Saturday, 1 November 2014

Honig: Antigone and contemporary democratic theory

In a review of Bonnie Honig's "Antigone, Interrupted", Andres Fabian Henao Castro (2014) points out that the dominant reception of the play that Honig contests is a de-politicising one, that is to say, one which minimises the conflicts and neutralises the divisions in the play. This dominant interpretation of the play considers it to be an icon of human universality in mourning, lamentation and death, in which everyone is equally implicated. 

The goal of Honig's "Antigone, Interrupted", as Henao Castro explains, is to re-politicise the play. This means accentuating the conflict, the divisions and the fractions, to unsettle those places where the dominant interpretation had sought to ground universality. Against such universal humanism, Honig proposes agonism, i.e. rivalry and contestation. 

In her articles on the sororal conspiracy between Antigone and her sister Ismene, Henao Castro (2014: 606) notes that Honig argues that the relevance of "Antigone" for contemporary democratic theory rests, paradoxically, in the character's anti-democratic commitments to an aristocratic form of lamentation, which democracy was seeking to replace in the politics of burial in 5th century Athens


Henao Castro, Andres Fabian (2014). Antigone and democratic theory. The Classical Review, New Series, 64 (2), pp.606-608. 

Honig, Bonnie (2013). Antigone, interrupted. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Knowledge, Stability, Print Technology

The book, or at least the text/book considered in an academic context, is a source of intelligence, Ranciere argues, an intelligence equally accessible to the student as the teacher (‘master’), an intelligence that is not solely accessible to explicators, those with hidden, secret or ulterior knowledge.

The book, we think, stabilises knowledge. The book ‘contains’ knowledge (double sense intended), ‘encases’ knowledge or ‘binds’ knowledge. However, as Johns (1998: 5) makes clear, "... early modern printing was not joined by any obvious or necessary bond to enhanced fidelity, reliability, and truth. That bond had to be forged."

Johns continues:
"We ourselves routinely rely on stable communications in our making and maintenance of knowledge, whether of the people around us or of the world in which we live. That stability helps to underpin the confidence we feel in our impressions and beliefs." (Johns, 1998: 5)
In the 16th century, printers took to praising their craft for its powers to preserve. They contrasted their craft with that of scribal reproduction, which they characterised as intrinsically corruptive, i.e. productive of textual corruption and, thereby, corrupted readers.

It is not printing in itself that possesses preservative powers, but printing put to use in particular ways. While it is important to observe the differences between print and manuscript reproduction, it is equally important, Johns insists, to consider how the press itself and its products have been, and continue to be, employed.

The roots of textual stability are to be found in the practices of employment of printed products as much as in the press itself.

Knowledge, such as we conceive it, has come to depend on that stability. A reappraisal of print in the making can contribute to our understanding of the conditions of knowledge itself, Johns contends.

The de-stabilising of the book, as knowledge format and as knowledge technology, and the de-stabilising of ‘print culture’, then, has great consequence for knowledge as well as for its transmissibility. A major presumed base of knowledge becomes questionable.

This de-stabilising of the book, in turn, has great consequence for ‘the library’, in its role as a stabilising institution which maintains the integrity of the text/book-basis of knowledge.


Johns, A. (1998). The Nature of the book: print and knowledge in the making. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


According to Samuel Chambers (2014), Jacques Ranciere’s pedagogy can be called radical because it challenges traditional pedagogy at its heart, which is to say it challenges explanation. Ranciere claims that traditional models of teaching depend on the act of explanation as the pre-eminent teaching activity: to teach is to explain.
[How does this relate to another rubric, 'to teach is to instruct', in the sense of information transfer from master to student? Are they both variants of the 'transmission' model of learning and teaching?]
This practice of teaching presumes a hidden truth, a truth which is demystified by the master explicator. Such explanatory discourse enacts a science of the hidden (Ross, 1991: xxiii)

Ranciere shows that explanation depends on a background structure of explication, which he call the explicative order. The traditional schoolmaster-schoolmistress-pedagogue-teacher, SSPT, assigns a text to his or her students to read. When they arrive in class, the SSPT explains the text to them, both by showing them and by telling them what it means. 

