Friday, 22 October 2010

The Academic Wilderness: Part II: Richard Kahn Joins Steve Best, David Sztybel, and Norm Phelps

Strange words, compound words, and invented words must be used sparingly. - Aristotle, Rhetoric

[I]n many respects, critical pedagogy's very success has led to a host of problems––including, to name a few: that a wide variety of pedagogical philosophies (of Left, Center, and Right persuasions) now self-professedly act under critical pedagogy’s aegis in ways that demand clarification, that critical pedagogy has become itself potentially de-historicized as a body of theory, and that a trend towards the de-radicalization of critical pedagogy into normalized forms of non-contemplative praxis and de-politicized, student centered, constructivist curricular activities has emerged. - Richard Kahn, "Diasporic Counter-Education: The Need to Fertile-Eyes the Field."

Having heard from reliable sources that Steve, David, and Norm had set up their very own Institute in the academic wilderness, we decided to return to that dark place in order to verify this occurrence for ourselves. In the following, we document our second expedition.[1]

Once again then, we embarked on the journey to the academic wilderness. Owing to the remoteness of the wilderness's location we had to avail ourselves of various modes of transportation: first boarding a boat which undulated atop the waves first towering, then crashing, then towering again, and all this for hours, as if in their eternal wisdom they were trying to deter us from our present course; then taking a plane which soared across the skies strewn with black clouds foreboding a fearsome storm on the distant horizon; then traveling hundreds of miles by foot across recalcitrant terrain redolent of the landscape trekked over by past explorers in search of mysterious lands intimated to exist in hearsay and rumor; and finally, after all this torrid traveling, by foot, boat, and plane, we arrived for the second time at our destination: the academic wilderness.

Soon after arriving here, in this dark and eerie place, we saw that David, Norm, and Steve had began to change things, to decorate, so to speak, in order to make their environment more congenial to the requirements of their academic natures. Where previously there had been a mere makeshift campsite consisting entirely of a small fire constantly in danger of being extinguished by the swirling breeze and encircled by middle-sized stones functioning as chairs, there now stood a wooden hut, rectangular in shape and about two meters in height, complete with a roof which, however, contained several holes that must have let in a not insignificant amount rain; and above the entrance to this hut there was a sign on which were inscribed in what looked like Steve's neatest handwriting the following words: "The Institute for Critical Animal Studies."

Just then we heard a sound coming from some dense bushes and trees not more than a few metres in front of us. It sounded as if someone was hacking his way through them – perhaps because he was in search of something or on some kind of quest. Then, suddenly, a man appeared, dishevelled in appearance and showing signs of physical exhaustion. When we focused the fullness of our attention on this man's face, we saw that it was Richard Kahn, an academic at Antioch University, Los Angeles and, what is more important, a rising star in the world of pragmatist, pluralist, contextualist, and situationist scholarship. We surmised, correctly as it turned out, that he must be looking for the Institute - probably for the purposes of seeing whether there was any opportunity for him to devote himself, body and soul, to its tactically multidimensional approach to negating hegemony. Again, just as with Norm, David, and Steve, so also with Richard: we decided not to disturb him, lest he be embarrassed by our discovering him in the wildernes. Instead, in order to remain at a safe distance from the unknowing subject of our scrupulous observation, we furtively positioned ourselves behind a large rock covered in moss and vines, where, however, we were near enough to the Institute to able to overhear everything going on inside it with poignant clarity.

Just then Richard, esping the Institute situated in a clearing in the jungle, began running toward it as quickly as his fatigued legs would allow him.

When Richard arrived at the Institute, he knocked on the door in the hope that someone - anyone at all - would answer. Luckily, Steve, David, and Norm were all in and had, in fact, just finished a meeting chaired by Steve where they discussed the question of the deconstruction of binary oppositions and false separations. Standing in the doorway, then, Richard - whose face at this moment was the very epitomization of grave seriousness - avowed to the others that he was committed in the innermost recesses of his heart to pluralism and contextualism. And to this ardent avowal of proud devotion the multidimensionalists replied by exclaiming that it was truly great, in that it was perfectly congruent as an ideological matter with their own multiperspectival perspective on animal advocacy. They also said, however, that there was something else, something more immediately pressing that simply could not wait: they were ravenously hungry having not eaten anything but David's baked bean surprise for the past twelve consecutive days, so that what they wanted to know above all else was whether Richard could cook.

