Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"International Relations in Uncommon Places" by J. Marshall Beier (Maria)

J. Marshall Beier, International Relations in Uncommon Places: Indigeneity, Cosmology, and the Limits of International Theory (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2005). – presented by Maria B. Stoianova

In his book, International Relations in Uncommon Places: Indigeneity, Cosmology, and the Limits of International Relations, J. Marshall Beier exposes the ways in which International Relations (IR) has internalized many of the enabling narratives of colonialism in the Americas, evinced most tellingly in its failure to take notice of Indigenous people (Lakotas in his case). Beier identifies the master discourse guiding the discipline of IR as the “hegemonologue: a knowing Western voice which, owing to its universalist pretensions, speaks its knowledges to the exclusion of all others” (3). The hegemonologue works by effecting violent erasures on all knowledge that does not fit within the dominant discourse of the discipline. Thus, indigenous people’s self-knowledges are ignored or, if addressed, they are subsumed under the general heading of a master narrative informed by colonial modes of understanding.

The colonial practices that have guided our understanding of post-colonial subjects are mimicked, in academia, by a similar system of “advanced colonialism” that perpetuates “the reproduction and reinstitution of hegemonic cosmological commitments” that are, by extension, “complicit in the denial of Lakota cosmology as well” (4). Beier’s work contributes to the resistance against the violences of advanced colonialism by pointing to the necessity of an “ethics of responsibility,” that is, an ethics that understands our responsibility to the Other as “the founding condition for our own subjectivity, itself possible only as an outcome of a relationship with the Other” (37-8). Postcolonial theory, for Beier, gives political meaning to an ethics of responsibility by engaging unequal relationships between people and by critically interrogating the cultural outcomes of those relationships (41). Postcolonial theory destabilizes the “hegemonologue.”

Beier recognizes his own position within academia as a privileged one, that is, he is always immediately implied in sustaining and perpetuating the violences inherent in teaching, writing, researching, and publishing. His recognition of his complicity with the colonial project’s practices of oppression does not, as is often the case with academic writing, stop short of moving beyond self-criticism. He manages to salvage his academic endeavor, though he is highly critical of conventional IR and its methodologies, and extend it beyond the boundaries of the discipline and into the cosmology of the indigenous people themselves, that is, the Lakotas. Conversation is his preferred way of engagement because simply representing Others leads to a situation where “voices speaking from the margins become audible only when they mimic those of the centre – when they retain too much that is ‘foreign’ or arcane to the Western ear they are typically reduced to artifacts of the exotic, charming perhaps bur hardly authoritative” (46). Through conversation, Beier hopes to find a dwelling place for the security of the “self” that does not automatically suppose the insecurity of the “other.”

Beier juxtaposes learning to understanding, the former being a passively acquired and communicated knowledge, academic terms presupposing certain modes of knowledge acquisition. The former, on the other hand, is an interchange, an exchange and itself always a subject to change, it defies its own authority to speak as “ours can never be a substitute for the voice of the Other” (48). Relying heavily in Derriderian deconstructionist strategies of critique, he reviews some of the objections raised against poststructuralism and in the end, though with some reservations, he argues that post-colonial theory, infused through an ethics of responsibility, furnishes the needed corrective. The unreflective reproduction of authoritative voices within the discipline, Beier argues, has left students and scholars of International Relations ill-equipped to the kind of field and ethnographic research that “refuses the pretension to appropriate the voice of the Other, working instead toward its audibility alongside our own” (10).

Beier’s work is a cautionary tale of the dangers inherent in the academic tendency to speak from the position of a knowing subject by referring to the findings of participant observation in ways that serve only to advance the authority of a master narrative within Western discursive spaces. More specifically, he examines the ways in which popular culture (re)presentations of Indigenous North Americans impart knowledges which, rendering them as spectacle, contribute to their consummate objectification, essentialization and commodification. He exposes such practices for being inherently violent in that they promote the confinement of Indigenous people(s) to a limited range of temporal and spatial contexts of popular imaginary (11). The voice of the hegemonologue is found to be active through popular culture and orthodox social theory alike in ways that render traditional Lakota lifestyles as implausible.

Interestingly, Beier suggests that even the terms of engagement are suggested from the relatively privileged position of critical theory, that is, critical approaches are also in need of deconstruction as far as they tend to substitute one master narrative with another, reverse categories of opposition without always problematizing the legitimacy the concept of the category as such, and deny “subjectivity” altogether in somewhat of a nihilistic manner (Irrigaray 1985, Sokal 1996, Hartsock 1987, Krishna 1993). Following Derrideian deconstruction, Beier maintains that, in the end, “all knowledge is violent” and that only by deconstructing binary oppositions can this violence be interrupted. The binaries that command our understanding of the world enable definitions of rational, masculine, civilized, orderly Self in opposition to emotive, feminine, savage and chaotic Other. The ways in which these binary categories map onto each other lead to the creation and justification of unitary categories of belonging that normalize opposition and alterity. Again, he calls for an “ethics of engagement.” An alternative approach to understanding difference would be to approach it with the understanding that “every text is inherently intertextual, bound up in a complex web of referential and deferred meaning. . . If texts are not hermetic, nor is international theory” (24). Thus, categories of belonging are exposed for their arbitrariness, for their historical insensitivity and for their artificially-hierarchical camps.

The discourse from within which we operate and from within which we understand others is the same discourse, the same territorial space that imprisons us within its epistemological and ontological commitments. In the end, all theory is violent and we would do well to dispel the “damaging and self-defeating assumption that theory is necessarily the elite language of the socially and culturally privileged” (283) and move beyond the usual predisposition of emancipatory discourses in favor of empowerment. As Beier puts it, “the task ahead is to work for polyphony” and not egocentrism (284).

Story and Discourse, by Seymour Chatman (Callen)

Callen Shutters
November 29, 2004
Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film by Seymour Chatman
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978
267 pages

In this invaluable text to the fields of narrative theory and film/narrative studies, structuralist and film theorist Seymour Chatman offers an analysis of narrative by detailing the clear distinctions between story (what is told) and discourse (how it is told). Broadly, Chatman attempts to draw connections between narrative and the effect of narrative on audiences by breaking down the elements that create a story. He does this by describing key elements within narratives and providing examples from a broad range of text, film, theater, and other narrative outlets which serve as examples to highlight specific elements that create a narrative. I decided to format this review in a chapter by chapter summary, as I will certainly use this text in future analyses of film narratives and will also revisit it for my thesis.

In chapter one, Chatman offers a definition and discussion about the notion of story, which “exists only at an abstract level; any manifestation already entails the selection and arrangement performed by the discourse as actualized by a given medium” (37). In this introductory chapter, a comic strip is broken down into “reading-out” and “reading.” Reading-out is an ‘interlevel’ term that includes the readers’ assumptions and knowledge of other events/states/implications that contribute to the plot of the narrative (41). In Chatman’s words, “…the interesting thing is that our minds inveterately seek structure, and they will provide it if necessary” (45). Conversely, reading is ‘intralevel’ and audiences understand a narrative based solely on the information about the plot related by an author (41).

Chapter two breaks down events in a story and how these events are understood by readers/audiences. Naturalizing is the way in which “audiences come to recognize and interpret conventions” (49). That is, to incorporate conventions of narrative into a language that is understood by and, later, applied by readers/audiences. For instance, in the language of film, when one watches a character on screen write in a diary and hears a voice-over of events that fit as an entry in a diary, viewers connect the image and the voice. Naturalizing is activated in narratives as a result of intertextuality, intersubjectivity, and verisimilitude (50). Chapter two also details atypical narrative forms such as antistory, “an attack on…convention, which treats all choices as equally valid,” and antinarratives, which question “narrative logic” (57). Narratives by authors Borges and Robbe-Grillet are cited as examples of alternative narrative forms. Also, in chapter two, Chatman outlines conventions of narrative form including suspense, surprise, flashbacks, flashforwards, time, plot, order, duration, and frequency. Imperative to Chatman’s arguments are his notions of ‘kernels’ and ‘satellites.’ Kernels are the major elements of a plot and are “narrative moments that give rise to cruxes in the direction taken by events” and are essential to understanding a story (53). Satellites, on the other hand, are minor elements that are made up of “the workings-out of the choices made at the kernels” and are important, though not required, in the relation of a narrative. Also, vital to Chatman’s discussion of these terms include his notion of discourse-time, “the time it takes to peruse the discourse,” and story-time, “the duration of the purported events” (62). Also important in this chapter are Genette’s categories of relations (order, duration, and achrony) between story and discourse time. Chapter two ends with a discussion about how time distinctions are manifested (language tense system, montage in film, etc.).

The third chapter highlights ‘existents’ in a story by introducing different arenas of story-space. In a cinematic narrative, story-space is the “spacial parameters that communicate story in film” (97). In a verbal narrative, story-space is developed by a moving focus of direction developed through descriptors. This chapter closes by focusing on the character as an existent, highlighting different understandings and descriptions of characters (traits, settings) by Aristotle, Propp, Todorov, Barthes, and A.C. Bradley.

