A premature post, hoping there will be more later, but listen to this sound bite from Laclau:

“The ‘people without history’ have occupied center stage to the point of shattering the very notion of teleological historicity.  So forget Hegel.”

Education, Love, Worldliness

One of the (many) hard things about the fact that Scott Walker won the recall election, is that it means that: 1) people don’t care about public education 2) that people can’t explain why people should care about education 3) that people actually believe that Walker isn’t destroying public education.  It shouldn’t be hard to explain why public education matters, why Walker is systematically destroying it, or what the value of education is (even in a time when it is underfunded).  The conversation seems to turn on the assumption that public schools are failing – this is a call to action for democrats, but, for republicans, usually only a reason to privatize or find ‘new’ modes of education.

Hannah Arendt’s essay, “The Crisis in Education” helpfully articulates what education should be, and what it should be about – love of the world:

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.  And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world” (196)

Given my suspicion of certain kinds of worldliness as well as certain kinds of arguments made on behalf of futurity, I don’t embrace this take on education without a few reservations or footnotes, but I do think it helpfully shows why education intersects with the question of worldliness and (no surprise here) my thoughts about anachronism.

To assume responsibility for the world, means to accept it as it is.  To accept that we inhabit a small part of it, that we make a home for ourselves in it in ways that might not be about commonality at all, that we might not know the world – that we have to learn and teach what it means to live in a common world.  This is not what Republicans do.  They engage in world-making exercises that systematically shape the world in their own image, writing over reality to make the world small, home to very few people.  They avoid responsibility for the world, denying economic, historical, and environmental realities.  The other part of their strategy, of course, is to make people into children – to deem them too immature, too dependent to shape the world.  Republicans actively expel women, people of color, the working class, public employees from their world, ensuring that their world-making exercises are not troubled by anything “unforeseen.”

One does not need to prove one’s maturity in order to show one’s love for the world: one simply needs to be born.  The challenge of education is to teach people the obstacles that (in both explicit and implicit, active and passive ways) prevent us from living in a common world, and, be open to the unforeseen.  The other challenge, is to accept that the trajectory of history is ruin.  That despite the things we, as individuals, know, have learned, have experienced, we have to be open to others, to new experiences, new knowledges, if we want to be responsible for the world.  In other words, we have to accept the ways that the world both is and is not ours to know, to shape, to teach.

The One and the Many

In many ways, research interests are simple: what is the relationship between the one and the many?  the particular and the general?  the singular and the shared?

Of course, the two forms that dominate my dissertation – realism and history – are all about this relationship.   I suggest that every theory of realism, however different, makes an argument about how to relate the particular and the general, the individual and the collective.  As Alex Woloch eloquently (and persuasively!) argues: realism is all about the tension between the one (the characters with psychological depth) and the many (the minor characters who create a social world, represent the historical milieu).   For Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth and Benedict Anderson, realism represents distinct individuals in shared (national, historical) spaces – it reconciles the one and the many – through shared, homogeneous time.  For Nancy Armstrong, realism emerges from contradiction and struggle between the many (collectives – usually infused with the gothic) and the individual to produce the individual subject.  Eagleton objects to realism precisely because it privileges the individual over the collective, creating the moral ‘one’ rather than the political ‘many.’

In turn, history depends upon generalization.  While English scholars close-read forms, historians create them.  They shape individual stories, reveal causal connections, and illuminate periods, epochs, eras.  These forms don’t always represent individual experiences – as Subaltern Studies reveals, they often actively silence particular people, eschew certain kinds of historical explanations and obscure specific types of experience.

How do we show differences and still make generalizations?  How do we highlight the tension between the one and the many without dissolving history into endless difference?  How do we create forms that don’t silence, colonize, or reproduce a relatively conservative politics of ‘growth,’ ‘development,’ ‘moral improvement’?  How do we create worlds without making people, forms, modes representative (static, closed, fixed)?

Now, as I think more and more about public humanities, similar questions emerge.  But in the context of the public humanities there even more confused, because there isn’t even a “one” there is simply “the many.”  The public is heterogeneous, but so to is “humanities” – especially when we think about humanities as institutionally located in specific universities. The one, I suppose, is the very concept of “public humanities” – the many is the actual constituents involved in creating, practicing, engaging with public humanities.