In this way, Ranciere makes explicit the deep and pervasive inequality that underlies the order of explication. 

In performing his or her traditional work, i.e. in explaining, the SSPT uses explanation as a display, or rather enaction, of inequality. To explain is not just to give them knowledge but also to prove that they do not have that knowledge prior to the SSPT’s delivery of it. 

Thus, while explanation is the engine of the explicative order, explanation turns out to be stultification, a practice of rendering stupid.
[While this character, the SSPT, is somewhat of a ‘straw figure’, there may be some value in outlining the situation in such an extreme way, in order to get at 'structures of explication’, or, rather, the various discursive practices in play in pedagogy, amongst which is explanation, that concern equality/inequality.
There is also the question of the text-based-ness of this characterisation, which may need to be opened up to other media and other situations in which explanation is also in play. 
By 'text', is 'book' meant or implied? Is this articulation of text/book with learning/knowing part of a specific era of educational technology, in which knowledge is 'contained' in 'the book', and a specific era of 'literacy', as 'book'-(based)-'learning', as well as a specific era of 'the library', as repository of book-encased-knowledge? See Knowledge, Stability, Print Technology]
To avoid the resultant stultification, how is the teacher-student relation to be re-articulated? 

In citing Joseph Jacotot as model, Ranciere holds out the promise of teachers who teach despite the fact that they do not know, which includes the promise of teachers who teach as if they do not know. 
[There is a place here, that is to say, for performance as play-acting, playing a role or pretending, with a wholly sincere intention of achieving a practical pedagogic goal.]
In the Rancierian pedagogy, the teacher creates an environment, constructs a context and builds an overall structure in which students can learn. There is a difference between assuming that the student can read the text on their own and assuming that the student will decide on their own account to select and read that text. 
[The environment here is multi-levelled, a materialised environment, an intercorporeal environment and an intersubjective environment, a location, a position and a relation, not necessarily at one and the same time, i.e. with different spatio-temporalities gathering together at different times and places.]
[In general, as is often the case, it is a question of opening up the ‘text’ to the ‘environment’ and the ‘environment’ to the ‘text’, through the inter-corporeal, such that their interpenetrated technological, mediated and inter-subjective characters may be recognised.]
[Jacotot’s students had learned (the French language) without the aid of a master explicator. However, for all that, they had not learned without a master.
For Ranciere (1991: 13), there is stultification when one intelligence, that of the student, is subordinated to another, that of the master; while there is emancipation when one will, that of the student, is subordinated to another, that of the master.
Ranciere specifies two faculties in play during the act of learning: intelligence and will, holding that they can and should be considered separately. In the learning situation set up by Jacotot, Ranciere argues, a relationship of will-to-will is established between master and student.
This relationship of domination, Ranciere deems, resulted in a liberated relationship between the intelligence of the student and that of the book. The intelligence of the book is the thing-in-common, the egalitarian link between master and student.
That relationship would need to be characterised in terms other than that of 'domination', surely? Is a will-to-will relation a material, inter-subjective relation?
This leads to a circle of empowerment, wherein the student gradually, and increasingly, recognises the power of their own intelligence as the will to learn.]
[All of which begs the question: where do the 'masters', whose will is to be followed, even though they are not 'master explicators', emerge from? What are the conditions for 'learning without masters'?]

Chambers, S. (2014). Walter White is a bad teacher: pedagogy, partage, and politics in Season 4 of Breaking Bad. Theory & Event. 17 (1). Available from: [Accessed 12 October 2014].

