The something from within: asking of education's desire and impossibility.

Author:Lewkowich, David
Position:Essay
 
FREE EXCERPT

The rhythms of reading, always strange and silent, always present and piercing, often wrench me violently around in time and space, as piles of dog-eared books clutter and confuse the many surfaces of my life. Though sometimes, in books and other places, their song is a trace more serene, as their pulsings remind me of the melodies in my own breath. In recent months, I've frequently found myself at Deborah Britzman's Lost Subjects, Contested Objects (1998), and when I read over page 42, I am struck by the recurrence of a single sentence: "Something from within must pressure the learner." Halfway through the page we see it for the first time, and I am still taken slightly aback by the poetic simplicity of its structure, and then near the bottom we encounter it again, as refrain: "Something from within must pressure the learner." At first, I wrote off this textual echo as unintended and perhaps an editing mistake, despite the almost perfect cadence in its constitution. But now, after poring over the stain of its letters more than a few times, I recognize the significance of its journey. The words themselves enact a return, and the transferential relations of love and hate in pedagogical spaces, the unconscious return of which Britzman speaks, is made performance, and on my lips, is made flesh. And since as teachers, "our bodies are read as texts and ... we have no control over the meanings extracted" (Khayatt, 1999, p. 112), something from within must pressure the learner.

In what follows, and in trying to understand the substance of this "something" and the pulls of this "pressure," I explore the relations of desire and knowledge in spaces of teaching and learning. In situating myself as a teacher, a reader, a student, and an educational researcher, I am trying to grapple with the various ways that education is a felt experience, and the myriad unconscious movements that education simultaneously inspires and impedes.

In the first place, this foray into the passages of pedagogical desire is motivated by my own anxieties in teaching; revealing themselves through the swelling of a number of psychic and physical symptoms--night sweats, disturbing dreamscapes, stuttering, dizziness, and recurrent insomnia, which demonstrate, as jan jagodzinski (2004) puts it, "the way our libidinal bodies never stop 'writing themselves' as we proceed along the unknowable paths of our destiny" (p. 25). In their virtually unintelligible though always-insistent manner, my bodily and psychic selves (neither a unity nor a dichotomy, but confusedly switching between both and neither) were working together, as one, to question why I chose to return to high school as an adult, why I desired to be in a place where I was neither restful nor secure. As an adolescent, and though I certainly had my good days, school was often a place where I was made to feel a stranger to my own emotions, and despite the fact that I love the artful qualities of teaching and can hardly imagine myself in any other field, it was, and is, a vast and frightening proposition.

This article, then, is a search not so much for answers as for questions, and for a language and a grammar in which the questions of desire can be posed. In the classroom, as in the bedroom, the boardroom, and the street corner, we live in what Eber Hampton (1995) has called "an ocean of emotion" (p. 47), a moving swell of psychic energy that is human--downright too human--and through which we--as both teachers and students--variously vacillate in ways that necessarily provoke uncertainty, ambiguity, and disguise in our social relations, troubling the tropes of linearity, factic truth, and easy solutions.

Anticipatory and Affective Spaces of Learning

Unequivocally, spaces of learning are spaces of affect, where the movements and sometimes-simultaneous stasis of such emotional provocations as boredom, shame, guilt, anxiety, confusion, curiosity, spontaneity, and surprise (among countless others) rub insistently against love, hate, and desire, and the persistent problem of bodies in the classroom. These are bodies that touch and get touched, and bodies that we all too often forget about, "as inevitable as they are inevitably denied" (Silin, 1999, p. 101). But along with this forgetting--this problematic passion for ignorance and turning away--there is also always a return. And invariably, we teachers have met these ghosts--these "skeletons in the classroom closet" (Provencal, 2008)--before: as children stuck into rooms with other children, rooms that typically made no sense; as university students and instructors taking up--and sometimes resisting against--"the habitus of the academic" (Probyn, 2005, p. 49); and as student teachers in paradoxical spaces of interpretation, risk, observation, and discomfort. As Britzman (2003) notes of this strange return, "because teachers were once students . their sense of the teacher's world is strangely established before they begin learning to teach" (p. 1). In these spaces of schooling, then, not only do the temporalities of learning move forever back and forth, but our histories also catch up with us while remaining elusive and intangible--an uncanny and slippery simultaneity, of ineffable presence and disquieting absence.

In evoking the performatively authoritative stance of the teacher, I am doing so in reference to Judith Butler's (2006) understanding of Derrida's reading of Kafka's Before the Law, where, as she puts it, "one ... waits for the law," and while waiting, "attributes a certain force to the law for which one waits" (p. xv). It is in this way that the normative functions and topographies of schooling are given their durable nature, for most of what many students do in school is unarguably an often overvalued form of bureaucratic waiting. Likewise, new teachers often wait for the moment when their adoption of a 'teacher identity' feels natural and secure, an impossibly interminable sense of marking and tracing time. While waiting, "the anticipation of an authoritative disclosure of meaning," whether at school, in line at the bank, or at a desk in a government office, "is the means by which that authority is attributed and installed: the anticipation conjures its object" (Butler, 2006...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP