Avant-Garde Pedagogies Conference Abstracts

AGP2“Poetic Ambition on the Semester System”: Ezra Pound’s Avant-Gardism and Teaching Institutions

Alan Golding, University of Louisville

My title phrase comes from a recent essay by the contemporary poet Jennifer Moxley in which she lays out what she calls her poetic conversion narrative. In this narrative, particular powerful readings in poetics “justified my desire to define my ambition on a Poundian scale,” but she also came quickly to realize that, as a pedagogical goal transmissible to her students, “Poundian-scale ambition is unrealistic on the semester system.” Within that system, then, she looks for ways to preserve and transmit “the spirit of Poundian ambition”: “the quest and the independence of mind, with a slight touch of mentoring.” This talk considers how various post-World War II US American experimental poets—and one unique college—have taken up exactly the challenge faced by Moxley, a challenge that Pound himself implicitly (and often explicitly) posed to the academy: how to extend the spirit of Poundian ambition in pedagogic contexts that Pound consistently both derided and sought to affect? Specifically I want to discuss the impact of Pound’s thinking about pedagogy and his modeling of a pedagogical poetics in three areas: the poet-edited textbook-anthology; the work of some recent poet-critics who have explicitly engaged with Pound’s didacticism and difficulty in their own thinking about the links between an avant-garde poetics and pedagogy; and the institutional model for enacting a Poundian pedagogy represented by Black Mountain College.

Charles Olson’s pedagogical poetics

Michael Kindellan, University of Sheffield

In this paper I will suggest that there is a striking similarity between Charles Olson’s poetics—which I take to mean both the theory and practice of verse as well as the discursive formation of concepts per se—and his pedagogy. The extent to which Olson frequently delivered poetry readings when invited to lecture, and to lecture when asked to read poetry, is an anecdotal coincidence indicative of a much deeper connection that I intend to elucidate and explore. The main purpose of the talk—also its most significant originality both in terms of subject matter and approach—is to reimagine Olson’s poetics as contiguous with a tradition of radical pedagogy rather than a tradition of radical philology spearheaded by Ezra Pound. I will attempt to take seriously Olson’s insistence that his verse practice really transcended the disciplinary boundaries of mere artistry; and to critique the efficacy and import of that move. Throughout, I will attend specifically to Olson’s evolving understanding of “method” in both its poetic and pedagogical applications.

Die Idee der Methode: Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus pedagogy

Kerstin Stutterheim, Bournemouth University

The Bauhaus became the icon of the avant-garde and the most influential modern art school. Central for the success has been the new pedagogical concept introduced by Walter Gropius and brought to life by engaging a group of artists as teaching group and later designing the Bauhaus building for the new and most influential period in Dessau.

The Bauhaus occupied a terrain that addressed a radical reform of pedagogics. It was precisely this terrain that made possible its international influence and global networks. (Osten 2015)

In my presentation I will give an overview how the “idea of a method” can be defined, what the most important aspects of this “radical reform of pedagogics” were. That is not only the invention of the “Vorkurs” initiated by Gropius and conducted by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers. The latter brought that concept to the Black Mountain College, where he taught 1933 to 1949 as well. To mention is also the importance of the stage and the “bauhaus-Feste” – Bauhaus parties, to be organised and designed by first year students.

My knowledge is based in research and close cooperation with both Bauhaus-institutions (Berlin and Dessau) since the early 1990s, as well as interviews I made with former Bauhaus-students between 1992 and 1998. Thus, I will give an academic overview and include some personal statements of former students.

You are Here Now: Design is (not) Dasein

Allan Parsons, University of Westminster


How Things Teach Us: Experience and Experimentation in Spinoza

Aislinn O’Donnell, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick

In philosophy of education it is customary to reflect on the writings on education of philosophers, to clarify concepts or commitments, or to demonstrate the way in which philosophy can inform or illuminate educational practice and principles. Yet philosophy itself often constitutes a form of more or less subtle pedagogy, not just because of a philosopher’s intent, but because the practice of doing philosophy can transform us by disclosing the world under an aspect other than that to which we have been habituated. Philosophy can be understood as pedagogy when it educates attention, cultivates imagination, encourages experimentation, and creates concepts. Spinoza’s philosophy shows us how our encounters can come to teach us and how cultivating understanding can help us to live: we are asked to imagine and understand differently.

Gatens and Lloyd argue with Spinoza that different philosophical, social, ethical, educational and political imaginaries engender different ways of thinking, understanding, feeling and sensing. I build on their concept of the imaginary to develop an experiential, experimental and material conception of pedagogy that is singular, ecological, de-personalised, and contextual, attuned to the manner in which we can be taught through our encounters with all sorts of things.

This paper examines the relationship between pedagogy, practice, and philosophy in Spinoza’s writings. It raises the question of how things teach us and asks us to think about the possibilities for non-human and pre-human pedagogy. What philosophical presuppositions inform traditional images of pedagogy and what difference do they make to the experience of education for students and teachers? What are the dominant images that populate the educational imaginary? How do we ask children and young people to imagine themselves and how are they imagined? Are they imagined as self-making creatures? As agents? As autonomous? As potentials? What might an experimental pedagogy beyond the human look like?

