

Men to boys

I was in my teens when Morecambe and Wise were in their BBC glory days, each Christmas Special more keenly anticipated and more rapturously received than the last. They were quite funny, but their culture (Northern music hall) and their comedy (visual, song and dance) seemed old fashioned to someone growing up with Monty Python. My father loved them, though he shared far less of their background than me, and that placed them firmly in the older generation.

One of the surprises of the affectionate BBC documentary about Morecambe and Wise was discovering how young they were at their peak. Eric was just 43 when he suffered his first heart attack in 1968. And yet he looked 20 years older to me. Dressed in suits, with close cut hair (or receding hairlines) they looked like men.

When they began their double act, in 1941, European culture had no concept of teenagers and saw that gawky, embarrassing transition from childhood to adulthood as little more than tiresome for everyone involved. Boys could be working at 14 and their greatest aspiration was to be accepted as men, which meant – in an age when the military was a part of every male life – wearing the uniform of manhood: short hair, a suit and tie, and no facial hair. Teenage boys adopted it as soon as they could (the transition to long trousers being a kind of secular bar mitzvah) and stayed with it through life.

Saturday night, Sunday morning

How things have changed. In one of the entertaining switchbacks that society keeps making (once only the rich could afford white bread, now it’s only the poor) everyone wants to pass for younger than they are. Middle aged men dress like characters from Happy Days, and recycle fatuous slogans: ’50 is the new 30′. (Tell that to your prostate.)

It’s not important in itself, of course. It’s just one instance of how humans make and remake their stories about themselves, and by extension remake their realities. But it marks the shift in social power from the old to the young since Morecambe and Wise first stepped into a variety club stage. Since we have become a much older society in that same period, it suggests that we are far from reconciled with that change. Or perhaps just that, like humans everywhere, we want most what we haven’t got.

Artists (still) teaching art

Chesterfield DemoMany people read the post about the problems faced by artists teaching in Further Education recently, which described the threat of redundancy over many of those lecturing at Chesterfield College. Mik Godley, who worked with me on Winter Fires, producing the wonderful portraits of older artists, was one of those whose very part-time job teaching life drawing was in question because he didn’t have the requisite qualifications, despite having taught students at Chesterfield for over 20 years.

It’s been a bruising experience for everyone, but I’m glad to say that Mik has kept his job, and will be teaching young artists in NE Derbyshire for the foreseeable future. Thanks to all those who took the time to sign the petition.

Artists teaching art

Monochrome sketches around Walbrzych (Waldenburg), Lower Silesia, Poland, from Google Earth on ipad2, watercolour on archival paper 24 x 32 cm, 1st & 2nd May 2012
Monochrome sketches around Walbrzych (Waldenburg), Lower Silesia, Poland, from Google Earth on ipad2, watercolour on archival paper 24 x 32 cm, 1st & 2nd May 2012

Mik Godley, the artist with whom I worked on Winter Fires, is threatened with redundancy from his part-time teaching post at Chesterfield College. It’s the third time in three years and he’s feeling particularly vulnerable because he doesn’t have a formal teaching qualification—though he’s been teaching life drawing and painting to foundation students at Chesterfield for nearly 25 years.

Of course, in those distant times when colleges thought about education rather than commerce and Whitehall targets, art colleges hired artists for the quality of their work. Art has been taught by practicing artists to apprentices for thousands of years—and quite successfully to judge by the history of European art. None of those artists had a teaching qualification. Indeed the concept of ‘academic art’ has been resisted by most of the best artists since Courbet. As Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother:

‘All academic figures are put together in the same way and, let’s say, on ne peut mieux. irreproachable, faultless. You will guess what I am driving at, they do not reveal anything new. I think that, however correctly academic a figure may be, it will be superfluous, though it were by Ingres himself, when it lacks the essential modern note, the intimate character, the real action.’ 

What Mik brings to his teaching, in common with the other practicing artists still clinging on in British art schools, is decades of technique, ideas, experience and knowledge. He connects young students with a professional life that involves exhibiting internationally, participating in festivals, building studio groups and using new technology to reinvent practice. A teacher who paints cannot offer that enrichment: an artist who teaches can hardly help but offer it.

