04 April 2006

On immediate reflection

I haven't posted for several days partly for technical reasons (not being able to get a connection at "the only free 'top to bottom' wireless hotel in the Madison area") but partly simply being very busy at the above conference and meeting with colleagues and new friends in the University of Wisconsin system. There has been so much to think about...

Hang on! Isn't that what reflection is meant to be about? Thinking about what happens and what we do? Yes, but... It takes time.

It so happens that today I caught "How to write a political diary" on BBC Radio 4, while driving (listen again, for a week, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/pip/3fb2t/ ) It suggested various rules for the genre, including Immediacy and Indiscretion (I didn't catch the other two). But the virtue of a diary may be the vice of a reflective journal. The latter requires digestion.

For the political diarist, immediacy is essential; it doesn't matter if you prove to be wrong, it is the thought of the moment which captures the political process. One contributor to the programme said he only wrote his diary the following morning, when the passions--and inebriation--of the previous day had subsided; but Tony Benn (who is teetotal--with the emphasis on the "tea" [sic]) always dictates his before going to bed.

Reflection is one stage further down the line. Reflection in action is rarely recorded, important though it may be; reflection on action calls for a mental process of digestion and contextualisation. That is often tortuous and trying to record it at the same time as thinking and feeling it is very difficult for most of us.

It's the process of writing which is the key. It is not mere transcription (transcription of what, precisely?) It imposes a discipline of coherence; and the tension between spontaneity and coherence is a real one. A reflective journal should not (in my view; "shoulds" are problematic) be either a mere emotional abreaction to the events of the day, nor a rationalised public account of its achievements. Its essence is to be somewhere in-between.

At least, that's my excuse for not saying more about Wisconsin. Yet.

Apart from the self-evident truths that we had a busy week, a great time, relished the disorientating subtle differences in culture between the UK and USA, were bombarded with ideas which need thinking through, and met some great people in the University of Wisconsin system, and... this is a sentence without a main clause verb.

When I start writing like that, it's time for bed (Zebedee (c. 1970) The Magic Roundabout (ed. E Thompson) London; BBCTV
When I start referncing like that, it's definite!

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