I’ve not posted on this blog since September, so this is a quick update of the various projects that I’ve been working on in the meantime.
First, I have been posting more regularly – particularly about the Teaching Excellence Framework – over at a blog for the Higher Education and Theory (HEAT) network that I help run at the University of Westminster, so please do consider following that blog at https://hetheory.wordpress.com/. HEAT is a transdiscipinary network for those interested in theoretical approaches to higher education, organized by myself, Steven Cranfield and Allan Parsons and runs three reading groups a year (texts so far have been by Hannah Arendt, Basil Bernstein, Gert Biesta, David Blacker, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Herbert Marcuse, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) and two ‘research labs’, in which participants offer short discussions of ideas that have influenced their teaching (presenters have included staff from Academic Liaison, Education & Professional Development, English, Linguistics & Cultural Studies, Politics & International Relations, Law, Media, Art &Design). We are always looking to expand the HEAT network through new members and new partnerships, so do get in touch if you want to be involved.
Second, I’m involved in organizing a conference with my HEAT colleagues and with Emil Bojesen on ‘Avant-Garde Pedagogies’ that will take place at the University of Westminster in summer 2016. The conference is being hosted by HEAT in collaboration with what will be the new Centre for the Philosophy of Education at the University of Winchester, and will be funded by the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture (Westminster). The first HEAT symposium took place in November last year, reflecting on the intersection of education and culture with talks by David Blacker, John Beck, Matthew Cornford and Nina Power. The conference next year will be looking at modern, contemporary and transdisciplinary theories of education and anti-education, through the lens of modernism and the avant-garde. We’re hoping a call for papers will go out next month, which will also include a list of confirmed invited speakers. More details to follow shortly, do contact me if you are interested in the event.
Third, I’ve been involved in the early stages of planning a panel on ‘Institutions’ as part of a bigger proposed conference on ‘The Hypothetical: Philosophy – History – Poesis’ at the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture (Westminster). More details will hopefully follow soon; here’s an early and unfinished version of the panel abstract:
Hypotheses are permitted in the realm of pure reason’, Kant argues, ‘only as weapons of war.’ If this concession enlists hypothetical reasoning within the violence of theoretical debate, Kant’s policing of the boundaries between the public and private use of reason (in his essay on the Enlightenment) and between the disciplines of the university (in The Conflict of the Faculties) draws attention to the conditions of institutional power under which such reasoning take place. What is the role of the hypothetical in contemporary institutions of education, culture and politics? Are there disciplinary limits to the role of the hypothetical? To what extent is the university itself a hypothesis? Does the capacity for hypothetical reasoning only develop in adolescence, as Piaget suggests, and if so does this place restrictions or limitations on the role of hypotheses in art, culture and thought? Today, is the hypothetical more likely to be driving the innovations of corporations than the conservative impulse of cultural institutions? Or have we become too reliant on the hypothetical, too governed by the hypothetical imperative: ’If you want to be inside the institution, then….’? If so, are we guilty of going through the hypothetical motions of thought and criticism from the safety of our institutional accommodations with society, of practicing what Robert Scholes has called a form of hypocriticism?
Fourth, I’m in the last stages of submitting a book proposal on Walter Benjamin and Goethe, which will deal with the other main area of my research, on early twentieth century modernism. The working title – which gives an indicate of the subject matter – is Goethe in Moscow: Walter Benjamin, Modernism, Transcritique, although I’ve been advised this is an unworkable title as it stands…
Fifth, I’ve been asked to contribute the chapter on Erziehung for a Handbook on Frankfurt School Critical Theory, which will aim to give a topical overview of critical theories (as opposed to ‘traditional theories’, in Horkheimer’s sense) of education.
Sixth, I’m helping to co-edit, with Emile Bojesen, Aislinn O’Donnell and John Petrovic, a forthcoming special issue of Studies in Philosophy and Education on the theme of ‘Education, in Spite of it All’. I’ll be contributing an article entitled ‘Teaching, In Spite of Teaching Excellence’, which will pick up some of my reflections on the Teaching Excellence Framework and connect these to some recent work I’ve been doing on the idea of ‘Teaching-Led Research’. I’ve circled around this idea a few times in talks and articles, drawing primarily on some suggestions made in a short book review by Walter Benjamin, and have been expanding this in critical relation to the work of bell hooks and Andrew Samuels and Elaine Showalter, George Levine, Gerald Graff and Robert Scholes.
Seventh, I’ve submitted a proposal abstract entitled ‘Capitalist Life and the Metamorphosis of the Undead in I Am Legend’ for the ‘Fiction and The Social Imaginary’ symposium being held at the University of York in March 2016. This connects to the other strand of my research on the relation of Benjamin’s work to utopianism, and what I’ve started to think about in terms of – playing on the English title of a collection of essay by Ernst Bloch – as the catastrophic function in contemporary culture. I’ve no idea if the proposal will be accepted but it promises to be an interesting event. Here’s the abstract for my proposed talk:
In accordance with Jameson and Zizek’s oft-quoted observation that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, the rise of post-apocalyptic fiction is said to reveal the limitations of the social imaginary in late capitalist societies. Adorno and Benjamin, however, suggest a subtly different explanation. In a conversation about the shrinking of utopian consciousness in technologically advanced societies, Adorno claims that it is our identification with death that goes beyond even our identification with existing social conditions. Here, perhaps, in our attitude towards the corporeality of death and the question of its overcoming (questions Benjamin associated with a different utopian will, concerning first rather than second nature) we run up against the real limits of the social imaginary.
Taking such a suggestion as a cue, this paper will examine the question of the social imaginary through an analysis of the living dead as a socio-political category within contemporary culture. Specifically, it will seek to address what the morphological transformations of the zombie reveal about contemporary society. Whereas other discussion have concentrated on the increasing speed exhibited by zombies in recent fiction, this paper will primarily focus on their shifting mode of being of the zombie itself, using as a guide the various film incarnations of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. Initially characterized as vampire-like, the fictional monsters of these films develop over time into the more familiar zombies of Francis Lawrence’s 2007 re-make. The alternative endings of this film reveal, I want to argue, the beginnings of a more recent trend towards the humanization of the zombies that is given fuller expression in series such as The Returned (2012/2015) and In the Flesh (2013/14). Here, zombies take on a mode of being closer to that of a “haunting” more characteristic of ghosts and spectres. Reworking Benjamin’s suggestion that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, this paper will examine what this attempt to re-integrate the monstrous figure of the zombie back into the social imaginary of the everyday in post-apocalyptic fiction – by humanizing, individualizing and empathizing with the undead – reveals about the conditions of life, work, death and apocalypse in contemporary capitalism.
Eighth, Peter Osborne and I updated the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on ‘Walter Benjamin’ over the summer, which has now been published online: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/Benjamin/
Ninth, the following articles will also hopefully be appearing at some point in the future:
- Pedagogy as Cryptic Politics: Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Nietzsche and the End of Education, forthcoming in a special issue of boundary 2 on ‘Walter Benjamin and Education’, eds. Matthew Charles and Howard Eiland.
- Secret Signals from Another World: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Innervation, currently being revised, following peer review for New German Critique.
- Critique of Pedagogic Violence, undergoing peer review for a special issue of Pedagogy, Culture and Society on ‘Walter Benjamin, Childhood and Pedagogy’, eds. Carrie Paechter and Michael Rosen.
- The Dialectic of Pedagogization, a version of a paper given for the panel on ‘Pedagogization’ for the Radical Philosophy 2015 conference in Berlin, is currently undergoing a major rewrite and will hopefully be accepted for publication in Radical Philosophy some time next year.