pedagogy


biblesaur.jpg

At present, in my critical thinking class, we’ve been discussing rhetoric and what the book refers to as psychological fallacies. After discussing a number of the informal fallacies a student queried “so, are these fallacies simply automatic psychological distortions that are somehow caused by the brain, or are people intentionally trying to deceive their audience when these fallacies are committed?” Given that I generally find that my students are solipsists, or at least atomistic individualists, I was pleased by this question as it indicated the student was thinking about audience or others. I responded that there is no black and white answer to this question, and, as I have argued here, often these distortions are more the result of our passionate attachments than the result of a malicious desire to achieve. I did, however, try to come up with some examples, pointing to the outrage machines on the news (Limbaugh, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Al Franken, Kieth Olbermann) who perhaps intentionally employ certain fallacies to the advantage of their ideology (particularly the ever favorite argument from outrage, where the outrage has little or nothing to do with the claim). Casting about for another example I also brought up the “Creation Evidence Museum” here in Texas (google it, I won’t link to it), where there is a dinosaur footprint with a human footprint inside of it. “Certainly this”, I mused, “was an example of an intentional deception on the part of the proprietors of the museum. And what would motivate such people to fabricate evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time? Perhaps the belief that their creation story must be literally true regardless.” Immediately two students piped up: “But the Bible mentions ‘behemoths’!!!” (Google “are dinosaurs in the Bible” and hit the second link, it has some marvelous cartoon drawings). I asked how they knew that “behemoth” refers to dinosaurs rather than elephants, whales, or giant squid. They seemed nonplussed. Such, I suppose, is the power of some ignorant, yet “well meaning”, priests who would foster a sense of misology among their lay and strive to keep them in a state of ignorant denial. The worst part is that I actually feel guilty, as if there is something wrong in actively advocating evolutionary theory in biology… As if there is actually a legitimate controversy here. It is the same sort of guilt I sometimes feel when anthropomorphic global warming issues come up… As if you’re supposed to give credence to those who treat it merely as a natural cycle.

STUDENT: Professor Sinthome, when you were discussing rhetoric and the distinction between expression, content, and structure in language today you made me think about my shirt.

ME: Oh? (Confused)

STUDENT: (student turns around) Well if you read what it says– Peace, Love, and Happiness –it expresses one thing. Yet where did it come from? Where was it made? This shirt was made in x, not exactly the nicest place in the world. It’s like, it’s like, the packaging says one thing and that’s what you endorse, yet when you look into what’s behind the packaging, the message all falls apart. Like with all those organic foods I buy.

ME: So what is it you’re really consuming when you consume these things?

Students shuffling out of the classroom after a discussion of Platonic realism and the possibility of transcendent, objective values independent of culture, history, and individual determination.

STUDENT: “This class is impossible.”

ME (Alarmed): “Why?”

STUDENT: “We come in here thinking we understand the world and now we discover that everything we think might be mistaken.”

ford_assembly_line_-_1913.jpg

The Object of the Question and the Objection to the Object

A few days ago, Joseph Kugelmass of The Kugelmass Episode tagged me to write a post on why I teach literature. Admittedly I’ve been behind the curve on this one. The discussion has now proliferated throughout the intellectual blogosphere (for a set of links to how this discussion has proliferated and her own interesting response, see Rough Theory here and here), and I am only now catching up on the posts. As for my delay in responding, I have no good excuses. On the one hand, I’ve been extremely busy, trying to balance teaching with the completion of two articles and two conference papers (shoot me now). On the other hand, it has been very difficult for me to think clearly of late as someone very close to me is very sick and I’m facing the question of an absence in my life, a total void, with respect to someone who has been there my entire life. I think of Sartre’s description of the cafe where he walks in, looking for his friend Pierre, only to find that he is absent. This is a minor missed meeting between friends. But what of someone who is so much more than that? How do you grasp or get your mind around the irreversible absence of someone else, the fact that they will never be there again? How do you endure the reality, the facticity, of their absent laughter, that you’ll never hear their voice again, that you’ll never again hear their jokes or what they have to say or even their pointed anger?