And an artist who teaches just two days a week, to earn the small living that sustains five days of creative practice, has a good chance of remaining fresh in knowledge and spirit. As Mik says:

‘I love my teaching job, teaching the introductory basic skills in drawing, life drawing and painting that students need for all the visual professions, from architects, curators and designers to film makers and artists – as well as the beginnings of more conceptual critical thinking about art & design, kick-starting students in their careers. I’m good at it, and I’ve taught successfully at the same college for over 23 years.’

Everyone knows that Further Education Colleges, like the whole British public sector, have to cut their expenditure. The rights and wrongs of that policy are not at issue here. The question is on what basis do they choose to do it—what criteria do they use and what priorities do they adopt? Can they see beyond a literalism that places more value in certificates of limited intellectual challenge than in a rich and living artistic practice deeply embedded in a regional, national and international creative ecology?

One can only wonder why a College unable to make that distinction would bother teaching art at all, except perhaps that it might be profitable.

There’s a petition to support the threatened staff. It’s worth a try.

Change.org petition to the Principal and Governors of Chesterfield College


Artful scientists

SpaceThe relationship between art and science has been fractious since the Enlightenment, when practices that had often been seen as alternative ways of approaching the same truth began to be separated into competing theories. Aesthetics, scientific method and philosophy were spun out with a kind of intellectual centrifugal force.

In recent years there have been attempts to reconcile art and science, some more successful than others. Too often they seem rather mechanistic: artists using scientific material they do not understand as exotic stuff from which to spin their own cloth, and scientists wanting art to help them communicate ideas that have become too complex for non-specialists.

But there are also magical connections that reunite art and science as distinct but parallel ways of knowing. Then, something new happens, and you can get a glimpse of the wholeness of things and the infinite paths along which we can understand ourselves and the world that is existence.

Commander Chris Hadfield has just posted a video of himself singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the International Space Station. It is beautiful and moving; the location and the singer adding resonance to a pop song that was slightly naive in its original creation. It suggests how far into the experience of being in space the earthbound Bowie’s imagination could take him. It also underlines how what we feel cannot but be part of what we know. Art and science reunited.

And last night, I watched again the BBC film of Richard Feynman’s part in understanding the causes of the 1986 Challenger disaster. William Hurt gave an extraordinary portrayal of one of humanity’s most attractive geniuses, who united science, art and philosophy in his Tardis mind. So here is Richard Feynman speaking about the beauty of science in a way that I’m sure Chris Hadfield would understand perfectly.

And here’s Chris Hadfield’s latest picture of earth:


A child’s view of the Miners’ Strike

Yesterday morning, Margaret Thatcher died. Her death has been followed by an explosion of polemic, encomium and vitriol, about what happened under her premiership and how it has shaped Britain in the years since she resigned in 1990. Hearing former miners speaking about their lives put me in mind of the strike.

In 1984, I was working as a community artist in Nottinghamshire. With my friend, the photographer Ross Boyd, I had planned a series of summer holiday workshops for children across the rural parts of the county, including several pit villages. The NUM had called a strike in March 1984, but did not have universal support: in particular, the Nottinghamshire miners decided to continue work.

That summer, the quiet villages and towns where we’d planned to get kids involved in photography turned into the nearest I have known – in a fortunately quiet life – to a war zone. Pickets had come from Yorkshire to protest. Police had been drafted in from London and the Midlands to oppose them. The children we worked with were in the still eye of a hurricane, as the world raged around us all. I don’t think most of us really knew what was happening.

We gave the kids £10 Russian cameras and told them they could only take three photos, to help concentrate their imaginations. It was like three wishes: what they photographed really mattered to them. We developed and printed in makeshift portable dark room, spending three days in each village. The pictures were fantastic: most vanished with the kids at the end of the day, but we made an exhibition that toured local libraries, and I hung on to a few prints, including those that are on this page.

I decided to add them here because the media storm now raging as bitterly as it did 30 years ago reminds me of that summer. I thought then, and I think now, that what it looked like to some children mattered. Their perspective was different, but most people’s attention was elsewhere. Where there are titles, they were chosen by the photographer: they are telling.

The youngsters who took these photographs will be in their 40s now. I have no idea how many of them still live in the places they grew up. But if they do, those places have changed beyond recognition. In 1984 none of us had any idea that we were witnessing the end of a way of life.

  • For a fuller exploration of what these changes meant for community arts and more widely, see this post: All in this together.

The useful uselessness of art

Everyone knows the usefulness of what is useful, but few know the usefulness of what is useless.