In chapter four, nonnarrated stories are introduced as an offshoot of discourse. Chatman presents the different roles of the real author, implied author, narrator, real reader, implied reader, and narratee. Two indispensable roles in a narrative are the real author and real reader. The narrator and narratee are optional depending upon the narrative. Finally, though the implied author and implied reader are immanent, they are not required in the creation of narrative. Chapter four also discusses the many possibilities of point of view in film and the various channels, visual and auditory, that act as different ways to create written and speech records. Two such examples include a diary and a soliloquy. Finally, converging point of view and speech records, chapter four concludes by providing descriptions and examples of stream of consciousness, free association, and interior monologue in narrative.

Chapter five discusses covert v. overt narrators. Covert “occupies the middle ground between non-narration and conspicuously audible narration” while overt narrative forms offer straight-forward set descriptions and temporal summaries (197). Especially interesting in this chapter is a discussion about how unreliable narration in film forces viewers analyze the situation and character in-depth and come to one’s own opinions, involving audiences on a higher level (235). Chapter five closes with a discussion on the commentary and interpretation of events in the story. Factors such as self-conscious narrators and general truths and scientific facts introduced by the narrative are important in discussing commentary and interpretation of narrative.

Finally, the short conclusion offers readers a series of open-ended questions that inspires deeper thought on the topic. Chatman wonders how useful a distinction between story and discourse can be for analyzing narrative form. Also, Chatman ponders the role of narrative causality, cultural messages subsumed by narratives, and the influence of the media on abstract discursive structures.

Overall, this text was probably the most helpful guide in my quest to learn about narrative theory because of its dissection and description of the vital parts of a narrative. Chatman is easy to comprehend and offers a broad range of readers a terrific and crucial analysis of the complex system of a narrative.

An Experiment with Time, by J.W. Dunne (Callen)

Callen Shutters
November 15, 2004
An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne
London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1927, 3rd Ed. 1958
249 pages

Inspired by vivid dreams he was having that seemed to precipitate waking events such as volcanoes and fishing adventures, J.W. Dunne decided to conduct an experiment where he (and eventually others) logged their dreams for a period of time and tracked the content of these dreams. Subjects would then reread their logs within a week or so and note whether the events that occurred in their dreams were in the past, had happened in the short time since the dream, or had never happened. Often, subjects would find a mixing of past, present, and future events in a single scene. The connection of waking events to dream-state events was the heart of Dunne’s experiment with time.

Dunne considered himself an ‘abnormal’ subject, but found that his dreams equally consisted of past and future events. Dunne believed that the time humans understand and live in during waking consciousness is Time 1, which follows a linear path, and the state of dreams existed in a separate consciousness, Time 2. This dream-state of consciousness was composed of a mixture of past, present, and future events. Based on this ability to foresee future events, Dunne believed this was a proof to support a theory that humans were able to obtain an immortal state. Dunne argued that, though it was always possible for some to see future events in dreams, the aging process limits the ability to see these events. Dunne relates that at birth, humans have few past events and their possibility to see events in Time 2 is limited to future events. Conversely, when humans approach death, they had few future events remaining and their experiences were mostly composed of past events. Thus, the frequency of past and future events one could experience in Time 2 depended upon the age of the dreamer. However, Dunne found that this varies from subject to subject.

One of Dunne’s key terms is the notion of association, where one links events in their mind to other events or images because of possible similarities or connections in the mind of the subject. Also, Dunne believed that humans were capable of a fourth-dimension, a time/space state that does not correlate to a directional or observable scale. This dimension held that “neither past nor the future was observable” and that “all observable phenomena lay in a field situated at a unique ‘instant’ in the time length,” or, as we know it, the present (109). Dunne believed that, “the Time dimension, for any given observer, is simply the dimension in which his own world-line happens to extend through the four-dimensional continuum” (123). Finally, imperative to Dunne’s thesis is the notion of a series, which “is a collection of individually distinguishable items arranged, or considered as arranged, in a sequence determined by some sort of ascertainable law” (132). Time 2 connects events from different series’ and rearranges them in a revised order that does not correlate with any ‘ascertainable law’ that we, as humans, have created in Time 1.

Dunne was an engineer, he designed ships and, therefore, is not connected to any school of thought. As stated above, he considered himself abnormal and wished to understand this abnormality by ‘scientifically’ examining dreams and different time-states. Dunne’s methods and beliefs might be considered experimental.

I read this text because time and the connection of time with the presentation of narrative is currently a big topic in film narratives and many directors are experimenting with time-states and the development of plot in film. In one example, in Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, the main character Alex reads Dunne’s text during the film and has dreams that precipitate horrific events that happen to her in the film. In addition, this film is played in reverse order with 12 different time-states starting at the end of the day and moving on to events that occurred earlier. In this film, Noe plays with the ability of Time 2 to predict events in the future, the connection of audiences to the action on-screen in light of showing effects and then causes, and offers some experimentation with dramatic form so standard in film (introduction, problem, development, climax, solution). J.W. Dunne’s text and other ideas about time-states and association is creating opportunity to develop radical narrative techniques. This is very exciting for any creator or admirer of narrative form.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Screening the Novel: The Theory and Practice of Literary Dramatization by Michael Green

Michael Green

Screening the Novel: The Theory and Practice of Literary Dramatization
By Robert Giddings, Keith Selby and Chris Wensly


After books that cast a wider net over theory, I chose to get a little more specific with “Screening the Novel.” My MA thesis at this point might be something about adapting literature to film. As a creative part of that thesis, I might even adapt some of my own fiction. “Screening the Novel” was helpful, as its title suggests, into giving insight into both the theory and the practice of adaptation. It is a lucid, well-researched and well-written text.

The book is divided into these parts: “The Literature/Screen Debate: an Overview,” “The Re-creation of the Past,” and “The Classic Serial Tradition.” Then there are two sections that analyze the novel and the screening of “Great Expectations,” and two sections that look at the Dramatization and Production of “Vanity Fair.”

As the sections suggest, the authors generally only discuss classic novels and their film and television adaptations in the book, including the works of Charles Dickens and “Vanity Fair,” among others.

In “The Literature/Screen Debate: an Overview,” the authors detail some of the issues regarding the transfer of novels to film and television. First, the section examines the essential differences between literature and film that make the consumption of each such a specific experience. For example, both a novel and its filmed adaptation may have essentially the same story, but many other elements besides the basic story cohere to make the work complete. Just because a film features the plot of a novel it does not mean that the theme, meaning, or ironies of the novel—which arise from the particular application of language and literary craft--will immediately transfer to film.
In an explication reminiscent of Foucault, the authors break down the way we understand things in terms of three types of signs: icon, index and symbol. An icon is a sign that represents an object mainly by its similarity to it, for example, a photograph of a man will resemble the man himself. An index is a sign which points to another object, that suggests an existential bond between itself and the object, for example, a “torch of knowledge” sign that used to indicate a school. A symbol has no immediate relationship to an object, other than the agreed upon one among the users of the sign, for example, words.
In film and television, the main language is iconic and indexical, while in prose the sign is used exclusively. The authors show how this difference in the way we understand our stories is one of the fundamental differences between film and literature and one of the great difficulties for adaptation. The differences are also at the heart of the debates about realism and expressionism in the cinema.
The authors admit that because of these and other differences between the media, there is no universal adaptation formula. Still, they identify three types of adaptation. 1.) The film that attempts to be “faithful” to the novel, by giving the most literal translation possible, such as “The Hours,” or “The Lord of the Rings” (my examples) 2.) The film that maintains the basic source material of the novel while significantly reinterpreting or even deconstructing the next to generate some alternate meaning (“Barry Lyndon”), and 3.) The film that regards the source text only as raw material for an original work (Apocalypse Now). The authors then give a long section in which they debate the flaws and merits of each of these adaptation strategies.
Next, the authors discuss literary methods that are almost impossible to transfer literally from novel to film, including point of view (how do you represent a first person P.O.V on screen, for example), metaphor and interior thought. On the other hand, film is good at some things that are difficult to convey in literature. For example, a landscape that might take pages for an author to render in a reader’s imagination comes across immediately in one shot of a film.

In the section, “The Re-creation of the Past” the authors explore the audience’s historical relationship to texts. A main point they make is that our perspective of the past is too skewed too ever accurately reproduce a text set in the past, though ironically, authenticity is one of the things that filmmakers strive to capture when they film period novels.

The authors see the attempt to adapt classic novels as part of a larger obsession by the media in general to reconstruct the past. They assert that we are far better equipped than any other age to recreate the past because of our storehouses of historical artifacts and documents and our amazing technology. Yet, ironically, they say, the past constructed by the media is a forgery. There is no way we can really reconstruct the past; our reconstructions are rife with misconceptions and inaccuracies and by the narrative of history that we create for ourselves may or may not have anything to do with how things really were. In other words, we can’t escape from our modern story of things to get the distance that we need to see from outside of our own perspective (the authors specifically discuss this in terms of our Enlightenment thinking.) All this ties in neatly with all the texts on modernism and postmodernism that I’ve read this semester.
The authors give some nice examples of this throughout the section (indeed the entire book is very good about providing concrete examples). One example is a 1983 BBC drama in which Donald Pleasance appeared as Samuel Johnson. In the program Pleasance spoke with an upper class (proper) accent, though it was known that Johnson has a Cockney-like accent. But because Johnson was one of England’s great scholars, the authors assert that British TV audiences never would have accepted him speaking in a Cockney accent. In other words, they imposed their own ideas about things should have been, based on current culture mores, rather than how things really were.
The authors finish up this chapter with a discussion of the post-modern nature of our culture. The very fact that everything is now in the stew pot makes it very difficult to separate out specific ingredients. One of the reasons that the adaptation of classic novels is so difficult is because it’s hard to extract some of idea of “classic” from the postmodern goulash.