Finally, I have, no doubt, been reluctant to respond to this challenge as, in many respects, the question of why I teach is a fundamental existential question, a question pertaining to my being-towards-death, a question that produces anxiety. In short, just as I do not have a clear answer as to why I practice philosophy, I do not have a clear answer as to why I teach. I do not, of course, teach literature, but philosophy. In asking “why do you teach philosophy?” I suppose the first question to ask is what, precisely, is this question asking? In his famous phenomenology of the question, Heidegger writes:

Every inquiry is a seeking [Suchen]. Every seeking gets guided beforehand by what is sought. Inquiry is a cognizant seeking for an entity both with regard to the fact that it is and with regard to its Being as it is. This cognizant seeking can take the form of ‘investigating’ [“Untersuchen”], in which one lays bare that which the question is about and ascertains its character. Any inquiry, as an inquiry about something is somehow a asked about [Sein Gefragtes]. But all inquiry about something is somehow a question of something [Anfragen bei…]. So in addition to what is asked about, an inquiry has that which is interrogated [ein Befragtes]. In investigative questions– that is, in questions which are specifically theoretical –what is asked about is determined and conceptualized. Furthermore, in what is asked about there lies also that which is to be found out by the asking [das Erfragte]; this is what is really intended: with this the inquiry researches its goal. Inquiry itself is the behavior of a questioner, and therefore of an entity, and as such it has its own character of Being. (Being and Time, 24)

I have quoted this passage to draw attention to the Befragtes or that which is asked about in Kugelmass’s question. When one asks, “why do you teach?” What is the Befragtes? What is it that is asked about? In evoking the indexical, the “you”, it would seem that the question is about one’s desire. The question here would be “what desire animates your teaching? Or rather, it would be a question of how teaching is one’s own symptom. Here reference would have to be made to the unconscious of the particular person answering the question, to their particular mode of jouissance, and how teaching is a way of satisfying the drive for a singular subject. In this case, my own choice of teaching and of philosophy in particular refers not to any particular aims I might have in the classroom, but to the way the signifier functions in my unconscious. I have spoken of this elsewhere in the past. The reason I chose philosophy rather than literature, and teaching rather than being a comedian (besides lacking a sense of humor), a journalist, a politician, etc., has to do with a particular trauma that structures my life.

(more…)

holb-ambas-largefrontal.jpg

Shahar Ozeri of Perverse Egalitarianism has written a very interesting post responding to my diary Language and Passivity, and Paco’s diary Is Philosophy Irrelevant?

This question really, at least for me, cuts to the heart of the problem. For one, the traditional idea of liberal education is to foster a critical consciousness. Yet, if Paco is correct about the decline of the broader structure of the University–from a marketplace of ideas to a bottom line minded business–the university simply reflects the broader culture, which is largely anti-intellectual, disapproves of critique and as a whole tends to reward social status not talent. One thing is certain: many of our students simply refuse to think things through, or think, in the most Heidegarrian sense. I don’t know how to produce such a critical consciousness in my students either, other than trying over and over to point it out. This is interesting, one of the more odd things that my students could just not wrap their minds around was the emotive use of language, that it’s not necessarily mere emotion.

Anyway, all of this has gotten me thinking about two figures I haven’t thought about in quite some time: the (under-rated) Roland Barthes and (always interesting) Louis Althusser, who both point to this very phenomenon of the passivity of language I think.

Unfortunately, I am far too exhausted this evening to comment at length, but I did want to throw out a couple of thoughts for future development. I do not know whether this situation is unique to our age. Following Lacan, I am inclined to think that ignorance is one of the three passions… That we have a passion for ignorance. Thus, while I am sympathetic to the thesis that the decline of print culture and the rise of the spectacle has also had a developmental impact on the nature of our cognitive structures, I suspect that by and large things were not much better in the past. I’ll get to this in a moment.

Read on
(more…)

394px-poltergeistposter.jpg

My frustrations from earlier today have led me to think once again of Serres’ discussion of noise in his lyrical work of philosophy, Genesis. There Serres writes:

There, precisely, is the origin. Noise and nausea, noise and the nautical, noise and the navy belong to the same family. We musn’t be surprised. We never hear what we call background noise so well as we do at the seaside. That placid or vehement uproar seems established there for all eternity. In the strict horizontal of it all, stable, unstable cascades are endlessly trading. Space is assailed, as a whole, by the murmur; we are utterly taken over by this same murmuring. This restlessness is within hearing, just shy of definite signals, just shy of silence. The silence of the sea is mere appearance. Background noise may well be the ground of our being. It may be that our being is not at rest, it may be that it is not in motion, it may be that our being is disturbed. The background noise never ceases; it is limitless, continuous, unending, unchanging. It has itself no background, no contradictory. How much noise must be made to silence noise? And what terrible fury puts fury in order? Noise cannot be a phenomenon; every phenomenon is separated from it, a silhouette on a backdrop, like a beacon against the fog, as every message, every cry, every call, every signal must be separated from the hubbub that occupies silence, in order to be, to be perceived, to be known, to be exchanged. (13)