Development of the Self: Women’s education in Bryher’s Early Prose

Zlatina Nikolova, Royal Holloway

In the early 20th century women’s development in society was a topic that concerned a number of female authors. However, few of them paid attention to women’s practical concerns in life in the ways the English modernist writer Bryher did. The long-standing companion of the Imagist poet H.D., Bryher produced a series of novels in the early 1920s. These recorded her own experiences as a girl, and later, as a young woman, through the eyes of her fictional alter-ego Nancy. This paper examines the problem of women’s education, as one of Bryher’s major concerns outlined in her two novels Development (1920) and Two Selves (1921), and its effect on young women.

In Development Bryher records Nancy’s experiences in the school Downswood, pointing out the system’s failure to prepare young girls for the realities of life. This continues in her second novel Two Selves (1921), where she once again reflects on the topic in the context of World War I, basing it on her own observations of the period. Voicing her opinions through Nancy, Bryher criticises the old-fashioned teaching methods and the quality of women’s education, as well as its availability to young girls before and during the war period. Thus, using her reflections as a starting point, this text questions the meaning of women’s education and its consequences for their development in early 20th century society.

Avant-garde and Experimentation in the Age of Hyper Industrialization of Culture.

Maria Teresa Cruz, Communication Sciences Department of NOVA University of Lisbon (UNL), Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (Media Aesthetics, Contemporary Art and Image Theory)

One the most significant traits of avant-garde culture, referenced in the reflection proposal of this conference, is the critical and innovative potential of its experimental drive. The present communication proposal will focus on the value of experimentation shared by the avant-garde and by techno-scientific culture in order to established central affinities but also central differences between them and to reflect upon the way this ambivalence also affects their different desire of pushing forward. This approach takes in special consideration the fact that avant-garde has largely emerged from the shock of the first modern stage of the industrialization of culture that it was able to interpret and to which, at the same time, it critically responded.

Taking this critical experimental ethos of avant-garde as a main pedagogical asset (Golding 2002), this proposal will try to confront its learning value with the present stage of technological development as an era of hyper-industrialization of culture. The technological apparatuses of the present are intimately rooted in the processes thinking, imagination and expressing one’s self, as a kind of “technologies of the spirit” (Stiegler 2012). This new stage of cultural technologies supported by universal digital calculability of information and commanded by software (Manovich 2013) are changing the very basis of cultural experience through fast transformations in literacy and through ubiquitous learning and self-expression that feed digital economy, and dramatically impact education as much as cultural production. The challenge of the actuality of the avant-garde, or of regaining an avant-garde ethos and bringing critical value to innovation in education and culture cannot ignore digital culture nor can it adapt to it as a program that is already ahead of us. It must bring in artistic thinking and research and open up its own laboratories within digital space. Digital Humanities may be a key opportunity to this challenge, as long as they don’t merely try adopt and to adapt to digital media but they also bring humanistic modes of inquiry (Fitzpatrick 2011) and artistic experimentation to bear on digital technology.

The School of the Damned: Autonomous Art education and the University Struggles

Richard Miles, Leeds College of Art

Recent, ideologically driven, governmental policy, specifically the Browne Review (2010), has resulted in the near complete removal of state funding from arts, humanities and social sciences courses in UK Higher Education. In this refigured HE landscape, the burden of financing education has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the individual student, who is now encouraged to view their education as a form of human capital investment in themselves. As part of this system, art schools could now be figured as disciplinary institutions (Foucault, 1975), or Ideological State Apparatus (Althusser,

1970), reproducing neo-liberalism via what Jeffrey Williams (2009) has described as a ‘Pedagogy of Debt’. This paper offers a critique of the current trajectory of the neo-liberal UK art school through a critical case study of a new, autonomous art school, which in many ways could be considered its radical ‘other’. ‘The School of the Damned’, London is a one-year course, autonomously organised and run by its students, who claim that it is equivalent in structure and rigour to an accredited MA. There are no fees charged for studying on the course and tuition is organized through a form of gift economy, where an ever-expanding network of artists, academics and activists contribute to the culture of the course in a system of educational reciprocity explicitly critical of the commodification of education. The current context of escalating student fees and austerity has created a shift in institutional priorities that Andrew McGettigan (2012) has identified with marketisation, privatisation and financialisation. As its central thesis, this paper argues that autonomous models of educational organisation offer the best contemporary defence of the art school and, via what Benjamin (1999) calls Jetztzeit, historic university struggles are brought into a messianic constellation with the here and now. The implication of this critique is that, following Readings (1996), professional HE art educators now inhabit a university art school ‘in ruins’, and need to urgently look to new autonomous models and formations for its salvation. All of the conclusions from this paper are drawn from a period of militant / co-research with ‘The School of the Damned’ and will be illustrated with visual material produced by its 2015/16 graduating year. The research methodology of militant / co-research is presented, alongside the autonomous structure of ‘The School of the Damned’, as social form, to suggest an image of knowledge-labour performed in common that explicitly critiques the HE ‘system of measure’ (Edu-Factory Collective 2011) and capitalist societal relations themselves.