In the next section, “The Classic Serial Tradition,” the authors compare the serialized novels of the nineteenth century, particularly those of Charles Dickens with 20th century radio and television serials. They make the interesting point that Dickens and other novelists from the era who amassed a large readership were assisted by technology, not unlike the way in which the technology of film and television have provided authors with large audiences. Except in this case the technology was the mass media of an earlier generation: modern print technology and the steam press which allowed much cheaper publishing and helped open up literacy to all strata of society.

In the next section the authors provide a thorough analysis of “Great Expectations.” They look at how it works as a novel, how Dickens constructed the narrative, what his themes were and how he incorporated them, and other aspects. They give a very thorough and insightful (and long) analysis. Ultimately they show how Dickens constructs his fictional world and renders profound themes with words, with language. They do this so they can underscore, in the next section, how difficult a film adaptation of a novel is.

Again, in this next section, “The Screening of Great Expectations,” the authors give a thorough analysis on the transfer of the novel to the film. Since—as the authors have already thoroughly documented—hundreds of adaptations of Dickens’ novels exist (and scores alone of “Great Expectations”) the authors choose one version, the 1946 David Lean version with Alec Guinness. But even though this version is widely considered among film critics and scholars to be a great film, the authors illustrate in great detail the many ways in which the film fails to communicate the themes, relationships and meaning of the novel. They do this to show the difficulty of adaptation, and the traps that the adapter can fall into, without even realizing it, simply by not being completely aware of the differences between the two media. They also point out what the film adaptation does well. Overall the comparison of book to film is very illuminating. This is a great text for potential adapters out there like myself.

On the Postcolony (Dynanada)

Mbembe, Achille
On the Postcolony
Berkeley, University of California Press, 2001


Mbembe brings the philosophical insights of Hegel and Nietzsche to understand the ethics of the postcolony. Mbembe is very precise and succinct in describing the place marked by the colonial domination and is trying to reconceptualize itself.

According to Mbembe, “the notion of postcolony identifies specifically a given historical trajectory - that of societies recently emerging from the experience of colonization and violence which the colonial relationship involves. To be sure, the postcolony is chaotically pluralistic; it has nonetheless an internal coherence. It is a specific system of signs, a particular way of fabricating simulacra or re-forming stereotypes. It is not the economy of signs in which the power is mirrored and imagined self-reflectively. The postcolony is characterized by a distinctive style of political improvisation, by a tendency to excess and lack of proportion, as well as by distinctive ways identities are multiplied transformed and put into circulation.” ( Mbembe 102)

It is here in Mbembe's text one finds the political economy and aesthetics coming together on an axiological terrain. He recruits the Bakhtin's notions of obscene and grotesque in order to understand the banality of power in Cameroon. Mbembe argues that obscene and grotesque are indeed the characteristics that identify the postcolonial regimes of domination. Mbembe intends to explore why and how the “zombification” of the dominant and dominated has robbed the both of any ability to have an impact.

Mbembe very critically looks at the spectacles of the postcolonial government that commands its subject to participate in the displays of power. Analyzing the regime of Biya, the Cameroonian leader, Mbembe demonstrates the agonizing political realities of the place.

What is most relevant in Mbembe's analysis is his use of literary sources in order to understand the politics of the place. Though my reading of Mbembe's “On the postcolony” was centered on his essay entitled “The Aesthetics of Vulgarity”, his other essays give an in-depth analysis framing the postcolony as a space for ethnographic inquiry. Mbembe's analysis for the first time combines the ethnographical elements with the philosophical analysis in order to understand the contemporary complexities of the sub-Saharan realities.

Mbembe opens his text by critiquing the discourse about Africa. According him, it is part of the meta-text about animal-to be precise about the Beast- Its experience, its world and its spectacle. Mbembe argues that the discourse of the Africans unfolds under two signs: First is the sign of the strange and the monstrous and second the discourse of our times, under which African life is interpreted is that of intimacy. In this perspective , according to Mbembe, Africa is the object of experimentation.

Mbembe's text though is markedly different from this point of view. He is successful in his project to”'write Africa', not as a fiction, but in the harshness of its destiny, its power, its eccentricities, without laying any claim to speak in the name of anyone at all.” Mbembe's political and ethnographical analysis of the subject formation in the postcolony is extremely relevant to my project. Mbembe actually has taken a step towards Bhabha's project to write he histories of the dehistoricized.



The Question of modernity pt.II (Darren S.)

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures
Jurgen Habermas
MIT Press, 1990

Like Fredric Jameson and Charles Taylor Habermas is concerned, one might say intimately concerned, with the concept of modernity. But where Jameson tends to allow his focus to encompass if not fix on artistic modernity, Habermas like Taylor is most concerned with the social and cultural trope of modernity; of modernity as enlightenment reason. In The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity Habermas attempts to recover the project of modernity, one that he sees as unfinished not bankrupt, from the specters of post-modernity; from Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault. On Habermas' account the project of modernity needs to be reconstructed not deconstructed, and those who critique it are correct on nearly every technical point but wrong in the most important way. They are wrong as to what it means, and they are wrong in which direction they take in trying to deal with the very real problems they see. For Habermas it is clear what fork they come to and what path they wrongly choose; the philosophy of the subject. Even clearer for him is the path they came across and did not take; the path of intercommunication, of intersubjectivity of what he has called in other and equally famous books communicative action.

On Habermas’ account the project of modernity is not exhausted. It has not as Lyotard says “been abandoned…destroyed, liquidated” (The Post-modern Condition, 1984, 111). This point of divergence is central to Habermas’ deconstruction (although he would never use this term) of post-modernity and the thought of its proponents. Habermas commits much of the space of this book to a critical examination of the thought philosophers who form the core of those critical of the enlightenment project and the modernity that sprung from it. Habermas’ method is to point out the performative contradiction of all those who critique the rationality and reason of modernity with the very tools of reason that this modernity (and their privileged educations and status) has given them. For Habermas, to bastardize a famous saying appropriated from Derrida, there is no outside of modernity. He states plainly that “I do not believe that we can distantiate Occidental rationalism into an object of neutral contemplation and simply leap out of the discourse of modernity” (PDM, 59). What is needed instead is a critical re-examination of the central thesis of modernity up to now which Habermas believes is the philosophy of the subject, a philosophy he sees as ‘exhausted’.

It is this exhausted philosophy of the subject thatHabermas sees all supposed critiques of modernity as such as being addressed towards. For Habermas the problem in the end “is too little rather than too much enlightenment, a deficiency rather than an excess of reason” (PDM, xv). This is why he posits the project of modernity as unfinished rather than exhausted, it is simply this one aspect; subjectivity, that requires reformulation, indeed on his account it needs to be abandoned for another and more palatable philosophy; that of communicative action, of intersubjectivity. For Habermas the escape from the morass of subjectivity is not an abandonment of modernity nor its refusal but a movement of the focus from the individual and the internal to the social and mutually shared. This is a decentering of the type that post-structuralists might carry out but while their project is self-conceptualized as deconstruction, an activity I believe that Habermas himself engages in here, Habermas sees his work as therapeutic and rereconstructive. In this vein Habermas adheres strongly to the emancipatory ideals of some of his Frankfurt School predecessors, particularly Herbert Marcuse and even Erich Fromm. What Habermas does reject is the radical critique carried out by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Habermas is a therapist of modernity not its executioner. Since on his account modernity is not to be escaped easily if it can be escaped at all it must be dealt with understood and come to terms with. In the end it is this stance; that of trying to perform therapy on the modern project while admitting its faults, indeed its deep philosophical failings as it has been expressed up to now that sets Habermas apart from many of his contemporaries and certainly, at least in his own view, from those he sets out to critique.

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity is a modernist project through and through. Habermas believes in the emancipatory power of reason and the compelling metanarrative of the enlightenment. His commitments to both of these ideas make him a foil for many poststructuralist theorists but his ideas demand both response and serious consideration. On Habermas’ account the radical critiques of modernity all contain at least an element of truth, and their compelling power comes from their recognition of the dead end of the philosophy of subjectivity. What Habermas offers instead of their totalizing critique is perhaps another totalizing modernist narrative but with this work Habermas puts the theoretical ball back in the post-structuralist’s court. The onus now falls on them.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Camera Lucida -- Roland Barthes (Victor G.)

Name: Roland Barthes

Title: Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography

Pub. Date: 1981, translation

Length: 119

<>Barthes’ project in Camera Lucida is to establish a new means of observing and, in effect, a new consciousness through photography. <>

This text is divided into two wholly different, yet entirely dependent, sections. The first section attempts to offer a new definition of what photography is, can be, or should be. The second section is more of a search for his deceased mother amongst the lingering photographs of her. This latter section builds upon the former in order to arrive at a new understanding of photography and of the self.
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In the more personal examination of photography, Barthes proceeds to distinguish between a characteristic of duality, “a co-presence of two discontinuous elements”, what he terms the studium and the punctum. The studium is the “application to a thing, a general enthusiastic commitment”; the studium refers to that range of meanings that are universal to anyone and everyone. This studium implies that a photograph can be taken in, may be consumed without any great expenditure of thinking; it is the desire to study the meanings in the photograph. The punctum is a “sting, peck, cut, little hole, a cast of the dice”. This is the private meaning, it is not easily communicated via language. This is the detail that attracts and holds the spectator’s gaze.
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Barthes takes the “study” of photography out of the realm of analysis, and devises a new science of photography—a framework that moves beyond the classifications of art, technique, etc., and draws upon “absolute subjectivity”.
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Camera Lucida
is a slight departure from Barthes’ previous analysis of photography in Image-Music‑Text, and more in line with his analysis of photography in Mythologies. However, CL is a departure from the analytical endeavor, and more of an introspection. This text works for me in the sense that it provides me an alternative means by which to view and consume photography. <>

The following simply are outtakes of Camera Lucida; rather profuse, but ones that will provide a more in depth view of Barthes’ text as opposed to the above:
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Part 1.
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Photography (the photograph) captures a moment in history, keeps it keeps it current, keeps it in the now. This is an exploration of what Photography is “in itself”. A photograph is a duality (signifier and signified). By nature, the Photograph … has something tautological about it. (tautologous: true by virtue of its logical form alone) A photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see. The writing of Photography falls between the expressive of writing and critical writing; and this critical writing lay the discourses of sociology, semiology, and psychoanalysis. The Photograph can be the object of three practices: to do, to undergo, to look. The Operator is the Photographer; the Spectator is ourselves … the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum, any eidelon… The subject-target while posing derives its existence, metaphorically, from the photographer. The photo-self never coincides with the actual-self, thereby taking on a (signified) life of its own. The photograph is the advent of the self as other; a dissociation of consciousness from identity. The subject photographed suffers from inauthenticity. Multiple readings of the same subject. Interpretations dependant upon context. Death is the eidos of [the] Photograph. (eidos: the distinctive expression of the cognitive or intellectual character of a culture or a social group). It is through studium, that interest lies in so many photographs; a photograph’s punctum is the accident that pricks (studium: application to a thing, taste for someone, general enthusiastic commitment; punctum: sting, speck, cut, little hole, cast of the dice). Culture is a contract arrived at between creators and consumers. The Photograph is dangerous. Photographs contain within them, certain biographical features (named biographemes). Photography has the same relation to History that biographemes have to biography. Photography is a cover, a mask, for death. Since every photograph is contingent (and thereby outside of meaning), Photography cannot signify except by assuming a mask. In the realm of Advertising, the meaning must be clear and distinct only by reason of its mercantile nature; in the rest, the object speaks. It causes thinking. Ultimately, Photography is subversive, not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks. The studium is ultimately always coded, the punctum is not. The punctum is an addition, and nonetheless, it is already there.
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Part 2.
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Attempting to “find” his mother amongst photographs. History separated him from the many photographs of his mother. (anamnesis: a recalling to mind) Could he recognize her. All the world’s photographs formed a labyrinth; at the center, the one photograph of his mother would fulfill Nietzsche’s prophecy: “A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth, but only his Ariadne.” (Ariadne: a daughter of Minos who helps Theseus escape from the labyrinth). From hereon, the investigation of Photography must not be done from the viewpoint of pleasure, but in relation to what is called love and death. Photography offers an immediate presence to the world—a co-presence. The Photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, but only and for certain what has been. Photography never lies: or rather, it can lie, as to the meaning of the thing … Every Photograph is a certificate of presence. The photograph has no future. Not only is the Photograph never a memory, but it blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory. The Photograph is violent. The Photograph cannot say what it lets us see. (oneiric: of or relating to dreams; ecmnesic: hallucinations)

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Dumbing Down (Cherie)

Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip Mining of American Culture
Eds. Washburn, Katherine and John Thorton
Copyright 1996
Pages 329
Good for all area of study

This book admonishes the “dumbing down” of American life and culture. The essayists argue that while they were hung-up over the events of the Vietnam War, studying Middle High German, or minoring in Women’s Film Studies - they were actually counting on someone else to maintain what they had inherited. They state that we as a society have become creatures of the marketing masses with countless investigations into our lifestyles and preferences. Ultimately, they feel that we have as a society squandered knowledge, tradition, and competency. They hope to arise some awareness through the culmination of these essays, however they never produce a singular cause or solution. There are good points in these essays; however they often fall under the complication of their own admission of looking back to a “better time.” It is a romantic retrospct that fails to see the events that were probable causes for the very things they denounce. I decided it would be easier to brake down the essays into short synopses, since there are many diconnected views in this book set off in five sections.

Education

John Simon
He argues that there is a prevalent dumbing down in the fields of art, theater, and science. He cynically (and somewhat accurately), states that all other animals except the humans are getting smarter. This cynicism is driven by the love of culture and sense of loss. He points to many ideas of standardized “culture” and feels that they are simply lost; ranging his arguments from ideas on language use to classicism. To John Simon popular culture has overridden historic classics, “art and ephemera are indeed not comparable.” Any reference to history or the historical is understood only by a handful of “Luddites and desperadoes.” The reflection of society is ultimately the image seen between a computer monitor and a television screen.

Gilbert Sewall
His essay is on the postmodern curriculum changes in academia. He feels that academic programs are a failure, existing of a collage of relativism and radical individualism. He exaggerates the exploitation of oppression and feels it is a weakness of the overly virtuous and sensitive. In age of diversity and multiculturalism, it is the Western “feel-good” subjects that are invading the program instead of the hard sciences and grammar.

Cynthia Ozick
This essay argues about speech and the formulation of the filtered American voice through a tale of a young girl and the weaning out of anything outside of the prescribed status of “good” accents. Through twists and turns of speech to literature it ultimately boils down to inheritance of manners and who shapes culture. She uses Henry James to exploit that his world revolved around the written word and that today’s culture is not a reduplication of his era. It is instead a place where language is fluid and is not bound by the walls of literature, and cannot be judged by the buildings of the past.


Heather MacDonald
MacDonald argues that the teaching of writing and similar skills has been replaced with expressionism. The basic skills are not taught for literacy and the expectation of skill is lowered. She argues that the scholastic system is too worried about getting in touch and not worried enough about getting the facts and skills right.

Steven Goldberg
This essay is one of many that he has written about the aspects of the logic and the empirical sciences on social issues. The central theme surrounds the psychological and ideological needs for science over the actual reality of the event or hypothesis. I feel his quote summarizes the piece best. “In other words, the very purpose of science, the separation of the true from the non-true – and the limitations on belief that this entails – is jettisoned.” I guess watching the Oprah show doesn’t make me a humanitarian after all (said with sarcasm). That is because truth and education are not handmaidens, but the ultimate goal for any individual seeking fulfillment and understanding. “It is precisely the fallacy on which the conservative view of cultural relativism rests.”

Brad Leithauser
His essay is a focus on the loss of rhythms and vocabulary necessary for the understanding of poetry. A solution he proposes is that the educational system should turn back the clock and teach the Classic skill of memorization and grammar. The true reward is the exonerating moments of the poem that remain long after death.

David Slavitt
This self proclaimed elitist essay brings up the issues of the “better life,” and mixed blessings found within technological and social advancement. The possession of classical learning and high culture has disappeared. He remarks on the change of socialization of the country after the Vietnam War. The ability to go to college became easier and the requirements for learning dropped. It has devalued the diploma in a societal goal of “middle class,” an egalitarian sense started by the need of Theodore Roosevelt. His argument is that the desire for learning is only within the procurement of jobs and economic wealth at the college level. The joy of learning in a person’s youth becomes the bitter reality of a set curriculum with an ultimate destination of a mediocre job. I think he paints a good and realistic argument; however the outcome is rather bleak. The pages of Marx, Freud, and Proust are often left unturned in a modern college classroom for the attempt to give everyone a fair shot has rotted into a loss of learning anything at all.

Arts and Science

Ken Kalfus
Ken Kalfus takes us to childhood and tours us through the amazing planetarium of his youth. How fascinating everything was become of science. It was explainable and attainable, and that is what made it amazing. Now in adulthood, he shows us that science fiction has taken over for fact. The imagination must have no limits in fact, and the most important thing to rely upon is the hope of the next Star Trek movie to tell us how to dream. Even these fantasies have taken over the minds of the youth and the place of “real” science in the museums. He feels it is a reflection of a pop culture and confusion that is spread throughout the American landscape. The science of the museums is pretty buttons that launch unexplainable objects (I laugh as I think of how true this is) and fake television screen to replace the actual presence of the stars. This is a good essay on the departure of the universe into the realm of the technological mind.

