3 May 2014


Perhaps it is time to decide who these students are, and what a (future) teacher is. Deleuze and Guattari invoke a conceptual persona (personnage conceptuel) from Greek philosophy: the teacher. In the face of that tradition, I end on a figure of the teacher that is both a traditionalist and a theatrical gesture.
In philosophy, this figure is usually the lover. In her book What Can She Know? Feminist Epistemology and the Construction of Knowledge, Lorraine Code takes this tradition and turns it around. For Code, the concept-metaphor that best embodies her ideal is the friend, not the lover. Moreover, the conceptual persona of the friend - the model of friendship - is not embedded in a definition of philosophy but of knowledge. This definition is necessarily one that takes knowledge as provisional. If the authority of the author/artist, as well as that of the teacher, is unfixed, then the place it vacates can be occupied by theory. Paul de Man defined theory long ago as 'a controlled reflection on the formation of method'. The teacher, then, no longer holds the authority to dictate the method; her task is only to facilitate a reflection that is ongoing and interactive. Knowledge is knowing that reflection cannot be terminated. Moreover, to use Shoshana Felman's phrase, knowledge is not to learn something about but to learn something from. Knowledge, not as a substance or content 'out there' waiting to be appropriated but as the 'how-to' aspect that the subtitle of the present book indicates, bears on such learning from the practice of interdisciplinary cultural analysis.
Within the framework of the present book, and of Felman's description of teaching as facilitating the condition of knowledge, Code's apparently small shift from lover to friend is, at least provisionally, a way out of the philosophy/humanities misfit. Friendship is a paradigm for knowledge-production, the traditional task of the humanities, but then production as interminable process, not as preface to a product. Code lists the following features of friendship, as opposed to the lover's passion, as productive analogies for knowledge production:
  • such knowledge is not achieved at once, rather it develops     
  • it is open to interpretation at different levels     
  • it admits degrees       
  • it changes      
  • subject and object positions in the process of knowledge construction are reversible      
  • it is a never-accomplished constant process       
  • the 'more-or-lessness' of this knowledge affirms the need to reserve and revise judgment.      
—Mieke Bal Travelling Concepts in the Humanities

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