“In Marx’s text philosophy must thus displace itself into the everyday struggle. In my argument, literature, insofar as it is in the service of the emergence of the critical, must also displace itself thus.” (Spivak, 2002: 30)
Picking up from the blog post, Critique, criticality and the right to be critical, it might be suggested that here we are considering some aspects of the role of ‘the critical’ in ‘the everyday’, ‘the everyday’ conceived as a struggle or, in other words, agonistically, i.e. as political contest. This post is simultaneously published in Allan Parsons’ blog, Poiesis and Prolepsis.
The ‘everyday struggle’ for the teacher takes place in the classroom. For everyone else, the classroom struggle is an everyday occurrence for only that part of their lives when they are engaged in formal education. Formative as that ‘period’ may be (in a day-in-the-life divided into ‘periods’), it nevertheless opens out into other kinds of everyday struggle.
The question raised by Spivak in the quote above is whether ‘the critical’ (critical thinking, critique), which is a central part of the everyday struggle for the teacher, has wider value in the other kinds of everyday struggle experienced by those who engage in the everyday struggle of the classroom as a ‘period’ in their lives: the insertion of ‘the lessons’ from one struggle within other struggles.
Unless Spivak is suggesting, which by her own account she surely is not, that we are all engaged in the same struggle … ? The answer to this implicit question must be that, yes, in some ways we are all (the world’s inhabitants, the world’s population, human-reality-in-situation) engaged in the same struggle, but yet that struggle is not the same for all of us, positioned differently, and differentially, as we are.
We seem to keep coming back to the classroom:
“Let us return to the undergraduate classroom” (Spivak, 1992: 9), “a typical liberal multicultural classroom” (Spivak, 1992: 7).
We seem to keep coming back to the text [-book] in the classroom:
“On a given day we are reading a text from one national origin.” (Spivak, 1992: 7).
We seem to keep coming back to the teacher and the text [-book] (from one national origin) in the classroom:
“Each discipline has its own species of “setting-to-work”- and the texture of the imagination belongs to the teacher of literary reading.” (Spivak, 2002: 26)
We seem to keep coming back to the teacher and the text[-book] (from one national origin) in the classroom, with the class:
“The group in the classroom from [the text[-book]’s, add. AP] national origin in the general polity can identify with the richness of the texture of the “culture” in question. (I am not even bringing up the question of the definition of culture.) People from other national origins in the classroom (other, that is, than Anglo) relate sympathetically but superficially, in an aura of same difference. The Anglo relates benevolently to everything, “knowing about other cultures” in a relativist glow.” (Spivak, 1992: 7)
We seem to keep coming back to the teacher and the text[-book] (from one national origin) in the classroom, with the class, wherein lies the student:
“Speaking to them and their teachers in December, I stressed repeatedly the importance of explaining the text, of explaining repeatedly, of checking to see if the student has understood.” (Spivak, 2002: 28)
It matters little if we substitute the (static, pictorial) image (painting or photograph) or the (cinematic) film (movie) for the text[-book]. Image and film can become text.
It matters little, equally, if we substitute the studio or the laboratory for the classroom. Studio and laboratory can become classroom.
In one account, then, the student, the student body, the classroom and the text[-book] are centred on the teacher, a centre from which the world (outside the classroom, by means of the text[-book], through critique) may be mastered.
Most learning takes place outside of the classroom. The scene of learning has multiple sites, one of which is the classroom, perhaps the archetypal ‘scene of teaching’, a scene which differs from that of indoctrination. Classroom teaching inflects that learning or refracts that learning, and may claim to be formalising that learning through learning-how-to-learn (formally), one the one hand, while critiquing that (everyday) learning, on the other hand.
Classroom learning re-articulates the learning that takes place outside the classroom. Without an awareness of the ‘out’ side of the classroom, already brought ‘in’ side by the student body and the student’s body, classroom teaching could not develop the specificity of its mode of learning, its particular inflection of everyday learning.
In the sense that it inaugurates learning, or brings to awareness the always-already of learning, it is in the form, partly, of an unlearning (of bad habits, the Platonic philosophical stance, raising the philosopher up from the everyday ‘man’) or a learning otherwise, but otherwise in the sense of disciplinary learning, a form of learning that may be more ‘technical’, more ‘analytical’, more ‘critical’: technique, technology, analysis, critique, the main modes through which the Western episteme is developed, which may be to say ‘method’ but not necessarily methodology.
Alternatively, such (re-)inauguration may form a making strange of what has been learned in the everyday, as in avant-garde art practices, which bring to attention what has been termed, in another time, the ‘absurdity’ of the everyday.
What classroom learning may, however, inaugurate is a mode of perceiving the world in more detail or, rather, as a series of fragments.
The scene of teaching, as has already been noted in a prior discussion of Basil Bernstein’s work , ,  and , forms across a plurality of sites. What matters is the articulation of the modes of learning that take place within the different sites. The classroom is, in part, where you are classed, and may bring to awareness a degree of class consciousness, but not class mobilisation. The classroom is where you learn your class, categorically, where you learn to split your (imaginary-originary) persona among sites, to become an actant in different apparatuses; an actant, both acting and acted upon, both affecting and affected, both perceiving and perceived. [Note 1]
The text[-book] may be seen as an articulated joint or hinge, bringing text and book into some kind of folding alignment, an arrangement which holds together two of the leaves or threads of university pedagogy as it has developed since the 18th century in the form of the professorial system, as a bridge from the professor’s speech to the disciplinary content, as discursive archive.
The text, the vital part, comes alive in the classroom, as ‘living presence’ in the hands of the teacher, who displays his/her mastery of the world which unfolds from the codex. The book, the dead part or the inert part, the text’s remains, so to speak, are held in the tomb of the library, which may or not be a magnificent monument. Together, both parts, the live part and the dead part, form the ‘materiality’ of the text[-book] or, in other words, its actantiality, its ability to rise from the dead, again and again, as the inert body of the book is resuscitated in the classroom, life breathed back into it through the teacher’s voice.
The text belongs to the teacher; the book belongs to the librarian.
The academic library …
The book may be studied in the library. What form of life does it take then and there, without the presence of the teacher. Has the teacher imparted ‘tools’, perhaps in the form of a conscientiousness or a method, to enable, at least, a partial text-to-eye resuscitation: can the student understand?; has the student understood?; can the student’s understanding be tested/assessed?
From another perspective, the learning that takes place in the classroom is (necessarily) supplemented by the learning that takes place without it (both outside of it and without the aid of the classroom), i.e. necessarily and so therefore not supplementarily: both necessary and supplementary.
One ‘immediate’ contextual feature of the classroom, the context which enters into the classroom frame metaleptically, so to speak, is the learning environment, or the learning ecology, constituted by the higher education institution: the (non-)place, material-virtual, the student enters in order to learn to be a student.
Of the several ‘non-places’ of this wider institutional learning environment, none is more present and more absent than the library. Not-classroom, not laboratory, not studio, not seminar room, not lecture hall, nevertheless, learning takes place there: learning (‘studying’) is where the library takes place. What kind of pedagogy inhabits or animates this kind of learning-taking-place?
Neither presence nor absence/both presence and absence, the academic library, as an element of/in the scene of teaching-as-learning or classroom teaching/learning, spread across several sites, constitutes a kind of learning, a testing moment (does the student understand?), which is not an external assessment, that opens the learner to a ‘void’, an untried and unanticipated step into learning/not-knowing, which is not a step towards knowing-as-mastery, and which brings into focus an awareness of the performative scaffolding from which that step is, hesitantly, being taken.
Becoming devoid of support, the student must find a way to deal with that emptiness (there is no step that is obvious, no direction to be taken), or simply with emptiness without particularity. Nevertheless, learning remains, in this elemental scene, an individual enterprise, private study, silent study, even in the midst of the (semi-)public space constituted by the library – subsumed in the classroom as the primary (traumatic) scene of teaching: instruction as in-struck-tion, as being struck, beaten into shape, finally stricken.
The text[-book], the classroom, the library and the world
What is missing, clearly, is a philosophy of the academic library, particularly a philosophical justification of the pedagogy of the library, a reasoned account of the learning that takes place in the library as the library, perhaps along the lines of curatorial pedagogy/pedgogical curation, one might joke.
Are we anywhere near understanding the academic library as part of a larger, multi-levelled, socio-technical learning environment and learning apparatus?
One could almost imagine a manifesto, such as those favoured by the profession of architecture, in which it is stated, as a series of slogans:
The academic library codifies multidisciplinarity, and holds the potential for interdisciplinarity, while permitting the possibility of cross- and trans-disciplinarity. The academic library materialised the ‘flipped classroom’ long before the phrase entered the educational vocabulary. The academic library facilitated ‘blended learning’, again long before this phrase entered the educational vocabulary. The academic library enables independent learning, which is non-classroom-based and a-curricular. The academic library promotes the sharing, exchange and circulation of ideas and knowledge, through collective learning. The academic library is one remaining isolated enclave of (limited, constrained) collective, public, shared, collegiate space. The academic library embodies the sociality, the materiality and the technicity of knowing. The academic library is a social medium, but neither purely nor simply. More programmatically, the library encourages rhizomatic learning, i.e. non-linear, mixed physical-social-virtual learning.
The academic library articulates the following principles, such a manifesto might go on to say:
- The principle of browsing (chance)
- The principle of derive (aimless, endless, wandering)
- The principle of detournement (de- and re-contextualising)
- The principle of collage, assemblage, montage (metaleptic, relational creativity)
- The principle of curation (multi-media, multi-modal inter/trans-media/textuality)
- The principle of avant-garde making-strange/defamiliarisation (critique of ortho-doxy)
- The principle of deconstruction (critique of injustice and exclusion)
- The principle of Buddhist (in)direction (critique of teleology)
- The principle of Buddhist mindfulness (‘silent study’ and its relations to the mindfulness of body, feelings/sensations, mind/consciousness and the dhammas, i.e. Buddhist teachings)
Last word …
The last word falls to Spivak, her final lesson:
“The solution is not to write new textbooks, the liberal intellectuals’ favourite option.” (Spivak, 2002: 26)
Lynsey Hanley (2015) reviews Mike Savage’s book, Social Class in the 21st Century, in The Guardian newspaper. She points out that Savage and his colleagues at the London School of Economics have constructed a seven-class schema for the UK in the 21st century, ranging from the elite, the established middle class, the technical middle class, the new affluent worker and emergent service workers, through to traditional working class and the precariat.
Hanley, L. (2015). “Social class in the 21st century” by Mike Savage. The Guardian, 14 November, Review p.7. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/13/social-class-21st-century-mike-savage-review [Accessed 15 November 2015]
Savage, M. (2015). Social class in the 21st century. London: Pelican.
Spivak, G.C. (1992). Teaching for the times. The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 25 (1), 3–22. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1315070 [Accessed 11 November 2015].
Spivak, C.G. (2002). Ethics and politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and certain scenes of teaching. Diacritics, 32 (3/4), 17–31. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1566443 [Accessed 11 November 2015].