Facing Myself

Casey posted a response to my post yesterday to Facebook. I ripped out a rather long reply, but Facebook is having difficulties. So (sorry Casey), I'll just move the conversation here. Casey responded to yesterday's post with:

Santos: I've been thinking on a related subject lately: is it worthwhile to "theorize" in this aristocratic way? Should we have a pedagogy for the in-crowd? A curriculum for those who "get it?" An academy of saints?

And prospectively, what is the point?... presumably, those who "get it" already get it. They don't need Nietzsche. It's like education only works for those who "enjoy critical questioning," but those who DON'T enjoy critical questioning cannot be educated.

So that they have ears but cannot hear, or whatever.

To address the questions in order:

  1. For me, yes.
  2. I think you are confusing pedagogy [how we teach] and curriculum [what we teach]. Still, the answer is yes [to the curricular decision to teach Nietzsche]. So, too, there is an aristocratic current to my pedagogy: because what makes them the in-crowd is the ability, desire, and commitment to ask themselves questions. Those people belong in Asimov's House of the Feebleminded. And that "aristocratic" curriculum opens avenues for thinking new questions. Of course, in place of aristocratic, I would prefer meritocratic--where my subject criteria for "higher" study is a display of interest in actually exploring something new to the student (whatever that is).
  3. Deification is of course an issue. As is aristocracy-oligarchy.
  4. The problem might be the very attempt to articulate A point for education. We offer educations. For some, there is no desire for critical questioning of any kind (and I don't mean this term tersely as politics, religion, economics, etc. I mean they don't want to ask any kind of question that broaches upon the metaphysical, aesthetic, or ethical). I feel part of our obligation--as individual teachers, departments, disciplines, institutions--involves approaching these subjects. But we cannot force them. That said, we can identify the students who have an interest in these subjects and questions (what makes Def Poetry powerful is one question an undergrad accounting student is exploring this semester, I've asked her to juxtapose def poetic performance against Pinsky's theory of poetic sound). And I don't accept this presupposition that they transcendentally "get" "it." Either get or it. Not automatically. So, essentially, as much as I might not like it, there is something of Republic VII showing up here--although my attitude (I hope) is markedly different than Plato's. Its not a manner of pulling people out of the cave, as much as a matter of recognizing who wants to do something different, and providing an opportunity. And then finding a way to "educate" those who are not interested in [post]Human questioning in such a matter that does not force me to compromise my principles [in this case, that education has to involve self-direction, imagination, and--usually--discomfort].

I hope I am not too critical here--but Casey's questions hit home for someone who has both my interest in critical theory and progressive visions for education and my devotion (and, yes, Casey, I mean that in terms of deification) to Levinas' prioritization of ethics as first philosophy. I have started to ask myself how different our institutions would look, our classrooms, our office hours, if instead of a fundamental turn toward either Kantian understanding, Hegelian synthesis, or Heideggerian questioning we turned to Levinas' obligation to the other. All the time. An unrelenting responsibility to listen rather than speak. It makes me uncomfortable at times. But, as I indicated above, and old professor of mine (Dr. David Zern) once told me that unless someone is uncomfortable, they are not learning (he was a Freudian--and a very smart man; you'd like him Casey, he argues for notions of universal justice). I realize only know--years later--that the one I should have been making uncomfortable was not the student.

It was me.

And, Casey, I needed to engage Levinas--to question him--in order to have him question me.

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