Robert Park
His essay explores the postmodern “new era.” His claim is that the purists want to destroy all the scientists since technology is taking over, but technology as he shows is a benefit and that there is no appeal in return to the dark ages of death and human sacrifice. It is a movement of anti-science where the ideological rules. Fantasy and homeopathic healing rules the minds of the masses and the scientists are afraid of being cast into intolerance. Basically, he feels the scientific mind is a reducing commodity an the only way that can identify the benefits of our universe.

Anthony Decurtis
“The native intelligence and an open mind are insufficient tools for maintaining a culture of endearing values.” He argues that there is no simple or pure understanding, and the elite are not made of those who have intelligence or merit. He merits popular culture alongside of high culture and stands behind the argument that it is society’s opinion that to be truly great must follow aesthetic values of the past. However, it does not accept these as means of attainment in our modern culture. Therefore he believes they must be placed on a level field to be enjoyed and used to enrich and not elevate.

Philip Lopate
This essay focuses on modern film. He argues that it is a marketable farce with an absence of skill and language. It simply is an explicative and has no sense of reality. It glosses our views of that which we criticize in a false state of empathy. He agues against such movies as I.Q., True Romance, Forest Gump and Pulp Fiction stating there are simply a celebration of nothingness and mindlessness. It is the allure of the impossible pipedream. This is a very interesting article for anyone interested in modern movie criticism and offers a wide arrangement of film critique.

Joseph Epstein
As a former member of the NEA, Joseph Epstein attacks the very system that funds this board. His strongest argument is that we produce teachers of art and not artist. We no longer understand high art, instead replacing middle art (with its inner confusion) within that heightened group. He attacks the universities for promoting the propaganda by employing those poets and artists who need to teach others there own works. Lastly, he shows the ironic state of the NEA. To become great or unique, you must be marginalized and make a statement against the political system, just so that you may attain money from that system. The government should not be a part of fueling individual art, only if this takes place can some great creations be made that do not follow what he believes to be the ‘shock them’ factor.
The Media

James Twitchell
This essay deals with what James Twitchell calls Adcult: our culture dependant upon advertising. He states that money is valued over time and that has gone to the advertisers advantage. “We consume the products as much as we do the advertising.” He states that the Industrial Revolution was a result of our love of shopping and attaining stuff, and it has been that way since the ancient Egyptians. He points to pure advertising as it started in books, then developed into magazines such as Colors and Sony Style, then onto the TV, and then finally the internet. He continuously shows how the advertisers target the youth and their unending time and money, time being the more powerful of the two. His solution is to cut the kids purse strings and try Colgate on your next shopping trip instead of Crest.

Sven Birkerts
Intriguing essay. Sven Birkets presents an essay on the realities or shall I say the ‘unrealities’ of the NET. He uses metaphors and images of life and religion to demonstrate the growing human metamorphosis to an online mentality. This very balanced argument also brings into question the boundaries of law. For example what would be the restrictions on entry of zones, rape, and murder? Are there such things? Lastly, he presents Nietzsche’s vision of deitism: when we become Gods, and how we slowly approach that collectively through removing the boundaries of time and space. How valuable is the presence of the body next to you? Does it make difference in the evaluation of what is real?

Kent Carroll
This essay calls for an authentic voice to filter the fantasy and lies that are delivered to the general public as truth. Ha calls them gatekeepers. The problem is that the reading public desires the fantasy and the publishers want the money. It is ultimately what the public wants. There is no need for the classic authors to build our fiction, the T.V. and movies have built up enough shocking deplorability that it is not necessary to have it in books when it instantly surfaces on the screen. It is a “measurable and quantifiable” corporate business that does not seek talent, but the dollar returns from a housewife who has decided that she can write the next great romance and then does.

Public Life

George Kennan
This essay explores the ideas originally presented by Alexis de Tocqueville. Equalitarian and democratic are synonymous features of American cultural desire. George Kennan questions the desires of the general public through the explorations of equality, elitism, and representative government. His ideas are not focused on the individual, but the society as a whole. Today’s society is lacking the leadership that makes great man and the individual leaders who will make tough choices without consulting the will of the crowd.

David Klinghoffer
Art and Kitsch culture take a twist in this essay on the multiculturizing of religion, particularly the Catholic and Jewish faiths. The Church like the public media redefines themselves on the simplicity of process. People do want the complications of understanding that are required of the Orthodox practices however they do not like the current state of practice and that is why so many youth are leaving these less substantial “new age” churches in return of what they think is the true religion. He finally makes the point that the short cuts do not define transcendence.

Carlole Rifkind
The shopping mall is the artificial reality of American reality. Carole Rfikind explores this fantasy environment from its inception up to modern times, and breaks down the falsified towers of this ‘central and safe social suburbia’. She states that “the mall is the TV you walk around in.” This private realm is controllable and not social and is as controlled as an advertisement.

Jonathan Rosen
This essay surface the question of reduplicating tragedy and human suffering, in particular the Holocaust. He states that the Disney like surroundings of carefully laid out museums and happy ending movies cause more harm than good, and do not adequately translate the experience of tragedy. It is simple a symbol that is often misinterpreted by the audience who experiences it. He particularly shows this effect in regards to Malcom X. American culture wants to experience the hero, not know the horrors that only leave twisted minds and hatred.

Armstrong Williams
Through the issuance of a letter Armstrong Williams blames the young “black American” problems on self-esteem. The messages from role models such as Malcom X have incited violence and a struggle for identity among these youths. He feels the responsibility is not simply about change, but knowing why that change is important. He does expect the receiver of the letter to be “changed by his message,” but seeks to recover the sons and daughters for the future. This essay is largely about instilling desire for goals and cultural values among youth.

Private Life


Paul McHugh
This essay discusses the problems that arise as psychiatry tries to place a story on mental illness. Through cases examples and colleague reviews Paul McHugh reveals his fear that today it is far easier to classify problems or repression onto a cultural narrative that blames the surroundings rather than the illness. It is a problem of overgeneralization and mixed metaphors that tend to loose its subject amongst the masses opinion, since that is far easier. This essay oversimplifies the problem, but does bring to head the attempts of most people to look for a blanket answer rather than seek individual enlightenment.

Michael Vincent Miller
This essay explores the diffusion of passion in society, taking the word “fuck” as its metaphor. No longer are the days of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, the word itself has been dumbed down by overuse. It is a collapse of the passionate erotic life an emergence of the desperate pathway to find ourselves as he puts it “out of breath.”

I have to admit, I used to say “She wants to have her cake and eat it too.”

The Question of Modernity Pt.I

Fredric Jameson
A Singular Modernity
Verso 2002
250 pages

Jameson is an American literary theorist of the Marxian (Jameson’s own use) school. He deliberately situates himself as a postmodernist and allies himself with the post-structuralists. He is using as well the methods of Marxian ideology critique and his work although explicitly about literature extends from literary theory into cultural criticism and thus into the political. He is particularly concerned, in this text and others, with the infiltration and colonization of both life and art by capitalism and the way in which capitalism represents itself as different ‘events’ while continuing the same trajectory and project.

Put simply this book is a deconstruction of modernity, an “ideological analysis, not so much of a concept, as of a word”(13), that Jameson carries out through an analysis of artistic and cultural modernity. In Jameson’s view he fight over modernity is a ‘discursive struggle’ with great political and ideological import (9). Further, modernity itself is a narrative category; “’Modernity’ then, as a trope, is itself a sign of modernity as such”(34). This pattern of recapitulation is noted at multiple places by Jameson and seems to act as a thread that weaves throughout the book as evinced in one of the central ideas of the book; that all attempts to escape the narrative of modernity step back into modernity, indeed all attempts to escape narrative lead back to narrative itself. Recapitulation and attempts to escape it are just alternate descriptions of the typologic/cyclic pattern that Jameson notes, a relationship that takes the various forms for Jameson of,

typologic/cyclic = period/break = continuity/ rupture = identity/difference

For Jameson this very relation is mirrored once again in the modern/postmodern formation so any understanding of modernity thus requires some reckoning with post-modernity as such. This idea is included in Jameson’s four maxims of modernity that read as follows;

Four Maxims of Modernity:
1. One cannot not periodize
2. Modernity is not a concept but rather a narrative category.
3. The one way not to narrate it is via subjectivity (thesis: subjectivity is unrepresentable). Only situations of modernity can be narrated.
4. No ‘theory’ of modernity makes sense today unless it comes to terms with the hypothesis of a postmodern break with the modern.

From these four maxims Jameson proposes three guiding rules meant to perform therapy on the method of framing any discussion of modernity.


