Prelude.12: Who Is Man?

After all the manifestos during “Prelude” CUNY Graduate Center’s Segal-Fellow Kai Tuchmann tries to develop some outlines for an academic manifesto:

My manifesto takes its cue from the paradoxical situation which seems to be constitutive for the university: the university is a space of difference and equality at the same time. It is a space of difference because there are obviously a lot of hierarchies from the bottom to the top of a university. But also there has to—or at least there should—be the belief that all human intelligences are equal. This is a crucial paradox for our academic praxis.

By rethinking Jacques Rancière’s concept of pedagogy, that he developed by analysing the teaching method of Jean-Joseph Jacotot and by combining these ideas with elements of his political philosophy, I want to reflect this paradox situation.

According to Rancière, a praxis which is based on the equality of intelligences can only be achieved if it is irritating its institutional frame. With this text I want to explore one possibility to irritate the institutional frame of the university.

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At first I want to examine the notion of the equality of intelligences. I want to refer to Jacques Rancierè’s discovery of Jacotot’s pedagogical method. Jacotot taught French in the Belgium in the 1820’s. Jacotot had been a French refugee in the Belgium, and received his professorship in Löwen due to the quite liberal standpoint of the Belgian King. Jacotot himself was not able to speak Flemish, and most of his students were not able to speak even one word in French. So Jacotot used the bilingual edition of Fenélon’s Telemach, in order to invent a new method of teaching languages. He gave his students this edition—without any further explanation. This method was surprisingly successful: as Jacotot asked his students to write their opinion about the text in French, they were able to do it, although they had not received any kind of a structured language course.

This was the birth of Jacotot’s idea for a new educational method, which follows the paradigm that everything is included in everything. This paradigm stands in contrast to the traditional education methods, which have moved forth from simple to more complex structures (they usually started from letters and syllables and then went on to words and sentences, etc.). Jacotot’s paradigm that everything is included in everything enabled the students to choose their own learning rhythm.

Kai Tuchmann

Regarding the previously mentioned notion of equal intelligences, Jacotot’s method proves that it is possible to have a pedagogical relationship without reproducing dominance and subordination. Especially the absence of explanation is, for me, the most important phenomenon in that context. Rancière locates the function of pedagogical explanation within the stabilisation of the ruling social and political conditions. To use Rancière’s famous distinction between politics and police: for Rancière, the classical pedagogical relationship is a one which belongs to the system of police. Rancière calls traditional pedagogy “stultification,” and he means that its praxis of explanation is automatically leading to a process of subordination. The traditional pedagogical relationship is performing a divided world of two unequal intelligences. Before the explanation becomes an act of the schoolmaster, it is already a myth of the pedagogy, an expression that symbolises a world which is divided into “masters” and “ignorants.” In such a relation learning becomes identical with obeying.

Jacotot, in contrast to that pedagogy, demonstrates that one ignorant can teach another ignorant. To learn from the schoolmaster, what he himself does not know: that is the process of emancipation. Emancipation for Rancière lies in the recognition of the equality of intelligences.

And maybe it is one of the most important points of Rancière`s “pedagogy” that the schoolmaster has to be ignorant, because the aim of the pedagogical relationship lies in the self-appropriation of the student. And only if this self-appropriation has an open end is emancipation possible. Exactly here you can find the reason why Rancière is arguing against all kinds of political pedagogies, because such pedagogies would only be a new kind of subordination. Rancière goes so far to say that every institutionalization of intellectual emancipation will end up in subordination.

How can such a scenario of a pedagogy, which is based upon equal intelligences as described by Rancière, become real? Could there be an institutionalization of education which does not end up in stultification? Could there be an installation of the pedagogical method that Jacotot invented, which irritates productively the institutional frame?

In order to answer these questions, I want to put the focus on Rancière`s essay “The Emancipated Spectator,” in which he discusses his idea of critical theatre.

For Rancière there is an identity between the praxis of the theatrical avant-garde (he speaks namely of Brecht and Artaud) and the praxis of the stultifying schoolmaster. The theatrical avant-gardists are dealing with a false idea of theatre: for them theater is a space of community. But for Rancière it is much more a space of equality, a space where equal intelligences are encountering each other:

“Every spectator is already an actor in her story; every actor, every man of action, is the spectator of the same story.” [Rancière, Jacques: The Emancipated Spectator. London 2009. p. 17]

So the performance is like the Telemach in Jacotot`s experience. The performance belongs neither to the actors nor to the spectators. The performance is something third, it is the fundamental of the intellectual emancipation of the spectator.

From this point of view, Rancière is dealing with the contemporary confusion of all genres: He blames the artistic strategies of “Gesamtkunstwerk” and “hybridization” for perpetuating a kind of hyperactive consumerism.

Rancière instead is calling for another strategy, which proposes to restore the theatrical stage “[…] to an equal footing with the telling of a story, the reading of a book, or the gaze focused on an image.” [Rancière, Jacques: The Emancipated Spectator. London 2009. p. 22]

To put these thoughts back to our academic context: what other impact do they have, if not to make us treat our university as a performance or as something which is similar to Jacotot’s Telemach? Thus shouldn’t we reframe our expectations and prejudices of what a university is?

