The Fatigue of Critique?
no. 09_december 2020
The ninth issue of on_education addresses an ongoing and lively international and interdisciplinary controversy: Has critique run out of steam? Drawing on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s early critique of “the methodological centrality of suspicion to current critical practice”, literature and cultural studies in the English speaking world have been influential in challenging central assumptions of ‘critical’ philosophies. Having represented one of the most powerful and only seldom questioned styles of thinking in academia for a long time, critical attitudes are now identified as being “ontologically rigid”, “paranoid”, and primarily negative, attached to affects such as fear, shame, humiliation, anger and rage. In particular, voices from literature theory articulate the need for different approaches to reading texts and dealing with literature. They argue for establishing reading practices that go beyond the “‘paranoid’ conviction that the meaning of texts is hidden behind its explicit meanings” and the acceptance of previously marginalized positive affects like excitement, joy, and surprise.
Post-critical pedagogy is an attempt to step outside the endless repetition of critical research in education. ‘Posting’ critique and thereby posing the question of alternatives works against a stagnating tendency for current educational debates to appear unsatisfactory, paralysing, and tedious. This essay describes the limits of critical pedagogy and possibilities of a ‘post-critical pedagogy’. It is structured according to the term’s three elements of ‘critique’, ‘post’, and ‘pedagogy’. For each of these elements, the essay describes two ways of understanding; not to play them off against each other, but to show how manifold post-critical pedagogy can and should be. The essay concludes with a proposal of three analytical dimensions for further work on a post-critical pedagogy.
This essay addresses the relations between recent reassessments of critique in literary studies and current debates in the field of education. Drawing on the work of Hartmut Rosa, it argues for the relevance of “resonance” as an educational concept. Resonance is not an emotion but a relation: not a positive feeling but an often ambivalent experience of aliveness, excitement, and connectivity. As a sociological as well as phenomenological concept, it encourages us to acknowledge the institutional factors that shape the treatment of education as either resonance or resource. A brief comparison of John Williams’s Stoner and Dionne Brand’s Theory is used to question dichotomies between “love of literature” and “critical detachment”; both literature and critical theory can serve as powerful sources of resonance.
The recent Manifesto for a Post-Critical Pedagogy introduced a specifically pedagogical register into theoretical and methodological consideration of post-critique. Focusing on a specific aspect of the Manifesto – the view that the political concerns of much critical educational research position education as instrumental to politics to the extent that the “educational” in educational research is left out of the picture – I ask to what extent we can defend the view that education and politics should be separate in our enquiries? Drawing on a particular account of the separation of education and politics I suggest that what is at issue is not the political as such but the particular, sociological, register of politics at work in critical educational research. To bracket out the political is potentially to leave everyday flesh and blood experiences of education out of the picture.
This essay limns critique’s use of selective or even misleading description to advance ideological commitments, often without drawing explicit attention to those commitments. It posits that this style is especially attractive to identity-based modes of critique that, rather than take an oppositional approach to reading (e.g., reading “against the grain”), enforce a self-identity between the critic and her object. Against this trend, the essay advocates a pedagogy of description that hones the ethics of interpretation at the point of writing about an object’s alterity. It focuses on a graduate seminar experience of teaching ekphrasis first through an assigned reading and then through a writing exercise completed in an actual museum space. Students’ frustration with a critic’s description of certain art works became an opportunity to reflect on their own commitment to writing about objects with care. Building out from that experience, the essay shows how ethics animates post-critique’s embrace of wonder and surprise – in teaching as much as in writing.
In this paper, we want to flesh out what a post-critical way of dealing with the pandemic we face today could consist of. In the first part, we give an account of the current situation in terms of the remarkably ambiguous experience brought about by the intrusion of the COVID-19 virus, which has confronted us with a threat that is radically transcendent and immanent at the same time. In the second part, we go deeper into specific insights that have come about in the wake of this crisis, showing that these insights can be taken in two directions. We can try and align them with what we already know, or we can try to take seriously the unforeseen novelty of the situation. However, in the third part, we argue that we can still answer in a different, more fundamental and truly educational manner. This consists of “being taught” by the virus, thereby re-establishing our relation with the world and its human and non-human “indwellers”. This comes down to reorienting our educational endeavours towards earth-bound study practices, with a view to coming up with new answers to the “old” question of how to live well together.
After situating the proposal of a post-critical pedagogy (PCP) within the coordinates of the contemporary interdisciplinary debate on the ‘end of the critique’ and ‘post-critique,’ the paper focuses on a specific – but pivotal – facet of PCP, namely the appeal to a thing-centred pedagogy. This theme is addressed by approaching it through the lens of some ideas of Michel Serres as well as of Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers. Thing-centredness is construed as what contains violence and, thus, the focus is sharpened on the question of non-violence, which is arguably key to PCP and, indeed, to any genuinely educational endeavour.