Methodological Correctives:
1. Periodization
2. Narrative
3. Depersonalization

With these four maxims and three methodological correctives in hand Jameson proceeds to re-view the modernist movement and those that followed in its wake through the particular framework his ‘therapies’ offer. What Jameson finds in this exploration that “modernity is always a concept of otherness” (211). He finds that modernity is useful for performing archaeology on the past, for producing “alternate historical narratives” (214). On the other hand Jameson believes that “Radical alternatives, systematic transformations, cannot be theorized or even imagined within the conceptual field governed by the word ‘modern’.” (215) All of these points taken together lead Jameson to posit, as the final statement of the book, that “ontologies of the present demand archaeologies of the future, not forecasts of the past.” (215)





Saturday, November 27, 2004

Philosophy of Education by Nel Noddings (Elle)

Thinking Culture

Elle Wolterbeek
November 27, 2004
Book Review #5
HUM501

Philosophy of Education
By Nel Noddings
Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1998.

This book is an introduction to the philosophy of education. As an instructor, I felt that this book was fascinating and highly informative. I read this book while reading Applied Grammatology by Gregory Ulmer and found it helpful in my understanding of the more complex concepts that Ulmer presented. That isn’t to say that this text is not complex, but the organization is more conducive to forming a foundational knowledge of educational philosophy. I highly recommend this text to anyone who is interested in education, as it has been extremely thought-provoking and insightful, as well as informative, for me.

In this text, Noddings covers the philosophy of education historically, moving from Socrates and Plato to Aristotle, Rosseau, Pestalozzi, Herbart, Froebel, and on to Dewey, and on to traditional philosophies which have informed and influenced education over the past centuries. Moving from continental philosophy, epistemology and education, ethics and moral education, social and political philosophy and feminism, philosophy and education, this text covers a great deal of information. Here is a limited discussion of each chapter and the main points that I believe it would be beneficial for others to be aware of (although the people in this class probably already know most of this).

Chapter One: Philosophy of Education Before the Twentieth Century
This chapter addresses such questions as:
• What should be the aims or purposes of education?
• Who should be educated?
• Should education differ according to natural interests and abilities?
• What role should the state play in education?
• Who should be educated?
Looking at Socrates and Plato, particularly in regards to the dialogue from Republic, book I, the author presents their educational philosophies. The Socratic method is regarded as more of a method of learning or inquiry than a method of thinking. Socrates tended to ask the great questions of life, such as, “What is truth? What does it mean to know something?” He did not charge his students and met with them in public places or private homes. They were free to come and go at will and were not forced to answer questions, as his method of inquiry was voluntary. Plato, on the other hand, believed that students should be educated according to their capacities and that not all students should have exactly the same education. This belief was admired by John Dewey, although the remainder of the chapter is focused primarily on the arguments others (such as Jane Roland Martin) have with the philosophies of these two men.

Aristotle, like Plato, believed that people should be educated or trained for their appropriate place in life. He believed that each person developed various skills particular to their tasks and functions and should be trained for the roles they would fill, with their ability and excellences (skills) in mind. Rousseau believed strongly in free will and in different education for boys and girls. The majority of Rosseau’s best ideas were intended for boys, although some have been integrated for both; such as the idea that children are naturally good, that the task of teachers is to preserve and encourage this goodness while facilitating the growth of various competencies required for a successful adult life. Rosseau had a great influence on Pestalozzi, Herbart and Froebel, who are also discussed.

Chapter 2: The Philosophical and Educational Thought of John Dewey
Since Darren discussed John Dewey in class, I have been looking forward to learning about him. I found this chapter particularly interesting, not only because I was excited to learn about Dewey, but also because I found his ideas and thoughts quite informative and interesting!

John Dewey believed that education is synonymous with growth and growth is one of his most common metaphors in his writings (his bibliography is 150 pages long!). Dewey believed that growth (education) is its own end and that it is not always necessary to have an aim for educational growth and experience other than the experience and growth itself. Dewey believed that experiences are educative only if they produce growth-if, that is, students leave the experience more capable or interested in engaging in new experiences. Ultimately, Dewey believed that the aim of education is more education, and that education is both an end and a means.

Chapter 3: Analytic Philosophy
This chapter focuses on Bertrand Russell and his version of analytical philosophy. Russell believed that mind and matter are two distinctly different things and that both material entities (objects) and products of mind (language and mathematical expressions) can be analyzed into their basic elements and relations. Part of the analytic philosopher’s task is to analyze language and mathematics. This depends on the idea that reality is analyzable and that every configuration of language points to something in that reality. The 1950s, ‘60s, and 70’s were primarily devoted to the analysis of educational language and concepts and this ended in many philosophers believing that it is not worthwhile to develop a philosophy of education that is coherent and consistent.

Chapter 4: Continental Philosophy
This chapter addresses the role of Existentialism, Phenomenology, Critical Theory, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism in education. I am not going to summarize each of these because everyone else in the class already knew all of these terms, however this helped me to put my knowledge in each of these areas into the context of education, which was highly relevant and very much informed my understanding of these concepts, once I had the context.

Chapter 5: Epistemology and Education
Noddings presents this chapter with an introduction to Epistemology and why it is important for educators to understand before discussing the primary questions of educators and the responses of philosophers. These questions are:
• Should we insist that the material we teach be true, and if so, what do we mean by “true”?
• When should we credit a student with knowing-what does it mean to know?
• Should we make all knowledge accessible to all students?

Chapter 6: Philosophy of Social Science and Educational Research
This chapter introduces social science and educational research, providing an overview of the debate in philosophy of science over the nature of knowledge, the quantitative and qualitative research in education, and application of the thinking of these two questions in the case of educational research.

Chapter 7: Ethics and Moral Education
This was one of the most interesting chapters of the book. Noddings presents the views of philosophers on moral and ethical education and then reviews current educational practices with commentary on what she believes Plato, Socrates and Aristotle would have to say about current practices. She also reviews the criticism surrounding ethics and morals in education and the role of pre-enlightenment ethics in our current educational setting. Also covered are Enlightenment Ethics, Utilitarianism, Deweyan Ethics, Moral Education, and Cognative Developmentism.

Chapter 8: Social and Political Philosophy
The problems of social and political philosophy are presented with references to Socrates (primarily, although other philosophers are discussed) and the current role of liberalism-particularly individualistic liberalism-in this chapter. Noddings suggests that the problems presented are primarily problems in Western education. This uses Kant’s notion of the individual and considers the role of ethics in current educational settings, suggesting that the church, community and educational settings are no longer the “appropriate” place for educating and discussing ethical and moral attitudes. Noddings believes that these are the only places for such instruction and discussion and talks about the role of morality and ethics in our society and the role of the individual as a moral and ethical member of society. She presents this debate extremely well, and ties the entire book together here by covering each area again in regards to the philosophy of education and morality and how inseparable these are.

Uses for the text:
This text is extremely useful for me for a variety of reasons. Again, as did Ulmer’s text, this text provided me with a foundation of knowledge on the philosophy of education. It also provided a context for a great deal of other information I’ve read about these philosophers. Before reading these books, I was not particularly interested in philosophy because it seemed rather dense and not particularly applicable for my situation and interests- however, I see now that I was wrong. Philosophy is directly related to education! This book had discussion questions at the end of each chapter which I reviewed and this, as well, ensured my understanding of the reading as well as its uses in my life and in my career. This book provided a variety of wonderful ideas and thoughts, and made me think a great deal about my own education and my beliefs about what a perfect education would be like.

Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jaques Derrida to Joseph Beuys (reviewed by Elle)

Thinking Culture

Elle Wolterbeek
November 27, 2004
Book Review #4

Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jaques Derrida to Joseph Beuys
By Gregory L. Ulmer
The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1985.

Book Review:
Paul suggested that I read this book to better inform my understanding of composition studies in the current culture, as well as to further understand philosophy in education. I found this book to be both fascinating and dense at once. To help my understanding, I read the book Philosophy of Education by Nel Noddings concurrently, and this helped me a great deal. I used the second text for my fifth book review (also posted) and found this to be a great combination. While the books are quite different, the second text helped to form a foundation of knowledge that was quite applicable to the first text. So, if you are like me, and do not have a foundational knowledge of Derrida and his ideas of education, or the ideas of other philosophers (Dewey, Socrates, Plato, Rousseau, etc.), and you plan to read Applied Grammatology, than I would suggest reading both books, either at the same time (so that you can refer to different sections of each), or to start with Nel Noddings text and then move on to Ulmer’s. With that said, I will break down the primary ideas of Ulmer’s text in parts and chapters below. As I mentioned, the text is quite dense and presents a multitude of ideas and concepts, so I will share what I found to be the most influential and thought provoking.

Part I.
Grammatology is defined, in this text, as a new organization of cultural studies. This text looks at grammatology as a new mode of writing, one that could bring the language and literature disciplines into a more responsive relationship with the current era of communication technology. Ulmer recognizes three theories/phases of writing:
• History of writing
• Theory of writing
• Application of both history and theory of writing (this would be considered grammatology).
Grammatology hopes to provide a theory for a mode of research that goes beyond the norm, which currently includes only the history of writing. During the 18th century (modernist) period it was realized that the science of writing occurred in literature, which caused theorists, philosophers, and educators alike to reconsider the manner in which writing was taught and considered. The metaphysical tradition is the primary obstacle of grammatology and Western metaphysics/thought leads to an instrumental and technist view of writing.

