Palgrave Macmillan just released Pedagogies in the Flesh: Case Studies on the Embodiment of Sociocultural Differences in Education. The volume contains over 30 short, true stories, anecdotes, vignettes, illustrations, what have you, as well as a preface by Freirean scholar Antonia Darder. I contributed a chapter titled “Black Counter-Gazes in a White Room,” which explores three classroom experiences in which students of color challenged white normativity. Overall, Pedagogies in the Flesh “presents a collection of vivid, theoretically informed descriptions of flashpoints–educational moments when the implicit sociocultural knowledge carried in the body becomes a salient feature of experience. The flashpoints will ignite critical reflection and dialogue about the formation of the self, identity, and social inequality on the level of the preconscious body.” The volume received excellent reviews by Emily Lee, Charles Mills, Mariana Ortega, George Yancy, and others.
I’m planning to give my first year undergraduates a worksheet designed to help them engage with the theological and philosophical texts we study during our course. I’ve noticed that a lot of my students struggle to find critical ways into the texts, and I’m hoping that giving them some fairly generic questions to work through will help them find ways in. I’m planning to talk through the list of questions when I hand them out then use them as a basis for some of our seminar discussions over the rest of the semester so that the students can get a handle on how to use them.
Here’s the list of questions I’ve drafted so far; I’d really appreciate any comments/suggestions/wisdom gleaned from other people’s teaching experience, and of course you’re welcome to appropriate these for yourself if they look like they’d help you in your own teaching:
Continue reading “A guide to close reading”
Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for the course I’m teaching this semester on Gender, Sexuality and the Bible. I’ve now finished the module handbook and am pretty excited about teaching it. At my institution we run a bunch of courses for both second and third year undergraduate, which means that everyone sits in on our weekly classes, and then the third year students get additional advanced seminars every other week. I’ve designed the main body of the course to run thematically, ranging across both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament; the advanced seminar will focus in depth on the Song of Songs (special shout out to Jared Beverley whose advice on this was totally invaluable).
The course overview is as follows:
WEEK 1: Introducing the Bible, Gender and Sexuality
WEEK 2: Creating Gender: Eve and Her Daughters
WEEK 2 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Introducing the Song of Songs
WEEK 3: Reproducing Gender: Abraham and His Sons
WEEK 4: Troubling Gender: Bodily Fluids
WEEK 4 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Feminist Readings of the Song of Songs
WEEK 5: Questioning Binary Gender
WEEK 6: Homosexuality? Sodom and Leviticus
WEEK 6 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Constructing Gender in the Song of Songs
WEEK 7: Homosexuality? Sinners and Lovers
WEEK 7 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Queering the Song of Songs
WEEK 8: ALTERNATIVE ENRICHMENT WEEK
WEEK 9: Marriage
WEEK 10: The Bible and Sexual Violence
WEEK 10 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Troubling Desire in the Song of Songs
WEEK 11: Sex Work and the Bible
WEEK 12: Oral exams
You can take a look at the complete module handbook here.
Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for my Great Christian Thinkers course. It’s taken me a lot of work to figure out how to balance all the different elements I needed to incorporate: how to make it interesting to philosophers and theologians, how to balance introducing Augustine with introducing key concepts and problematics in Christian theology with taking my students through some basic study and essay writing skills. But I think I’ve cracked it, and am really excited to teach the course. I’ve decided to frame the course as a whole around Phillip Goodchild’s claim that that if, pace Plotinus, philosophy is ‘what matters most’, then what matters most is suffering. The course as a whole, then, is designed to take the students through key primary and secondary texts that will help them to write a formative essay on the topic: ‘Why and how does suffering matter in the work of Augustine?’ and because those essays will be due before the final class of the semester, we’ll spend that last class on a class debate which will give us a chance to talk about whether or not Augustine can help us in answering the question ‘what matters most?’ for ourselves. Then in Semester 2 we’ll spend time going through a range of key Christian thinkers (I’m still figuring out how to construct that canon) with an eye to how they deal with the question of suffering and what matters most.
I’m hoping that the focus on suffering will give us an interesting and focused way into the major themes of both Augustine’s work and Christian thought more broadly, so the course is structured as follows:
WEEK 1: What Matters Most
WEEK 2: Augustine, Theology, and the Problem of Suffering
WEEK 3: God, Evil and the Nature of Suffering
WEEK 4: The Fall
WEEK 5: Free to Suffer?
WEEK 6: The Devil
WEEK 7: ENRICHMENT WEEK
WEEK 8: Suffering Desire, Desiring Suffering
WEEK 9: Suffering and the Ethics of Sacrifice
WEEK 10: Political Suffering: A Tale of Two Cities
WEEK 11: Political Suffering: War
WEEK 12: What Matters Most?
