On The Art of Lecturing
Dornach, October 13, 1921
Along with the tasks which one can set oneself in a certain realm as a speaker it will be a question at first of entering in the appropriate way into the material itself which is to be dealt with. There is a twofold entering into the material, in so far as the message about this material is concerned in speaking. The first is to convert to one's own use the material for a lecture so that it can be divided up — so that one is as it were placed in the position of giving the lecture a composition. Without composition a talk cannot really be understood. This or that may appeal to the listener about a lecture which is not composed: but in reality a non-composed lecture will not be assimilated. As far as the preparation is concerned, it must therefore be a matter of realizing: every talk will inevitably be poor as regards its reception by the listeners which has merely originated in one's conceiving one statement after the other, one sentence after the other, and going through them to a certain extent, one after the other, in the preparation. If one is not in the position, at least at some stage of the preparation, of surveying the whole lecture as a totality, then one cannot really count on being understood. Allowing the whole lecture to spring, as it were, from a comprehensive thought, which one subdivides, and letting the composition arise by starting out from such a comprehensive thought comprising the total lecture, — this is the first consideration.
The other is the consulting of all experiences which one has available out of immediate life for the subject of the lecture, — that is, calling to mind as much as possible everything one has experienced first-hand about the matter in question, — and, after one has before one a kind of composition of the lecture, endeavoring to let the experiences flow here or there into this composition.
That will in general be the rough draft in preparing. Thus one has during the preparation the whole of the lecture before one as in a tableau. So exactly does one have this tableau before one, that, as will indeed naturally be the case, one can incorporate the single experiences one remembers in the desired way here or there, as though one had written on paper: a, b, c, d. — There is now an experience one knows belongs under d, another under f, another belongs under a, — so that one is to a certain extent independent of the sequence of the thoughts as they are afterwards to be presented, as regards this collecting of the experiences. Whether such a thing is done by putting it onto paper, or whether it is done by a free process without having recourse to the paper, will determine only that he who is dependent upon the paper will speak worse, and he who is not dependent upon the paper will speak somewhat better. But one can of course by all means do both.
But now it is a matter of fulfilling a third requirement, which is: after one has the whole on the one hand — I never say the ‘skeleton’ — and on the other hand the single experiences, one has need of elaborating the ideas which ensue to the point that these things can stand before the soul in the most complete inner satisfaction.
Let us take as an example, that we want to hold a lecture on the threefold order. Here we shall say to ourselves: After an introduction — we shall speak further about this — and before a conclusion — about which we shall also speak — the composition of such a lecture is really given through the subject itself. The unifying thought is given through the subject itself. I say that for this example. If one lives properly, mentally, then this is valid actually for every single case, it is valid equally for everything. But let us take this example near at hand of the threefolding of the social organism, about which we want to speak. There, at the outset, is given that which yields us three members in the treatment of our theme. To deal with, we shall have the nature of the spiritual life, the nature of the juridical-state life, and the nature of the economic life.
Then, certainly, it will be a question of our calling forth in the listeners, by means of a suitable introduction, — about which, as mentioned, we shall speak further — a feeling that it makes sense to speak about these things at all, about a change in these things, in the present. But then it will be a matter of not immediately starting out with explanations of what is to be understood by a free spiritual life, by a juridical-states life founded on equality, by an economic life founded on associations, but rather of having to lead up to these things. And here one will have to lead up through connecting to that which is to hand in the greatest measure as regards the three members of the social organism in the present — what can therefore be observed the most intensively by people of today. Indeed, only by this means will one connect with what is known.
Let us suppose we have an audience, and an audience will be most agreeable and sympathetic which is a mixture of middle-class people, working-class people — in turn with all possible nuances —, and, if there are then of course also a few of the nobility — even Swiss nobility, — it doesn't hurt at all. Let us therefore assume we have such a chequered, jumbled-up audience, made up of all social classes. I stress this for the reason that as a lecturer one should really always sense to whom one has to speak, before one sets about speaking. One ought already to transpose oneself actively into the situation in this way.
Now, what will one have to say to oneself to begin with about that which one can connect with in a present-day audience, as regards the threefold social organism? One will say to oneself: it is extraordinarily difficult in the first place to connect onto concepts of an audience of the bourgeois, because in recent times the bourgeoisie have formed extraordinarily few concepts about social relationships, since they have vegetated thoughtlessly to some extent as regards the social life. It would always make an academic impression, if one wanted to speak about these things today out of the circle of ideas of a middle-class audience. On the other hand, however, one can be clear about the fact that exceptionally distinct concepts exist concerning all three domains of the social organism within the working-class population, — also distinct feelings, and a distinct social volition. And it means that it is nothing short of the sign of our present time, that precisely within the proletariat these qualified concepts are there.