At this time, Derrida began to practice a mode of writing which is no longer subordinated to speech or thought- a writing no longer functioning as a representation of speech, in which the hierarchy of thought, speech and writing is collapsed. The evolution of writing is covered, with a discussion of the development and perfection of the alphabet by the Greeks, and in its earliest stages of development, writing was associated with drawing and the visual arts in general, never having more than a loose connection with speaking until phoneticization transformed it into a representation of the spoken word. (Isn’t that fascinating?!!)

The above covers the Grammatology section which introduces the reader to the history, evolution and development of Writing and the role which Grammatology plays and what it is. The continuation of this section (Part I) reviews writing as practiced by Derrida, meaning that it is more than simply deconstruction (which would be composition) and is also a mode of analysis. Derrida’s exploration of nondiscursive levels of images, puns, models and homophones is presented as an alternative mode of composition and is intended to be applicable to academic works, which creates invention. This invention differs from the typical analysis or criticism and relies heavily on images, which relates to current Western thought in that now (following Derrida’s theory of writing) thought is investigated at two levels, words and things. And so, grammatology is “not confined to books and articles, but is addressed more comprehensively to the needs of multichanneled performance- in the classroom and in video and film as well”, which Ulmer goes on to suggest may actually mean that when Derrida discusses Writing, he is actually discussing Scripting.


Part II.
In this section, Derrida is further summarized and discussed in his relation to pedagogy and the implications of his ideas. Jacques Lacan, Joseph Beuys, and Sergei Eisenstein are also discussed and used as models of the application of grammatology in the classroom. Their role in historical grammatology (the scientific study of the history of writing) is also reviewed, but introduced as incomplete. The main idea of this section is that grammatology requires the introduction of the subject into the teaching, and each teacher must put their own stamp of authenticity on the curriculum, which would depend on the instructor/teacher’s areas of knowledge and expertise. “We must begin wherever we are and the thought of the trace which cannot take the scent into account, has already taught us that it was impossible to justify a point of departure absolutely. Wherever we are: in a text where we already believe ourselves to be” (162).

This section of the book is also focused on putting speech back in its place while looking at the current scene of writing, and identifying the pedagogical principles associated with applied grammatology, particularly in regards to the current state of electronic media-which is primarily considered as the television. Ulmer addresses Derrida’s essay on education in Politiques, further examining Derrida’s direct statements on education, in particular in regards to the idea that “deconstruction has always had a bearing in principle on the apparatus and the function of teaching in general.” Derrida believed that while deconstruction had a role in education, limiting education to deconstruction made the teacher’s job particularly easy and did not encourage the building of knowledge in the classroom. He also felt that it did not allow for the privacy of his teaching practice. Actually, I don’t really understand what Derrida is saying in this section and I did try to further my understanding of his idea of publicly vs. privacy in teaching practice, but I was not able to further my understanding. So I just included this for those of you who know everything about Derrida. I do, however, understand the relation this has to Derrida’s idea of the institution as a political body, and his idea that by deconstructing the institution (as a political body), we introduce heterogeneous forces that both deform and transform it, with the risk that such forces may be unreceivable.

The most interesting idea in this section of the book was, to me, the discussion of the debate between C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis, which involved the distinction between knowing “the truth (discovered dialectically) and presenting this truth, once known, in a way that would convince or persuade others (rhetorically)” (160). This section discusses the break between philosophy and literature and the consequences of this rupture which broke into two styles- plain/scientific, and rhetorical/literary. Another interesting discussion-and the one that was most relevant to my own experiences and career-is the section addressing the challenge of presenting-in teaching-the “essentials of the humanities to a non-specialized and untrained public in a way that involves “real knowledge,” rather than mere spectacle of the same.”

Ulmer completes the text by reviewing Post(e)-Pedagogy in Seminar (looking at Jacques Lacan), Performance (using Joseph Beuys as an example), and Film (reviewing Sergei Eisenstein). Ultimately, Ulmer makes the argument that Derrida’s texts already reflect “an internalization of the electronic media.(303)” Ulmer believes that Derrida has made a deliberate choice to accept the new challenges, insights and the paradigm that electronic media presents in current teaching and pedagogy, particularly in Derrida’s understanding and negotiation of the transition between the print and media eras.

How I can use this text:
Overall, I am inclined to say that I need to read the book again before I can actively use the knowledge I gained from this book. At the very least, I need to read my pages and pages of notes from the text. I do think that I have a much clearer understanding of pedagogy in an electronic era, and I have a greater understanding of the philosophy of education, which is something I am lacking. I found quite a few interesting areas in the text that I would like to learn about further, particularly in regards to the section on Seminar and the discussion of Lacan, who sounds quite interesting. I also felt that the first part was of particular interest for me as it presented different views of writing and the use of deconstruction. At the very least, this text has provided an opportunity for me to reconsider my current teaching practices and pedagogy and my use of the electronic media in my teaching.

Orientalism - Edward Said (Sana)

Sana Haque

Text: Orientalism

Author: Edward Said

Publisher: New York: Pantheon, 1978. 368 pp.

Author:
With the publication of this book, Edward Said had an impact on fields ranging from literary studies to political science to postcolonial studies. Said, who died in 2003, was a Palestinian-American professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University. In his later life, he became a controversial figure for expressing radical political views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He wrote Orientalism while at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford University in the 1970s.

Text:
Orientalism examines the Western academic field of "Oriental Studies" in terms of how its discourses have shaped and structured a fictionalized and exoticized "Orient" that serves as the subaltern Other for the West. It states that Orientalist academic discourse served political and imperialist ends, despite its claims to "objective" neutrality. It specifically examines British, French, and American constructions of the Middle East and North Africa from the 18th century to the present, but is applicable to discourses on other parts of the Orient (China, India, etc.) as well. In Said's words, Orientalism is the Western "corporate institution for dealing with the Orient -- dealing with it by making statements about it, authoring views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short... a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient" (Orientalism, 1978: 3).

Key Words/Terms:

Orientalism - A set of discursive scholarly and literary practices with political motivations that create an image of the mysterious, feminine "Orient" as the Other to the rational, articulate, masculine West.

The Orient - The "Orient" is less an actual geographical or cultural territory than a fictional construction of the Western world's subaltern mirror image, propagated by means of representations in various forms of media.

Knowledge as power - A concept from Foucault, implying that the production of bodies of knowledge acts as a site for power in its impact upon the world.

The "Other" - The oppositional image of the "foreign", i.e. the representation of
alterity that negatively defines an individual or culture's sense of "Self" by contrast.

Affiliated Discourses & Historical/Cultural Context:
Some of Said's influences in this work include Foucault, Gramsci, and the French socialist author Anwar Abdel-Malek. He particularly uses Foucault's ideas about knowledge as a site for the production of power. Said writes from the starting point of the tradition of literary studies and criticism, but with an interdisciplinary perspective that covers representation in fields such as history, anthropology, and visual art. He writes with a stated personal interest in the issues at hand, as he identifies himself as occupying the dual identities of both an "Oriental" and a scholar within Western academia. The book is credited as a major influence on the burgeoning field of postcolonial studies that was prompted by the emergence of newly independent Third World countries in the mid-twentieth century.

Applications/Thoughts:
Said's critique has a continuing applicability to the contemporary political and cultural scene, i.e. Western attitudes towards Arabs and the Middle East (or the Third World/Global South in general) as they show up in distorted media biases and pop culture depictions, political commentary based on stereotyping, paternalistic economic and "development" policies, and so on. The level of controversy that surrounded Said's political activism and the extent to which this was used to discredit him as a scholar is interesting as it relates to the questions he raises in the introduction to this book about the viability and truthfulness of academic "objectivity".

Monday, November 22, 2004

Spivak, Death of a Discipline (Dnyanada)

Death Of a discipline

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Columbia University Press, 2003.

These are three lectures delivered by Gayatri Spivak in the University of California, Irvine under the auspices of the Critical Theory Institute. Spivak’s concerns are three fold;

∑ Disciplinary
∑ Methodological
∑ Linguistic-axiological

The three essays deal with the issues relating to the problematic and politics of the disciplines making them inefficient to understand and compare the cross- cultural realities. She argues that the disciplines such as Comparative Literature founded on inter-European hospitality, as area studies had been spawned by interregional vigilance. Area Studies departments in the US Universities were federally funded by the title VI and title VIII grants which were distributed in the wake of the cold war.

As the disciplines themselves get situated within the larger political framework, the possibilities of the “knowledge production” get punctuated by the concerns of that politics. Spivak argues not for the politics of hostility but rather towards a politics of friendship that has potentials to shape the knowledge production within the context of these disciplines.

The three lectures delivered by Spivakk are titled

1. Crossing Borders
2. Collectivities
3. Planetarity

Spivak argues that the instruction of axiology is disappearing in the Universities and at times it gets taught in an implicit way. For example the marked erasure of any Marxist critique of capitalism from the syllabi of any business school.

In the first lecture, Spivak sets the stage for the argument demonstrating how the disciplines frame the discourse. She argues that, “ In order to reclaim the role of teaching literature as training the imagination- the great inbuilt instrument of othering-, we may, if we work as hard as old fashioned Comp. Lit. is known to be capable of doing, come close to the irreducible work of translation, not from language to language but from body to ethical semiosis, that incessant shuttle that is a ‘life’.”