Actually Rancière has the same standpoint towards pedagogy and the production of knowledge as he has towards aesthetics. For him politics is based on a “primary aesthetics,” which he calls the distribution of the sensible, meaning: the distribution of property. But the French term “partage” in Rancièr`s famous notion of the “partage du sensible,” means also participation. So this primary aesthetics is also about the possibilities for people to participate in discussions and decisions concerning the distribution of property. This level of “partage” deals with Rancierè’s distinction between logos and phoné (which basically is a distinction that Aristotle makes in the first book of his “Politics”). Only beings who have logos are able to participate politically, as recognised subjects. There are always beings excluded, not recognized as subjects, because their voices are not considered to have logos (sense), their voices are identified just with phoné (sounds):  migrants, refugees, illiterates, subalterns etc.

The arts and pedagogy are creating their own—secondary—distribution of the sensible. To say that “the art work plays” means, in Rancière’s terms, that it is re-distributing the primary distribution. But, and he emphasizes this in many essays, that is not the same as to say that the art work should get involved or even identified with politics. The redistributing artwork stays in a conscious relation to the primary distribution of property and participation possibilities. It cannot influence directly this primary distribution. Rancière is closing the fluent border of art and nonart. And so he is doing it with the opposition of politics and pedagogy. If emancipation would be part of the curricula of our universities, it would be part of the primary aesthetics of property and participation—it would loose its identity as pedagogy and would turn immediately into hegemony. Pedagogy itself has no direct impact on the field of property and participation. But like the arts it can work out a reservoir of possibilities in order to change the primary aesthetics indirectly, by providing material for new subjectivations, e.g., by taking part in the fights of those who are claiming logos.

Rancière worked on the history of the French workers movement, in order to analyze why all collaborations between workers and institutionalized intellectuals have failed in France in the aftermath of 1968. For Rancière the reason for that failure lies in the attitude of the intellectuals, who treated the workers as an anonymous category which they subsumed under their metadiscourse. But:

There was no metadiscourse telling the truth about a lower level of discourse. What have to be done was a work of translation; showing how empirical stories and philosophical discourses translate each other. Producing a new knowledge meant inventing the idiomatic form that would make the translation possible. I had to use that idiom to tell my own intelectuell adventure, at the risk that the idom remains “unreadable” for all those who wanted to know the cause of the story, its true meaning or the lesson for action that could be drawn out of it. I had to produce a discourse that would be readable only for they who would make their own translation from the point of view of their own adventure. [Rancière, Jacques: The Emancipated Spectator. Talk in Frankfurt a. M.]

These sentences are dealing with a certain performativity of knowledge. If the intelligences of people are equal, then there can be no other concept of knowledge than a performative one: everyone is on her/his own single intellectual adventure and from this standpoint she/he translates facts and figures into her/his biography. There can be no objectivity. Rancière is talking of a n e w kind of knowledge and of “idioms”. He is entering a new space of knowledge production in which idioms can be unreadable. He is entering a space where idioms and pedagogy, which is based on idioms, could and should fail. And I am opting for this performativity of idioms and adventures in order to restage academia.

Do you remember? Jacotot was a refugee. He irritated the institution from within. But is there another way?

I want to highlight one thought of out Derrida`s text “University without condition,” which has to do with the irritation of the institutionalised praxis of university.

Derrida says that a pure performative university, as I have sketched it up so far, would not be sufficient enough. The unconditoned university, which is the university to come, or the university whose coming is identical with the événement, is located beyond the classical opposition of performative vs constative, because every performative action relies on a conditioned praxis from which the performative gets its power.

Derrida points out that a university, which stands beyond the conditioned praxis is only achievable by a university which leaves its mental and spatial frames, i.e. its institutional frames. For such a university, Derrida emphasizes especially the importance of a critical behaviour towards the notions of man and mankind. Derrida calls for a “problematization” of the juristical performatives of Man: (with this term he is referring to the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and the notion of “Crimes Against Humanity”). I think that with this appeal Rancière is standing in one line with Hannah Arendt, who considered after the Second World War how close human rights and citizenship are linked with each other. And that the moment of statelessness becomes automatically the moment in which former citizens turn into “living dead,” because they are no longer protected by power. Out of this experience Arendt claims just one right: the right to have rights, which means nothing more than to have the right to be a member of a political community, not to be excluded from the primary aesthetics of politics, not to loose one’s logos.

Girogio Agambe’s idea to rethink the political philosophy by replacing its central notion, the citizen, through the notion of the refugee is in my opinion a very concrete suggestion for what a resistant university, which takes part in the context of subjectivation, should be.

The Kantian question of what man is should be replaced by the question who man is. That means the university should ask under which circumstances people are loosing their humanity. I want to remind you of Gaza, Guantanamo, the refugee camps, the rural areas in the global south, the living condition of almost one milliard people in the slums, the modern slavery, etc. If the university is promoting the question of who takes the right to claim herself/himself a man, then it has the chance to irritate its institutional frames, because by asking who the man is, it takes part in the fight for subjectivation. These fights are open. Their results are uncertain. But exactly this uncertainty is the fundamental on which a pedagogical praxis of equal intelligences is imaginable.

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