Noise cannot be a phenomenon. Rather, noise is inimical to all phenomenon, an anteriority out of which phenomenality itself emerges like a ghostly ship suddenly manifesting itself out of a dense fog on a dark night. Some of us will remember the haunting image of Carol-Anne before the television in Poltergeist, intoning “they’re here!” in response to voices that only she can hear. The white noise of the television that lulled so many of us to sleep in bygone ages prior to the onset of twenty-four hour television, produces an experience of the uncanny, causes the hair to raise on the back of our neck, by confronting us with the thought of an order impacting our life from within a flat chaos. Bateson will say that “information is the difference that makes a difference.” Noise is the great white indifference. Thus Deleuze will write,

Indifference has two aspects: the undifferenciated abyss, the black nothingness, the indeterminate animal in which everything is dissolved– but also the white nothingness, the once more calm surface upon which float unconnected determinations like scattered members: a head without a neck, an arm without a shoulder, eyes without a brows. The indeterminate is completely indifferent, but such floating determinations are no less indifferent, but such floating determinations are no less indifferent to each other… Difference is the state in which one can speak of determination as such. The difference ‘between’ two things is only empirical, and the corresponding determinations are only extrinsic. However, instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself– and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it. It is as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be the ground… Difference is this state in which determination takes the form of unilateral distinction. We must therefore say that difference is made, or makes itself, as in the expression ‘make the difference’. (Difference and Repetition, 28)

7.jpg

Some will recall the puerile film Contact, where hidden within the extraterrestrial radio transmission there is a secret code filled with thousands of pages of blueprints for the design of some device. The question is that of how a difference is made. Or rather, it is a question of how something ceases to be noise, chaos, and suddenly becomes salient. For those who remember the film, Contact is particularly nice in this regard; for when the sound signatures are projected onto a visual space, we get a multi-dimension picture where certain differences rise forth from the ground as distinct.

In many respects, this is the core of education. Andrew Cutrofello expresses this point nicely when speaking of Bachelard’s theory of science in Continental Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction:

Just as Bachelard is more amenable than Heidegger to the reconcilability of the claims of science and poetry, so he denies that there is as great a gap between intuition and intellect as Bergson supposed there to be. Intuitions have to be educated by the intellect, that is, by the very specific accomplicments whose philosophical significance Bergson thought had to be assessed from the perspective of a naive or ‘pure’ intuition. For Bachelard, the very capacity to inuit has a history, one that is dialectically informed by developments in science… (58)

beach1.jpg

Perception is not simply a given or a gestalt, but something that must be developed and cultivated. My friend Carl tells me of his visit to Egypt, and how people drive and walk in the city of Cairo. For him there seems to be no order. Cars zoom about willy-nilly. People walk into oncoming traffic. Yet strangely it all seems to work out well. There is an order amidst this noise of which he is unaware. I have had a similar experience in the Indian-Pakistani part of Chicago, on Devon Avenue. Everything there presents itself as a buzzing confusion for the agent that does not have a “know-how” of this place. In developing a knowledge of psychoanalysis, we do not simply gain new facts, but we cultivate perceptions. Certain items in a person’s speech become salient where before they were merely noise that we filtered out. So too in the case of the physicist, the chemist, the engineer. There is a process of phenomenalization, a breaching of a realm of being, where before there was only noise.

There is thus an anxiety that accompanies all education. In learning– rather than knowing –one confronts the undifferentiated void, where saliencies do not reside. In teaching we bring our students before this noise, confronting them with a field of phenomenality where, as of yet, there are no phenomena for them. Some of us recoil from the passions this anxiety releases, celebrating rote memorization as a way of relieving the anxiety. Here no new field of phenomenality appears. Everything remains at the level of the familiar, doxa. All of us, regardless, must handle this anxiety, administering it in doses, guiding our students through the indeterminate so that the phenomenon might appear, by grace, on the other side. It is a dance that can easily go astray, leading the student to recoil in horror in much the same way that Plato describes in the allegory of the cave, where the escaped prisoner is painfully blinded with each subsequent step he takes. Somehow it is necessary to manage that blinding so that it doesn’t lead to flight. Yet holographically, a phenomenon gradually comes to stand forth from this buzzing confusion… Something becomes distinct and a grammar begins to appear. It might be a grammar of wood (in carving), of sound (in music), of the unconscious, of chemical relations. Where before there was indifference, now there is difference. Yet how is it that something begins to stand out from the white noise on the television screen? Where does the difference that makes a difference come from? Is it possible to think that which precedes the given, that gives the given, and that is anterior to phenomenality? Or must that which is anterior to the phenomenality of the phenomenon– the es gibt –be doomed to be an unthinkable abyss? More to the point, what would a pedagogy that takes this abyss into account and which guides the student to the discovery of singularities within the undifferentiated look like?

