The Protective Veil of Innocence/Ignorance

| April 21, 2012

‘Did I tell you about Kapterev’s experiments on suggestion? Sometimes it turns out that to hinder the hypnosis all you need is a thin veil. Herein lies the profound meaning of the Jaw [Russian bridal veil] – a woman wearing a Jata cannot tempt.’

—Pavel Florensky, “…in a discussion with his friend EI’chaninov on Kapterev’s hypnotic experiments”

We, of course, get all worked up about veils. They clearly matter. (Is this not the disruption that a hoodie or sunglasses introduces into the classroom?) But what is it exactly, and how quickly do they in turn veil themselves? For example, given the results of a precise experiment, we find that they serve to disrupt a hypnotic state, but then Florensky covers this revelation with the usual veil: woman as temptress must be veiled from view. But what if it is the woman who is introducing this gap, this shimmer, between herself and the male who is already hypnotized by his notions?

In either case, we witness the odd ambiguity of veils. To the extent that we know them, we do not know them. The veil, in our ignorance, is postulated as a protector of innocence, but does so by disrupting the too innocent connection, the hypnotic temptation. It is as if we are too heavy handed in our sense of this most ephemeral of movements.

Education, for all of its clunky boxiness, is in effect the barest of veils between us and the hypnotic world (or between the male gaze of the world and the potential temptation the dangerous student is the figure of). Barely anything. An invocation or a convocation is enough to demarcate a shimmering virtual line.

This is the odd tension of education. It is a banal practicality, protecting us from the hypnotic temptations of the real world. It is more practical, technocratic, and bureaucratic, than “reality.” But it is also the hypnotic dream of a more tempting, more elusive, more shimmering virtual world beyond the banal “real world.” A screen or veil will serve as a kind of hypnotic protector of innocence: our dreams are of a world that we are free to imagine from inside the curtain.