Here’s the complete module handbook, with weekly readings and overviews of what ground I hope to cover in each class.
Shortly after the election, there was a dispute on the left as to whether “alt-right” was an acceptable term. Many rightly viewed it as a euphemism meant to obscure white-supremacist, Nazi-sympathizing beliefs and concluded that those who used the term were complicit with the deplorables’ attempt to “rebrand.” I was among those who believed that the term was analytically helpful, especially because the rhetorical effect of the euphemism could be defused simply by associating “alt-right” with racism, Nazism, etc., at every turn. Calling them neo-Nazis is accurate in a literal sense, but they are clearly not “Neo-Nazi skinheads,” which is the popular sense of that term.
In other words, I believe the term alt-right is potentially helpful in capturing what is distinctive about the contemporary articulation of extreme right-wing racist ideology. In general, I think we need to get better at recognizing that there is no “racism in general” — in every historical moment, the social and political tools clustered around the concept of race are rearticulated in new and often unpredictable ways. As this article on online radicalization of young white men shows, a lot of what we are seeing today in alt-right circles is surprising in light of the conventional wisdom that racism is some kind of outdated holdover that will soon die out. In many ways, they are ahead of the curve in terms of things like meme culture, translating online engagement into real-world action, etc., not to mention that they have managed to ditch the leather clothing and find their way to a J. Crew (always a big focus for the media for some reason).
And this brings me to the Benjamin allusion in the title — though we see it less and less, there are still a lot of people who think you can read off the appropriate level of social justice by looking at the calendar. But once we recognize the distinctiveness of the alt-right, we can see that racism isn’t some random leftover of a bygone era, but a phenomenon that is incorporated into our present social order and political moment. It is not the return of the repressed, it is the exacerbation of something in the present. In other words, the violence at Charlottsville did not happen despite the fact that it’s 2017, but precisely because it is 2017 and not some other historical moment. We can’t just wait for white supremacy to die off through demographic attrition. It’s not solely a struggle against the dead weight of an older, less enlightened generation or the inertia of institutional structures, though it is also that. This is our problem, right now.
Exactly sixty years ago, Jacques Lacan conducted his 5th seminar, Formations of the Unconscious, treating the phallus, castration, and jokes, and presenting the first version of the graph of desire.
One year ago, InterCcECT conducted a mini-seminar with Professor Chris Breu on the newly released Seminar 10: Anxiety. Join us this year for a reprise, with the newly released Seminar 5: Formations of the Unconscious. We will focus on the sections on “The Dialectic of Desire and Demand” – contact us for pdfs.
Monday, 14 August, 4pm, Volumes Bookcafe (Blue Line: Damen)
As always, write interccect at gmail dot com to propose events, and like us on Facebook for frequent links and commentary.
Reading over some of my old work on the theme of divine and revolutionary violence in Žižek today it struck me how odd it is that although his discussion of these themes relies very heavily on Benjamin’s Critique of Violence, whose discussion of the different forms of violence revolves around the different forms of strike and the different types of state repression of strikes, nowhere in Žižek’s own work does he mention the strike as a form of political action. Probably the closest he comes is in his repeated invocation of Bartleby the Scrivener’s one-man strike which, despite Žižek’s repeated appeal to its political efficacy, results not in any general transformation of Bartleby’s workplace but simply the reordering of precisely the same system in a different location – that is to say, Bartleby fails to effect any meaningful change because while he as an individual worker in an individual office refuses to work or to leave the building, there remain plenty of other workers and other offices. The only form of collective action Žižek seems able to imagine is totally spontaneous and unorganised – the fictional refusal of the characters in Saramago’s Seeing to fill out their ballots, various riots which always, on Žižek’s reading, emerge out of nowhere – or organised around a single charismatic leader – here Gandhi is one of Žižek’s favoured examples, and again he focuses on classically liberal terrain, ‘consumer boycotts’. When he writes about the organised political action of the demonstrations in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown he can’t recognise the role of collective organising at work, describing them in the face of evidence to the contrary as ‘“irrational” violent demonstrations with no concrete programmatic demands, sustained by just a vague call for justice’, and comparing them to divine violence in Benjamin’s sense as ‘means without ends, not part of a long-term strategy’ – suggesting that he doesn’t really understand the idea of the general strike which is so central to Benjamin’s discussion. As his use of Benjamin indicates, it’s clearly not that Žižek doesn’t read the work of actually existing Marxists, though he’s much less interested in Marxists in general than he is in Lacanians and Hegelians. But it’s a striking lacuna in his work, and more generally indicative of his limitations as a political theorist, especially of his inability to imagine the use of deliberate and organised collective action.