These concepts are to be handled by us, though, with great caution, since we shall very easily call forth the prejudice that we want to be partisan in the proletarian direction. This prejudice we should really combat through the whole manner of our bearing. We shall indeed see that we immediately arouse for ourselves serious misunderstandings if we proceed from proletarian concepts. These misunderstandings have revealed themselves in point of fact constantly in the time when an effect could still be brought about in middle-Europe, from about April 1919 on, for the threefolding of the social organism. A middle-class population hears only that which it, has sensed for decades from the fomenting behavior of the working- class, out of certain concepts. How one views the matter oneself is then hardly comprehended at all.
One must be clear that being active in the world at all in the sense, I should like to say, of the world-order has to be grasped. The world-order is such — you have only to look at the fish in the sea —, that very, very many fish eggs are laid, and only a few become fish. That has to be so. But with this tendency of nature you have also to approach the tasks which are to be solved by you as speakers; even if only very few, and these little stimulated, are to be found to begin with at the first lecture, then actually a maximum is attained as regards what can be attained. It is a matter of things that one stands so within in life, as for instance the threefolding of the social organism, that what can be accomplished by means of lecturing may never be abandoned, but must be taken up and perfected in some way, be it through further lectures, be it in some other way. It can be said: no lecture is really in vain which is given in this sense and to which is joined all that is required.
But one has to be absolutely clear about the fact that one will actually also be completely misunderstood by the proletarian population, if one speaks directly out of that which they think today in the sense of their theories, as these have persisted for decades. One cannot ask oneself the question for instance: How does one do it so as not to be misunderstood? — One must only do it right! But for this reason it cannot be a matter of putting forward the question: Then how does one do it so as not to be misunderstood? — One tells people what they have already thought anyhow! One preaches to them, in some way, Marxism, or some such thing. Then one will, of course, be understood.
But there is nothing of interest in being understood in this way. Otherwise one will indeed very soon have the following experience — concerning this experience one must be quite clear — : if one speaks today to a proletarian gathering so that they can at least understand the terminology — and that must be striven for — , then one will notice particularly in the discussion, that those who discuss have understood nothing. The others one usually doesn't get to know, since they do not participate in the discussions. Those who have understood nothing usually participate after such lectures in the discussions. And with them one will notice something along the following lines. — I have given countless lectures myself on the threefolding of the social organism to, as they are called in Germany, “surplus-value social democrats,” independent “social democrats,” communists and so on. — Now, one will notice: if someone places himself in the discussions and believes himself able to speak then it is usually the case that he answers one as though one had really not spoken at all, but as though someone or other had spoken more or less as one would have spoken as a social-democratic agitator thirty years ago in popular meetings. One feels oneself suddenly quite transformed. One says to oneself roughly the following: Well, can it then be that the misfortune has befallen you, that you were possessed in this moment by old Rebel? [Note 1] That is really how you are confronted! The persons concerned hear even physically nothing else than what they have been used to hearing for decades. Even physically — not merely with the soul — even physically they hear nothing other than what they are long used to. And then they say: Well, the lecturer really told us nothing new! — Since they have, because one was obliged to use the terminology, translated the whole connection of the terminology right-away in the ear — not first in the soul — into that which they have been used to for a long time. And then they talk on and on in the sense of what they have been used to for a long time.
Speaking cannot be learned by means of external instructions. Speaking must be learned to a certain extent by means of understanding how to bring to the lecture the thinking which lies behind it, and the experience which lies before it, in a proper relationship.
Now, I have, today tried to show you how the material first has to be dealt with. I have connected with what is known, in order to show you how the material may not be created out of some theory or other, how it must be drawn out of life, how it must be prepared so as to be dealt with in speaking. What I have said today everyone should now actually do in his own fashion as preparation for lecturing. Through such preparation the lecture gains forcefulness. Through thought preparation — preparing the organization of the lecture, as I have said at the beginning of today's remarks: from a thought which is then formed into a composition — , by this means the lecture becomes lucid, so that the listener can also receive it as a unity. What the lecturer brings along as thinking he should not weave into his own thoughts. — Since, if he gives his own thoughts, they are, as I have already said, such that they interest not a single person. Only through use of one's own thinking in organizing the lecture does it become lucid, and through lucidity, comprehensible.
By means of the experiences which the lecturer should gather from everywhere (the worst experiences are still always better than none at all!) the lecture becomes forceful. If, for example, you tell someone what happened to you, for all it matters, as you were going through a village where someone nearly gave you a box on the ear, then it is still always better if you judge life out of such an experience, than if you merely theorize. — Fetch things out of experience, through which the lecture acquires blood, since through thinking it only has nerves. It acquires blood through experience, and through this blood, which comes out of experience, the lecture becomes forceful. Through the composition you speak to the understanding of the listener; through your experience you speak to the heart of the listener. It is this which should be looked upon as a golden rule. Now, we can proceed step by step. Today I wanted more to show first of all in rough outline how the material can be transformed by degrees into what it afterwards has to be in the lecture. Tomorrow, then, we resume again at three o'clock.
Note 1.August Bebel, 1840–1913. Founder in 1869 with Wilhelm Liebknecht of the Social-Democratic Party.