Throughout his diaries in 1984, Winston raises the question of how it is possible to awaken the Proles. Around these parts, we engage in nuanced analyses of ideology and raise questions of how it might be possible for subjects to depart from dominant forms of social organization. However, grading my students quizzes and critical thinking assignments, I wonder if these forms of ideological critique are not already too optimistic. In my introductory philosophy courses, I give my students very simple quizzes, designed to foster their reading skills and their ability to identify arguments. Thus, for example, I might quote a passage from their text and ask them to answer a series of questions:

In The Way Things Are, Lucretius writes:

Do listen– I don’t want you to suppose
White atoms form those white things that you see
Before your eyes, or that black objects come
From particles of black. Never believe
That any visible color is derived
From motes of that color. Basic elements
Simply do not have color, none at all,
In that respect being neither like nor unlike
The larger forms they fashion. You’d be wrong
To think imagination can’t be conceived
Of objects lacking color. Those born blind,
Who never have seen the sunlight, learn by touch
The sense of bodies, though ideas of color
Mean nothing to them, and color-concept
Is by no means absolute…

All right, then: first-beginnings have no color,
But they do differ in shape, and from this cause
Arise effects of color variation.
It makes a world of difference in what order
They form their combinations, how they are held,
How give, take, interact. For example,
Things black a little while ago turn white,
All shining white, as dark sea can change
From sullen black to the shine of dancing marble
When the great winds go sweeping over the waves. (pgs. 72 – 73)

1. What claim is Lucretius attempting to disprove or refute in this passage?

2. What observational evidence does Lucretius give to support his thesis that this claim is false?

3. According to Lucretius, if color (and other qualities) does not emerge from colored atoms, then what does produce these qualities? (You will find his theory in the passage).

Nothing could be more simple than such an assignment. I give the passage. I have chosen a text that minimizes Lucretius’ poetry. And I ask very simple, straightforward questions. Yet the results are astonishing and truly depressing. Many students claim that Lucretius is trying to prove that qualities like color are a product of the imagination or mind, despite the fact that the passage says nothing of the sort. In response to the second question, a number of students refer to the blind man to support the thesis that atoms do not have color– saying the blind man can “imagine” colors –despite the fact that the blind man is evoked to make a very different point. Few point to the discussion of waves, or use their knowledge of atomism developed over weeks as observational evidence. Finally, a number of students respond to question three by appealing, once again, to imagination rather than combinations.

Matters are even more depressing in my critical thinking course. When confronted with an argument like “Of course Chines green tea is good for your health. If it weren’t, how could it be so beneficial”, a large number of students claim that the writer is misplacing the burden of proof rather than making a circular argument or begging the question… This after spending weeks studying all sorts of fallacies and numerous examples of these fallacies. Admittedly, circular arguments can be extremely difficult to identify (and are disturbingly common). However, matters go further than this. When confronted with an argument such as “Perhaps Julia has a ‘university’ degree, but she just isn’t qualified for the job”, many students claim that the speaker or writer is saying something positive about Julia, failing to recognize that the square quotes denote sarcasm. When confronted with the statement “Socialized Health Care– All the compassion of the IRS with the efficiency of the U.S. Post Office”, a number of students thought the writer was speaking positively about Socialized Health Care, rather than engaging in sarcasm and ridicule… That is, there is a fundamental inability to read tone. Admittedly, the issue here might be a lack of background knowledge regarding the IRS. Yet still, the use of “efficiency” in relation to the Post Office should clue the student off.