‘Specialist Institutions and Managing the Avant-Garde’

Jonathan Owen Clark and Louise H. Jackson, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

We, the artists, will serve as the avant-garde: for amongst all the arms at our disposal, the power of the arts is the swiftest and most expeditious. When we wish to spread new ideas amongst men, we use, in turn, the lyre, ode or song, story or novel; we inscribe those ideas on marble or canvas, and we popularise them in poetry and in song. We also make use of the stage, and it is there above all that our influence is most electric and triumphant… (Olinde Rodrigues)

This presentation will explore the role of educational management in reclaiming the avant-garde from the reification of artistic practice in specialist educational contexts. Firstly, we shall outline our proposed five theses for a specialist arts school that rejects the neoliberalised production of artists, musicians, dancers and reminds us of our social function as artists that recalls Rodrigues’ statement of the avant-garde. Secondly, we shall discuss how we apply these ideas in our management roles to provoke and disturb the localized acceptances of these reified practices.

Educating the Vanguard: Soviet Developmental Psychology and the Paradoxes of Revolutionary Childhood, 1917-1936

Hannah Proctor, University of Leeds

In Kotik Letaev (1922), the Russian symbolist novelist Andrei Bely attempted to recreate his early childhood experience. The result is a fragmentary text riven with lacunae, strewn with surreal images and wracked by temporal discontinuities. For Bely, modernist literary form is necessary to capture the splintered reality of childhood consciousness. But such visions of reality were not long tolerated by Soviet authorities. The Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934, which saw socialist realism enshrined as the official literature of the state, coincided with equally radical reforms in Soviet child psychology and pedagogy. Even though many avant garde artists found work illustrating books for children, the colourful off-kilter illustrations published were not always embraced whole-heartedly by those dedicated to studying childhood development but similar concerns – about chaos and order, fantasy and reality, fragmentation and unity – animated debates across disciplines.

Untarnished by the past, the image of the happy child functioned as an icon of socialist transformation, but psychologists and educators found actual Soviet children departed alarmingly from the disciplined Bolshevik ideal. The children they observed were said to perceive the world as an incoherent jumble of sensations and were thus presented as a psychic mess who needed tidying up before they could form a neat vanguard of tiny comrades leading the march into the bright communist future. This paper will consider intersections between debates in Soviet pedagogy and aesthetics in order to ask what an avant garde pedagogy might look like.

“Battles for the mind”: military psychiatry and pedagogic innovation in the ‘Cambridge English’ School

Steven Cranfield, University of Westminster

Learning with Brecht and Coetzee

Alys Moody, Macquarie University

The German edition of J. M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons translates the “lessons” of the English edition as “Lehrstücke,” a term that Coetzee himself has used to describe the genre of these genre-bending texts in the preamble to a reading in Sydney. This description of the Elizabeth Costello lectures as Lehrstücke—a mode of drama developed by Brecht as part of his programme to educate and radicalise the proletariat, usually translated as “didactic pieces” or “learning pieces”—locates them squarely within a tradition of formally and politically radical modernist pedagogy.

This paper argues that the dialogue between Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello pieces and Brecht’s revolutionary pedagogy offers a way of understanding the fate of modernist pedagogy at the turn of the twenty-first century. Reading Coetzee’s pieces as metamodernist reprisals of Brechtian Lehrstücke emphasises the interrelationship between pedagogy and performance in these texts, as well as Brecht’s and Coetzee’s shared interest in embedding knowledge within the complexities of social and political life. At the same time, however, Coetzee’s texts test Brechtian principles within a new historical context, in which modernist pedagogy is transformed by the pedagogical agendas of the twenty-first-century university, on the one hand, and the institutions of twenty-first-century literary celebrity, on the other. Embedded within these new institutional contexts, Coetzee experiments with a model of the writer as teacher that escapes the pedagogical conventions of either, in order to dramatise the processes by which knowledge and values are formed and contested.

The Music Teacher: The Pedagogy(s) of 20th Century Avant-garde Music

Gary Peters, York St John University

In this paper I will concentrate on the dominant pedagogical themes in the ‘teachings’ of Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez. Although radically different and often opposed on the surface, beneath such apparent contradictions lie some key shared concerns that, through an engagement with music, challenge conceptions of self and other, discipline and chaos, order and anarchy and the nature of intentionality.

Doubt, Despair and Education

Peter Roberts, University of Canterbury, NZ

The theme of despair figures prominently in the work of a number of existentialist and avant-garde writers. Educationists have, for the most part, either avoided this difficult topic altogether or limited their focus to ways of overcoming despair. Prompted by Kierkegaard, Unamuno and Beckett, I argue that despair warrants closer examination as a key element of educational life. Particular attention is paid to the connections between doubt, despair and education, and to the value of integrating the literary with the philosophical in addressing pedagogical questions.

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