I love teaching, and I’m always thinking about pedagogy and obsessing about how my classes are going, what my students are ‘getting out of’ our classes, and how they feel about what they’re learning or failing to understand. When I reflect on teaching, I come up with two ways in which I love it. On the one hand, I love that I get to teach for a living. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing precisely what I set out to do when I chose this career path. Beyond my love of teaching, I realize that I love my students not for what they bring to the teaching experience (although, that’s of course true), but also in a very different way.
When I tune in to the news these days, there’s a nightmarish quality to many of the stories I read or hear. From the completely retro contraceptive and abortion ‘debates’, the assault on women’s reproductive rights, the immunization of doctors from the duty of reasonable standards of disclosure (this one’s for you, AZ), to the senseless murder of young black Americans and Afghan families. And, of course, the GOP assault on higher education and funding for public universities like the one my students attend. News like this makes me despair about democracy, not as such, but particularly when it yields policy that restricts human rights and funds unjust wars, and elects governors who devise naive budgets. Democracy is a terrifying business at times, or perhaps always.
The thing is, I love democracy just as much as the next person. Kind of like I love a good thriller, or at least for some of the same reasons. And part of loving democracy is loving the people who constitute a democratic society. This is often difficult to do, unless you realize that hating a person and hating an idea/ideology are two completely different things. This is a lesson that bears constant repeating in the classroom. Why do I teach philosophy students about democracy, ethics, inequality, civil resistance, human rights, and all the rest of it? Because I love them as persons and I want to be able to increase the number of persons whose ideas I also love. I want to decrease the number of harmful ideologies that people are taking seriously. Progress is not only about decreasing the number of despicable persons and policies in power, but also about decreasing the number of despicable ideas circulating as live political options. For me, this is a practical imperative for philosophy: the neutralization of harmful, ignorant, and discriminatory ideas in the public sphere. Hope for a better democracy is, for me, necessarily entwined with my love of teaching.
Levi’s got some nice reflections on philosophical style up at Larval Subjects. I symptahize with the majority of his points, including this one:
The frustrating thing I encounter among continentals again and again is that all too often (a statistical claim), it seems impossible for there to be a genuine disagreement over positions. If one says “I disagree with X on Y because of Z”, the general response is “you’ve misinterpreted X.” In other words, it seems as if the texts of figures are endlessly transformed into Midas’ labyrinth, where the figure being discussed is granted sovereign authority and is the only one permitted to articulate positions and where any evaluation of positions is infinitely deferred behind interpretive disputes.
I’ve met this ‘misinterpretation’ rebuttal recently, with pretty serious consequences. Not only does the strategy described neutralize dissenting interpretations of continental philosopher X, they also neutralize or invalidate dissent from the secondary accounts of continental philosopher X given by continental philosopher X’s adherents. So much of continental philosophy gets filtered through translations and ‘reading guides’ and introductions, that something like an interpretive barrier gets erected around continental philosopher X’s reception in the Anglophone world (assuming that continental philosopher X writes in French, German, Italian, etc). When that barrier is guarded by a body of well-established exponents and expositors, it can become nearly impossible to breach the interpretive barrier and enter the fortress.
This is not where Levi goes with his discussion (which you should look at for yourself), but it got me thinking about how difficult it can be to ‘break into’ the continental publishing world when your interpretations or positions cut against the grain, and when it’s the grain that decides whether you sink or swim.
The NYT has the numbers here.
Bobby George and I have published the first issue of our new journal, Singularum. The issue is devoted to the work of Alphonso Lingis and includes many great contributors, as well as two interviews and a bit of poetry. You can check it out HERE. (And I encourage you to do so!)
For some insight into the design, execution, and experience of Singularum, we’re blogging about it.
Find it HERE. From the website (which is currently under construction):
Environmental Humanities is an international, open-access journal that aims to invigorate current interdisciplinary research on the environment. In response to a growing interest around the world in the many questions that arise in this era of rapid environmental and social change, the journal will publish outstanding scholarship that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, and with the natural and social sciences.