Ross, K. (1991). Translator’s introduction. In: The ignorant shoolmaster: five lessons in intellectual emancipation by Jacques Ranciere. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, vii–xxiii.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Education and Literacy

Picking up on two of the themes scattered throughout this blog, i.e. literacy and education, for example as discussed in The Re-uses of Literacy, Lesley B. Cormack writes that prior to the early modern period in Europe education had been an ecclesiastical concern:
"Most schools were sponsored by the church, and many schoolmasters were clerics." (Cormack, 2007: 623)
Secular interest in education began to develop from the mid-15th century onwards. This occurred first in Italy and then the rest of Europe. A career in the church was no longer the sole aim of education. There were new incentives for achieving a certain level of education, provided by government offices and secretarial positions as well as by gentry culture and the possibilities of patronage.

Contemporaneously, although it is disputed by historians, it can be argued that the Protestant Reformation provided a new impetus for education and literacy. This was, in part, because Protestants emphasised the value of personal and vernacular Bible reading; and, in part, because the Catholic Church responded through educational strategies.

Education, Cormack concludes, became an aspiration for a wider sector of the population.

In England, for example, during the 16th century, entry to government and public careers was increasingly provided by formal education rather than household apprenticeship. Literacy and knowledge of a number of disciplines were perceived as important attributes of the ambitious man. Gentle and mercantile families sent their sons to school and then to Oxford or Cambridge, so that they would meet the right people, on the one hand, and gain access to the understanding of the world that would enable them to govern, on the other hand.

Universities in the Middle Ages had developed as a training ground for clerics. In the 15th century, professional training for lawyers and medical doctors was added. In the 16th century, students began to attend universities even though they had no intention of taking up a profession in the church, law or medicine.

At this time, in early modern Europe, it is estimated that no more than 10% to 15% of the population was literate, although several European towns had male literacy rates of over 90% (Cormack, 2007: 625; citing Houston, 1988: 130-154).


Cormack, L.B. (2007). Maps as educational tools in the Renaissance. In: Woodward, D., (ed.) History of cartography. Volume three (part 1): Cartography in the European Renaissance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 622–636.

Houston, R. A. (1988). Literacy in early modern Europe: culture and education, 1500-1800. London: Longman.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Barad and pedagogy

One of the most problematic passages in Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway begins on page 378, where she states,

"Brittlestars know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing.” 

This is a sentence that is so breathtakingly problematic as to halt readers in their tracks, in part because it is meant to be a playful, sophisticated, rhetorical use of language. Be that as it may, it is a sentence that defeats much of the argument and position that Barad has been seeking to construct.

First, while Barad has been berating humanists and deflating the role of humans in the world's becoming, is this not an anthropomorphic act? She grants brittlestars the status of being participants engaged in the practical debate about Western epistemology which she has been elaborating. 

Perfomatively, this anthropomorphic act may be said to ground and constitute an epistemic claim, itself an act, a complex act that incorporates projection, identification, appropriation and exploitation, as we will see. The epistemic claim is that: ‘I know that “Brittlestars know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing”’.

Second, having anthropomorphised the brittlestar, is this not a case of projection and identification? It is as if brittlestars are close academic colleagues of Barad’s advancing her arguments alongside her, on her side against the representationalists and the humanists, those who only know the geometrics of reflection. Does she not suggest that they are brittlestars-colleagues rather than, as she herself subsequently states, being "merely tools that we can use to teach”, i.e. pedagogic tools or pedagogic resources for the study and practice of 'science', as a field of acts of knowing?

Brittlestars are, in short, abstracted and extracted from their ‘apparatus’, the environment in which they exist and survive, and in which they have determinate value, and given fictitious (narrative and performative) value as knowing actors in a communal, academic, epistemological debate, a further apparatus. 

Performatively, this may be said to ground the initial epistemic claim in a further a communal epistemic claim: ‘We, brittlestars and I, know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing’.

Third, is this not an appropriation of brittlestars to a particular position for a particular purpose? Does it not take whatever capability to act in specific environments brittlestars have, their phenomenal existence, and grant them an epistemologically-informed, communal agency in which they not only ‘know’ a geometric optics of knowing, but  demonstrate an awareness that shows that they ‘know better’ than to adhere to its practices and principles. 

