Filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha on the beauty of receiving the world
By Anne Brice, Berkeley News
May 31, 2022
For Trinh T. Minh-ha, learning isn’t about accumulating knowledge.
“This has been something that my students very much appreciate,” said Trinh, a longtime UC Berkeley professor of gender and women’s studies and of rhetoric who retired in 2020. “But also, I have had students who agonized with me over the whole semester because of this.
When students write their dissertations, said Trinh, now a Distinguished Professor of the Graduate School, they are expected to prove their knowledge on a specific subject by showing how much they know. But this isn’t knowledge, she said. It’s merely what we’ve come to accept and expect as being learned in an academic setting.
Instead, Trinh asks students to think about how certain knowledge impacts their lives.
“It has to be related to their experiences,” said Trinh. “Students can be very bright. They can throw around all kinds of ideas and big words. But I ask them, ‘What is it that creates a link between you and that work?’
“I have consistently put emphasis not on acquiring and accumulating knowledge, per se,” she continued. “The challenge in teaching and advising remains, for me, not that of providing or transmitting a body of knowledge, but that of introducing a substantial difference in the students’ relation to knowledge. This practice of collective ‘theory-in-the making’ has been developed through the years — at the cost of a certain difficulty for both student and teacher.”
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