A Quick Thought About My Pedagogy

Last week I gave a lecture on Freud which would probably be described as unorthodox from the standpoint of traditional American pedagogy. Incidentally, the word pedagogy is closely linked to the Greek paidagogos – for the paidagogos, there is a slave who is charged with the task of escorting students to school while supervising them. Who, I would ask, would want to taught by a slave? From the Hegelian perspective, it is the master who is a dupe or an idiot and the slave who knows quite a lot. Why, then, are teachers, especially those of us with our masters, professors of such profound knowledge? The lesson from Lacan is instructive: when provided with an opportunity to transmit something, some sort of knowledge, to a general population, he deceived them and transmitted something quite obscure. And then, we were told, he called his audience a bunch of idiots. Well, isn’t this a true teaching? The students are the idiots because they are duped by the promise of knowledge. They have more than enough knowledge and yet they suspect that, still, the teacher has more than they. The teacher, the true teacher, on the other hand, is more like a slave who has the knowledge but doesn’t know what the hell to do with it – the teacher doesn’t even know how much knowledge is stored up in there.

As an attempt to be clever, I passed the audience back their mastery and then slipped in some questions through the back door – a slave’s attempt at sabotage! I opened up the doors to desire so as to keep the student’s desire for knowledge alive, knowing very well that, at the introductory phase of their academic careers, passing them concrete knowledge might leave them feeling like they’ve had enough. The trick, I thought, was to pass knowledge but to also transmit something empty – something that would serve as a placeholder for the knowledge that they themselves would seek later. Is it any wonder that the best meals always seem to come in the smallest quantities? A good chef transmits the meal, but also the oxygen and emptiness that also, and perhaps more importantly, exists on the plate.

I wanted the students to work through the material, to struggle, and then feel the reward for having tried.  These days it is difficult to transmit a struggle, to transmit work – especially in this city where the unemployment rates surpass any other city in the country. I left the lecture hall feeling reassured by my method. Today it strikes me: what about this general audience allowed me to presume that the same clinical structure functioned within all of them? Perhaps there where I provided an intervention for the hysterics (those who so desperately eroticized knowledge) I at the same time provided an obstacle for the obsessionals.

My future work is on obsession, so I’ll explore this theme in more detail in the future.


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