Human beings do not have to make art to survive, which is why it’s relegated to the highest (last) place in Maslow’s much quoted hierarchy of needs.

But it’s a grave mistake to think that those things we are not obliged to do are not important to us. On the contrary, their importance arises precisely from the fact that we’re not obliged to do them. They’re important because we choose to do them, because we want to do them, because we wouldn’t feel ourselves if we couldn’t do them.

That is why every human society has produced art, and why its art is often the only aspect of that society to have survived the passage of time. Art exists because we need to make it. It survives because we treasure what others have made.

Nu-Urban Gardeners at Gedney Marsh  (photo Rosie Redzia)
Nu-Urban Gardeners at Gedney Marsh (photo Rosie Redzia)

Useful things lose their usefulness as time passes and societies change: they get thrown away. Art never loses its value because it is not useful, but pleasurable, intriguing, unsettling, delightful, disturbing, amusing and entertaining.

Useful things can be explained and understood, finally, by an account of their purpose. Art, without a fixed purpose, can never be silenced by being understood. Someone will always discover new meanings, new questions and new pleasures in it.

Art is wrapped up in everything we want to do in the never-ending search to fulfill ourselves as human beings, to express our love, to speak our desires and our terrors, to create an identity, to build community, to make sense of life.

Art’s uselessness is one reason why, in a manner of speaking, it’s so very useful.

The mailman’s authority


‘Alert always to “Wittgenstein’s distinction between all the trivia you can talk about, and all the essentials you can’t,” Steiner has labored not ever to obscure that distinction.’

George Steiner at the New Yorker (2009)

I read this sentence in Robert Boyers’ introduction to George Steiner’s collected essays for the New Yorker. My interest was pricked by the idea that Wittgenstein might have written on the limitations of what can be known, in ways that might connect with my own thinking about the limitations of scientific epistemology. It’s always nice to be able to call a great philosopher as expert witness to support an argument.

On reflection, of course, it was evident that the ‘distinction between all the trivia you can talk about, and all the essentials you can’t’ might mean several other things. Without a reference, without even being sure if the phrase between inverted commas was written by Steiner, it is not easy to check what he (if it was Steiner) meant. Or indeed, what Ludwig Wittgenstein might have meant in the first place.

It’s like a nest of Russian dolls. Wittgenstein wrote something that is commented by Steiner (probably) and reported by Boyers; and now I’m writing about it. Is it a relay race in which the baton is securely passed? Or a game of Chinese whispers—a series of mishearings, misunderstandings and misuses that creates new (non)sense at each iteration?

Contemporary art discourse makes much use of citation. Artists, critics and academics protect their positions with sandbags of fashionable names. They mine their speech with fragments plucked from other writers’ texts and lob references like intellectual hand grenades between trenches. It can be discreditable and dispiriting.

C R Nevinson, 'After a Push' (detail)But our growth, individually and collectively, depends on being able to draw on the thinking of other human beings. And, since no one can read everything, see everything or hear everything, we often have to trust the reports of others. Speaking on Desert Island Discs in 1996, George Steiner spoke about this role:

‘There are light years between the acts of creation and even the finest criticism and commentary, which is our job. Pushkin had a wonderful image, he said, you’re the mailmen. Please carry the letters. And it’s fun and it’s exciting; I am immensely grateful for my life and profession. I’m a mailman. Sometimes I’ve been able to carry the letters to the right box, to the right readers, saying read this, look at this. I’ve never mixed it up with writing the letter.’

George Steiner, 18 February 1996, BBC Radio 4

Authority is gained by accumulating the trust of many people. George Steiner has certainly read Wittgenstein and has equally certainly the intellectual capacity to understand his thought.  Since I have neither, I must—and happily can—trust Steiner. And the editor of a collection of Steiner’s essays can be trusted, one hopes, to know his subject equally well. So the relay handover can be relied upon, if those involved act with integrity. Scholarly standards are not after all tiresome pettifogging. They are the guarantors of the integrity of transmission. They ensure that the post reaches the right boxes.

We furnish our minds and hearts with what we read, see, hear and feel of the work of others greater than ourselves. We can accept their authority, partly because others we trust do so first. But we are still responsible for testing it, in so far as we can. We still have to be aware of how partial our knowledge remains. And, in the end, we still have to make up our own minds whether to accept the mail that is delivered.