This essay analyzes the central architecture of critique. It argues that, across the humanities, critique has followed a uniform methodology, wherein qualities like ambiguity, ambivalence, uncertainty, contradiction, and paradox have represented the main tools of not only critique and unmasking but also disclosure and transformation. Within teaching philosophy, critique has thus done more than to politicize the classroom; it has also ingrained an equation between pedagogy and therapeutic witnessing or confessionalism. For many, qualities like ambiguity and uncertainty have furthermore been imagined to bear distinctly ‘ethical’ fruits. This essay questions these staples of pedagogical theory, in particular the redemptive faith that paradox and contradiction will prove inherently critical and/or progressive. It therefore historicizes the architecture of critique, submitting that among other things the contemporary political climate challenges unbridled faith in those qualities. And it instead promotes values like trust, integrity, clarity, and noncontradiction as the goals of a postcritical education.
Preservation, positive affection, hope and experience are some of the core concerns of post-critical pedagogy. In order to highlight them, post-critical approaches regard it as necessary to refuse critical action on the one hand and separate the pedagogical from the political sphere on the other. In my paper I will suggest that there is a possibility to stress post-critical ideas and the need to rethink what pedagogical thinking and action is about without abandoning the critical attitude and the orientation towards the political. This possibility is bound to an inverse perspective on critique and politics. In this inverse view, which I develop engaging with recent debates in critical theory, critique can be framed as a situated engagement that faces the other within a lively present experience. Politics can be understood as variable forms of living together with humans and non-humans on the basis of shared times and spaces. Bringing in this perspective, makes it possible to go beyond the critique-post-critique-struggle and introduce an approach that is sympathetic with both critical and post-critical concerns.
This article argues that the practices of critique have naturalized the political strategies deployed by Donald Trump and his European counterparts. At its extreme in current ‘call out’ politics, the tendencies of critique – the clear and absolute oppositions between right and wrong, the vilification of those who find themselves on the opposite side than the critic, the tendency to locate such oppositions within identity discourses – have emerged in the Trump era as the vicious, ad hominem, anti-dialogic strategies that mark both the Right and the Left.
While post-critical pedagogy urges us to educate out of and toward love for the world, in this article I argue against the privileged status of love in educational discourse. I hold that renewing the world is impossible without critique, indeed without a pinch of hatred. I suggest, therefore, moving from post to neo-critique, to renewing the world by renewing critique. I start with discussing some good reasons for hating the world, and then turn to the concept of critique, which post-critical pedagogy is by no means the first to attack. A look at the thorough analysis of the modern concept of critique offered by German historian Reinhart Koselleck uncovers the deep contradictions inherent to its totalizing, rationalistic presuppositions that see nothing but absolute good and absolute evil. Koselleck’s comments on premodern critique point the way to a more complex concept of critique, which transcends such binary divisions. In the last section of this article, I take some steps in this direction, fleshing out the concept of neo-critical pedagogy by thinking of art criticism.
This article aims at dialoguing with the Arendtian 5th principle of the Manifesto for a Post-Critical Pedagogy: From education for citizenship to love for the world, where the authors state that this is the time “to acknowledge and to affirm that there is good in the world that is worth preserving” (Hodgson et al., 2017, p. 19), as a hopeful acknowledgment of the world. This particular dialogue is opened by means of an edifying philosophical theatre piece (based on a pedagogical reading of Alice Munro’s short story Comfort) that reflects on/with Rorty’s pragmatism. It is an attempt at advancing the post-critical approach to education via a twofold strategy that might best be described as edifyingly discomforting. First, by intentionally choosing an uncomforting story as the basis for a theatre piece depicting an unsettling pedagogical situation. Second by developing a post-critical educational artefact under the premise that if critical pedagogy had Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, then a post-critical pedagogy may benefit as well from what I would like to call an “edifying theatre”.
The aim of this paper is to outline a way of theory development in educational thinking that stays true to the insights and commitments of post-critical pedagogy, while at the same time drawing out a slightly different pattern. The paper suggests five different propositions that reformulate the Manifesto for a Post-Critical Pedagogy in a speculative-pragmatic mode, informed by the philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead, William James, and Isabelle Stengers. Central to this way of doing theory is that it is situated by actual educational practices and that theory development itself is conceived as a way of taking care of our abstractions through the formation of concepts. What is at stake in this mode of doing theory is adding interest to educational practices, making them come to matter in a particular way. In doing so, post-critical pedagogy offers a way of analyzing educational practices of the present and the past, while opening up possibilities for designing educational practices for the future, without defining what the future might look like.
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