Spivak pursues this argument as she claims that the “Comparative literature and Area studies can work together in the fostering not only national literatures of the global south but also of the writings of countless indigenous languages in the world that were programmed to vanish when the maps were made.”

By looking at the languages and the politics of naming and erasure of those languages Spivak tries to contextualize the politics of globalization. The other two essays deal with the comprehension of the collectivities in the post-structuralist context. Is it possible to understand communities or we have to develop a more comprehensive notion of planetarity that can offer critical insights into the formations of transnational linkages in the context of globalization.

I found this text extremely relevant in order to frame the context of postcolonial understanding of the Bollywood films. As the production and consumption of Bollywood software involves global and virtual locales.

Spivak’s essays inspire to frame the lens to look at the possibility of politics of friendship between film studies and area studies.

Elizabeth Dauphinee "Reflections on a past that is always present" - Maria Stoianova

Elizabeth Dauphinée. Reflections on a Past that is Always Present. (Doctoral Dissertation: York University, Toronto, 2004).

This dissertation, in the words of the author, is an effort at reflection, at a conversation, at humbling. The main character is a Serbian man by the name of Stojan Sokolovic; the place: Bosnia and the time: the years after 1992. Elizabeth reflects on the (im)possibility of representation, on the injustice inherent in any effort of containing the “other” within a familiar scheme of knowing. Her academic research in Bosnia uncovers for her not only the academic violence inherent in field work, that is, a violence sustaining above all else the discipline of political science, but also the very real perpetuation and dissemination by scholars of “appropriate” forms of discrimination, differentiation, and exclusion. She suggests that the desire to know ourselves is directly dependent on the ability of others to know us, on their unspoken willingness to recognize our claims to subjectivity and on their hospitality (though often ignored) toward a humanity that is homeless in its origins.

Elizabeth questions the authority of expert knowledge and uncovers the very practices by which it is acquired in field research: the mind-numbing interviews, the theoretical commitments, the tourist gaze that consumes, changes and normalizes the object of study; the crippled attempts to speak a foreign language, the ethics board reviewers’ stringent and dehumanizing requirements and the disciplining practices guiding the translation of first-hand “expertise” into articles, books, tenure. In order that one is positioned within the discipline of International Relations, she maintains, one has to find a place where to fit and align oneself within the scientific commitments of research. The very possibility of presenting the truth delivered from the mouth of the field researcher is exposed for its arbitrariness, its momentary and fluctuating nature, and in its instability. She juxtaposes imagining and seeing in attempts at reconstructing and organizing experiences into an orderly story, “because darkness is something Other” (12).

Academic writing is revealed as being overly committed to achieving the potential for knowledge, that is, scientific knowledge: “Knowledge manifests itself as a grasping – a groping – of perception, comprehension, repetition, a subsuming of the Other into a framework of intelligibility that orders alterity into a category of taxonomy” (29). Elizabeth’s ‘methodology’ is derived from a Levinasian responsibility to alterity she posits as ethically prior to any ontological commitment or certitude. For her, “Impressions are knowledge . . . the taste left in the mouth from a half-remembered conversation is knowledge . . . my grief and the grief that others have allowed me to see is knowledge . . . love and the ability to love is knowledge” (16). The idea of thinking past opens boundaries and does away with the concept of boundaries altogether, with the ontological certitude that is inherent in their protection, construction and imposition. The work of a field researcher, in order that it does not commit injustice towards its subjects, must understand itself as originating within economies of violence. That is, the researcher studying a Serbian man guilty of murder, too, is “an injurious one, a perpetrator” (14) who, nevertheless, cannot keep silent for silence is also a decision; it is complicity that allows for the perpetuation of physical, emotional and discursive violence.
Elizabeth turns to an ethics that is beyond the discipline of International Relations, an ethics that is drunk with a love grown sour from too much analysis, from too much positioning, from too many accusations. “That is a love that is not bankrupt of justice . . . It is a love that contemplates the possibility of forgiveness” (25). In an attempt to position herself as a subject ethically responsible to its others, Elizabeth calls for a responsibility to the guilty, to the murderer, to the monster who is also locked within a violence that knows him only as guilty, a murderer, a monster. “I am not burdened by my love of the innocent . . . The burden lay in the love of the guilty, in the love for the guilty. . . And this binds me in measure beyond measurement, because of my love, because of my lack of it, and because grief, like violence, is not a think that can be washed from the skin like salt” (26). Her search is not for an external generalizability of conclusions for spanning the central questions that define the discipline of International Relations lies the responsibility to see beyond ethnic conflict and the boundaries of the state, that is, beyond natural categories of opposition between a Self and an-Other, between the citizen and the foreigner, between the victim and the perpetrator. “I am responsible to speak to him, not of him, not about him, not for him, I am responsible not to silence him, but to regard him with silence – to stand in silence for the suffering he has caused and for the suffering caused still. I am obligated to silence before the perpetrator in the space that awaits justice. Silence accuses without formulating a narrative on the violence which struggles always to justify what is not justifiable – which is to say, itself” (199).

Importantly, the ‘other’ is a break in the cohesion of the world, a call to ethics at the border crossing. Elizabeth deconstructs the fluid, stable and immobile categories defining the main debates within International Relations, debates that understand identity to be based on past conceptions of itself only so that it can situate itself within present anti-historical commitments and political agenda. For her, deconstruction is useful precisely because “its very character is to avoid totalizing, exclusionary goals” (44) legitimizing the advancement of political goals. Deconstruction makes it impossible to decide who the victim and who the victimizer is, the relationship cannot be established a priori, it exists only in the moment of encounter.

Elizabeth draws an interesting analogy between fieldwork and tourism, uncovering a parallel between the prying gaze of the former into what are perceived as exotic and authentic worlds, and the latter’s claim to scientific authenticity and authority by virtue of having been there. That is, having the academic credentials to interview, the money to purchase a plane ticket and the right passport to enter the war zone does not change the fact that the academic as a witness reminds of the tourist, the consumer. BUT, the ‘other’ also has the force to resists so that witnessing goes hand in hand with being witnessed. The academic gaze is also the gaze of the institution: “the technology of the gaze allows for both the representation and the disciplining of the object of study, which no longer had anywhere to go to get out from under it” (63). Thus, the scholar as an expert is called to make sense of people, a place, a custom, a culture by containing them within an ontological straightjacket. The academic as a tourist understands the native always from the lens of Western engagement, through guidebooks, maps, agents and translation and thus, he essentializes, totalizes, consumes and represents the native as a spectacle, a thing. Additionally, the claim of having been there allows for the production of knowledge based on some sort of authoritative actual physical engagement and partaking with the Other. The tourist gaze is professionalized by academics; it is “a detached and superficial process” inventing places to suit its purpose and its research agenda. Adventure tourism, once turned into academic fieldwork, soon yields itself to being “war tourism,” a spectacle, “a quest for the extraordinary – for the extraordinarily exterior” (81).

Casting a critical eye on accepted practices of doing field research, Dauphinée suggests that any level of ethical sensitivity and responsibility necessarily leads to estrangement but that, precisely of this estrangement, the researcher is obliged to re-examine her role as an unproblematized middleman between theory and the real world. The self is always inherent and present between the lines of writing and mainstream scholarly research is disillusioned in thinking itself immune to subjectivity, partiality and disorder. “Meaning is fundamentally betrayed by the opacity, the undecidability, and the inscrutability of fixing meaning in time, space, and temperament” (102). Order, as suggested also by Zygmunt Bauman, is a myth. The researcher and the subject are engaged in a relationship of power precisely because the former has the ability to decide what shall be written and what will count as a legitimate narrative. Because only certain stories are chosen and only certain testimonies are represented, “things are vested with significance through the identification of their relationship with other things, events, people and places” (93).

Importantly, representation is bound in trust – and in its lack (118). Trusting that representations are true ignores the fact that they are, indeed, exchangeable for the realities which they claim to uncover. With this in mind, it is clear that a recognition and care for the pain of others obliges the researcher to understand justice outside the imperative of the written law. Justice is, on the other hand, reliant on the impossibility of making a decision, “undecidability points to the impossibility of decision without ordeal – without suffering – without that any number of possibilities may be chosen and may injure, or may be ignored and injure worse. . . . The moment of decision becomes a madness that has no anchoring rationality . . . and justice is always ‘to come’” (129-30). This is not to suggest that justice and representation are impossible, but that it is important to realize that there is love in violence and pain in happiness and that there is no one master narrative, that language is contingent and always oppressive but that, additionally, the choice to break the silence is a responsibility inherent in the human condition and in interacting with Others. Justice requires action and the pain of others, precisely because it weighs on us; it requires that theory recognize it as suffering clothed in human tears, sweat and blood. It is not enough for the researcher to recognize that “I am implicated in the power and power relations simply in the act of writing, and of representing” – it is imperative that one writes with whit self-accusation in mind, and write responsibly and well, though often from the politically bankrupt and ethically empty space that is sometimes the academic one.