Knowing better, indeed, by being beyond knowing; or rather being incapable of knowing reflectively, mediately. While claiming to be on their side, by recognising their superior form of ‘knowing’, is Barad not simply appropriating them for her arguments, as if they themselves were making those arguments? As she says later: "Brittlestars literally enact my agential realist ontoepistemological point about the entangled practices of knowing and being.” (Barad, 2007: 379)

Performatively, this may be said to take the initial epistemic claim (‘I know’) and its communal extension ('We know’) to generate an ontological entity as a persona, the brittlestar-agential-realist, in this communal, academic, epistemic apparatus. 

Fourth, in reducing them to being pedagogic tools, "merely tools that we can use to teach”, is it not an exploitation of brittlestars as a ‘resource’, much in the same way that ’natural resources’ are exploited by scientific research, engineering and capitalist industrial production?

Performatively, brittlestars become a technological resource within an economic praxis, an apparatus with its own regimes of cognition and re-cognition, of knowing and knowing better, and its own ecologies of mutual interdependence and contingency. Their performative 'identity' is that of being a technical 'entity'.

In brittlestars, has Barad not constituted a 'technical entity', a ’scientific entity’ and a ‘pedagogic entity’, within a technical, scientific, pedagogic apparatus. This entity, this onto-epistemological entity, we might say, is replete with its own distinctive attribute: that of ‘knowing better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing’. Yet this attribute is not a ‘property’ of brittlestars; it is an attribution.

All this, as Barad says, without eyes or a brain, such that brittlestars might respond enactively: ’No, that is not what we are doing. No, that is not what we know. No, that is not what we mean. No, that is not who we are’; a kind agential realist resistance to, or refusal of, technical, scientific, pedagogic, enclosure, if such were possible?


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Durham: Duke University Press.


Monday, 8 September 2014

The Constitution in Question

Colin Kidd (2014), in reviewing two books on the impeachment and trial of Henry Sacheverell in 1710, traces the emergence of the foundations of the modern British state, in which the Crown in Parliament is sovereign, to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the decades that followed. He notes that,
"Ironically, the foundational moment of an enduring British state was greeted not with quiet assurance that comes from universal acclamation, but with the din of disputed narratives." (Kidd, 2014: 19)
Interestingly, amid the clamour of current disputatious narratives, in seeking to undo the Union of Parliaments, the Scottish referendum to be held on 18 September 2014 is not a vote about also undoing the Union of the Crowns. As Kidd (2013) points out in the Stenton Lecture,
"The independence white paper Scotland’s Future issued by Scotland’s SNP Government in November 2013 announced that an independent Scotland would ‘remain within the Union of the Crowns’ – or ‘social union’ - and that the Queen’s position as head of state would ‘form an intrinsic part of the constitutional platform in place for independence’."
The relationship between Scottish nationalism and Scottish republicanism, as Kidd (2013) goes on to discuss, is far less straightforward than the close and intimate relationship that exists between Irish nationalism and the cause of republicanism.

And what of the relations among (Scottish) (inter-) nationalism, republicanism and socialism? Can they ever be part of "an adequate synthesis between Scottish nationalism and socialist internationalism" rather than forming "a disabling oscillation between ethnic nationalism and political internationalism" (Hart, 2007: 24).

Do these concerns themselves form part of a prior conjuncture, that of modernist era nationalism and internationalism, an era marked by "the constitutive link between modernity and revolution" (Hart, 2007: 23)?; or do such debates "remain interesting because they mirror current arguments about the “cosmopolitical,” the transnational, and the moral and political authority of the nation-state" (Hart, 2007: 23)?


Hart, M. (2007). Nationalist internationalism: a diptych in modernism and revolution. Journal of Modern Literature, 31 (1), 21–46. Available at [Accessed 7 October 2014]. 

Kidd, C. (2013). From Jacobitism to the SNP: the Crown, the Union and the Scottish Question. The Stenton Lecture 2013 [online]. Available from: [Accessed on 8 September 2014]

Kidd, C. (2014). Break their teeth, O God. London Review of Books, 36 (16), pp.19-20.