Perhaps I am a horrible teacher, though I’m not so sure. The fact that these reading difficulties occur in both the critical thinking course and my various philosophy courses suggests something else is going on. It seems that we have a fundamentally passive relationship to language, such that language works on us rather than us reflecting on how language is seeking to affect us and mold our thought in a particular way. Reading words on a page, sounding them out, is not yet reading. Rather, to read one must pause, distance himself from what is read, and reflect on what the text is doing to ones thought. Yet this, apparently, is an incredibly difficult skill to develop. When people have very poor reading and listening skills, it is difficult to have much faith in the efficacy of nuanced ideological analyses. The most rudimentary critical thinking, reading, and listening skills aren’t even there. It terrifies me to think that we are so passive with respect to language. We become marionettes of words and speakers, without any skills to resist. Prior to being a critical thinker one must first develop critical consciousness. Such a consciousness requires a minimal distance from language. Yet how is such a distance produced? I do not know. Such things do, however, fill me with despair.

400px-bastille_2007-05-06_anti_sarkozy_487645695_abe4befd12_o.jpg

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari write,

…[P]hilosophers have very little time for discussion. Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears someone say, ‘Let’s discuss this.’ Discussions are fine for roundtable talks, but philosophy throws its numbered dice on another table. The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing. Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, and thinks this or that, if the problems at stake are not stated? And when they are stated, it is no longer a matter of discussing but rather one of creating concepts for the undiscussible problem posed. Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous. Sometimes philosophy is turned into the idea of a perpetual discussion, as ‘communicative rationality,’ or as ‘universal democratic conversation.’ Nothing is less exact, and when philosophers criticize each other it is on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs and that melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons. It never takes place on the same plane. To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it. But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy. All of these debaters and communicators are inspired by ressentiment (Deleuze’s emphasis). They speak only of themselves when they set empty generalizations against one another. Philosophy has a horror of discussions. (28-29)

Deleuze and Guattari must have been thinking of exchanges like this one with the lawyer Daniel, when writing the passage above. It is too much to even refer to such events as exchanges because nothing is exchanged. Those who participate appear to be talking to one another and to be talking about the same things, but are in fact talking about entirely different things. If this is the case, then it is because meaning is not in words, but is always the result of the relations a word shares with those other signifiers that are not present.

Read on
(more…)

lucretius.jpg

If Lucretius doesn’t get students irate and worked up– that philosopher that so incensed St. Jerome that he probably fabricated stories to discredit him –what could possibly get them worked up? I suppose that they begin with the premise that it’s a philosophy class so obviously there are going to be “wild ideas”. Yet I’m strangely disappointed that they aren’t showing up at my doors with torches as a result of being forced to read a philosopher that claims everything is a combination of atoms in motion, without purpose or meaning, and that the soul is inextricably bound up with the body such that it ceases to exist when our particular combination of atoms ceases to hold. If anything, the students are expressing amazement at how much Lucretius was able to envision (even if wrong in many details), just by using reason and observation and working through the logical necessities of his key foundational claims. Oddly they seem more traumatized by Plato’s assertion that numbers and forms like Justice are real, mind independent things; or when they encounter Descartes’ proof for the existence of God, deployed through reason alone. In the case of Descartes, it is not at all unusual for me to get student essays that read “while I believe in God, I do not think you can prove the existence of God.” Of course, they seldom go into the details as to just why the proofs go astray. It’s just some sort of obvious given or truth. At any rate, what is this recoil in horror from a rational proof or the thesis that there are objective, mind-independent universals for things like beauty and justice such that one can be mistaken a symptom of? And why would Lucretius, a thinker so consistent in developing the consequences of his particular materialist vision, be so easily taken in stride?

790px-window001b.jpg

This semester I had a Logic course thrown at me at the very last minute. Having taught Logic a number of times in the past, I’ve come to feel that focusing on categorical and symbolic logic is of very limited value to the students. Unless the student is going to go into computer science, Anglo-American philosophy, or focus on Badiou, will they really benefit from Venn diagrams (okay, I occasionally find these useful philosophically), Aristotlean syllogisms, and the intricacies of existential quantifiers? Probably not.

For this reason I chose to instead teach the course as a critical thinking course, focusing on informal reasoning and rhetorical analysis. As we’ve begun entering the chapters on rhetoric and psychological fallacies, I’ve been horrified by the reading abilities of my students. To be sure, my students can all read; yet reading does not simply consist in being able to read the words on the page. Rather, it requires a sort of gap, distance, reflection. The idea that words act on us, that words do something, that they don’t simply represent something or refer to something, seems entirely foreign to them. Thus, for example, when asked to 1) identify a particular rhetorical turn being used in a sentence, and 2) to explain what impression the speaker or writer is attempting to produce in the reader or listener, the students are incapable of articulating a response to the second question. They seem to be constitutively incapable of recognizing the way in which connotations of the expression act on us to produce sentiments and beliefs. For instance, they are unable to explain why a politician might talk about a “war on drugs” (or terror, for that matter), rather than simply saying “we must pursue and prosecute those that sell drugs”.

I suppose this is why rhetoric is so effective. We can think of the analysis of rhetoric as being a bit like analyzing a window frame. Most of the time we simply look through the window towards whatever is outside. In this respect, the frame itself becomes invisible, falling into the background. As a result of the way in which the frame covers and veils itself, we thus miss the way in which it selects images for us by creating a distinction between what can be seen and what can’t be seen. Similarly, we look through language to the object spoken about, missing the way in which language frames our apprehension of what is apprehended. There is an entire Heideggerian, alethetic theory of rhetoric and language to be written here. To analyze language and rhetoric requires a step back or a sort of transcendental methodology similar to how Hume and Kant investigated not the objects of knowledge, but the faculties through which the object is apprehended. The analyst of language must renounce the depths (the referents) and instead remain at the surface, forgetting the object and instead attending to the speech and its connotations alone.

Yet the question is, how is this shift in perspective, this shift from focusing on what appears in the window to investigating the frame effected? How is it possible for us to become aware of the frames that enact a morphogenesis of our thoughts and sentiments. The discoveries I am making about cognition in my Logic course terrify me. Politicians and corporations globally spend billions of dollars each year for the formation of frames alone. Due to educational reforms in the United States, we now have an educational system that focuses on rote memorization and schematic rule following (mathematics, chemistry, physics, etc). As a result of this sort of educational strategy, we get entirely passive, docile subjects that are merely stimulus-response machines, reacting to whatever images and words come their way in an entirely unreflective fashion, rather than actively engaging these words and images, determining how those words and images work us over like passive clay in the hands of a potter. Can it be said that such subjects, myself included, are even human? To what degree do we possess autonomy and to what degree are we simple coded stimulus-response machines.

Aren’t we rather highly sophisticated mechanisms that can be easily directed through a few well chosen, potent images and words? The other night I watched a documentary on the story of Carol Smith and Cameron Hooker. The story of Carol Smith underlines this point beautifully. Carol Smith was kidnapped and kept as a sex slave by the sadistic Cameron Hooker for seven years. For much of this time she enjoyed a high degree of freedom, moving freely about the house and yard, doing a variety of things around the house. At one point he let her call her family and even took her to visit. She even wrote him love letters. At no time during these seven years did she try to escape. He had convinced her that there was a ring of people throughout the United States called “The Company” that kept sex slaves. We’re she to escape, he said, The Company would come after her and kill her and her family. That’s all it took to create a perfectly docile subject, a subject that perhaps even grew to see aspects of her captivity as normal. The story of Carol Smith is really just a microcosm of all socialization or subjectification. Power need not function through bars and guns. It can do its job simply through words and images. Why else would people, again and again, submit to forms of social organization that are profoundly against their own interests and flourishing?

But again, this is precisely why rhetoric works. The question is, what form of engagement, what kind of pedagogy, can produce active subjects. Deleuze often argued that thought is not a natural disposition, but requires a disruptive encounter that engenders thinking within thought. The rest of the time, according to him, we’re simply stimulus-response machines governed by the model of recognition or the familiar (his polemics against phenomenology largely issue from the way in which it valorizes recognition or the everyday lifeworld). Lacan argued that thought requires a trauma, an encounter with something missing from its place, the failure for something to be where one expects it. Russell said that he was lucky to think for a single minute of a day each year. Badiou argues that thought requires an event, the emergence of something that nothing in the Encyclopedia allows for. For Heidegger, the present-at-hand only becomes illuminated as present-at-hand when the ready-to-hand fails or breaks down. When my hammer breaks, I suddenly discover the world in its brute facticity, divested of my various concernful engagements, alien and over against me. I can see why Logic professors focus on categorical and symbolic logic. Everyone is happy. There are simple rules to follow such that the automatons can come to the right answer in much the same way a calculator calculates a solution. But what would be a pedagogy of the encounter that departed from the production of the endless stimulus-response machine?

« Previous PageNext Page »