Responding to this question, Richard said that he felt his real talents lay elsewhere, that is to say, in politicizing the currently de-politicized aspects of the critical ecopedagogiocal paradigm, expunging it of its last residue of hegemonic elements, and, after having completed this task (which may be incompletable), disseminating the transformative nexus of critical ecopedagogy and Total Liberationism By Any Means Necessary (TLBAMN) to the children of the matrix. Nonetheless, he also said that, as a gesture of goodwill and as a demonstration of his faithfulness to the Institute, he would do the cooking for the others with, however, the attached proviso that his selfless exertions in the kitchen should, by themselves, secure him a permanent place at the Institute. To this proposal of Richard's, Steve, David, and Norm eagerly nodded their untroubled assent as it was a fair one, after all, and moreover their bellies, by this time, were audibly rumbling. This in turn galvanized Richard into a frenzied state of cooking activity that culminated in the historically significant event that was the Institute's first meal together as a foursome.

Unfortunately, however, this cooking proposal turned out to not be as good as Steve, David, and Norm had vainly hoped: Richard's cooking skills were not up to the high standards the others had wished of them. The cause of the trouble seemed to be his tofu scramble, of which Steve and Norm both had a generous helping. Responding to Richard's question, what do you think of my cooking, Steve said flatly that it had made him feel queasy; while Norm went so far as to say that it needed to be questioned whether it made sense as a linguistic matter to qualify the tofu scramble Richard had served with the word "cooked."

Suddenly, a spontaneous eruption fugitively swept out of Richard. He said in characteristic counter-hegemonic fashion that Norm's stance was a parochial outlook on the meaning of his cooking that committed the analytic error of thinking there was someone who got to define what constituted a tasty tofu scramble, whereas, in fact, tofu scramble was inherently multi-dimensional, could be approached from a plurality of perspectives, and as such should under no circumstances be homogenized into the straitjacket of a one-dimensional approach toward the meaning of his cooking. Moreover, Norm's and Steve's responses were important, he said, irrespective of whether they were favorable, in so far as they proved his cooking's multidimensionality and strength. On the other hand, as a noble concession to multiperspectivalism, he said he hoped Steve's queasiness was not diagnostically a symptom of his movement toward death by food poisoning.

From all this, Steve, David, and Norm all excitedly surmised that Richard's performance was tending unswervingly toward its climax, as in fact it was. For the very next moment Richard - while pursing his lips so as to authoritatively accentuate his articulation - said that, like him, the others should take the "cook standpoint"; and the poignant resonance and depth of this expression in conjunction with his pursed lips produced a tremendous impression on Norm and Steve. Indeed, from their reactions it was clear that Richard's performance had had the intended effect, in that it managed to breakthrough the cognitive stranglehold hegemonic cooking ideology had on both of those pluralists and contextualists. It was not clear, however, whether David too had been so de-normalized and re-radicalized.

Indeed, his forehead wrinkled into a series of peaks and troughs, David pointed out that, according to Rule One of Multidimensionalism, Richard's cooking should have elicited a diversity of responses from Steve and Norm; and yet between them there was a convergence of opinion crystallizing in the explicit consensus that his cooking was, in fact, not very good: and so from this essential lack of plurality (David continued) it was reasonable to infer that Richard had failed to prove his cooking's multidimensionality and strength. Even so, David still nourished in his breast a secret confidence that the tofu scramble could be defended using the rich and nuanced conceptual resources of his Theory of Best Caring Ethics, a defence that he enunciated as follows: given that the best is not the worst and the worst is not the best, and given that one ought to do the best and ought not to do the worst (which is the opposite of the best), and given that Richard's cooking is the worst and not the best, it follows and it is true that it should be rejected on a Best Caring Ethic's analysis.

And, in his conclusion, David added the following: "Besides, I am of the opinion that Best Caring Ethics is fully caring."

The astonishing intellectual fecundity of David's analysis provoked an excited critical reaction in Richard: although having studied logic he agreed with David that the best is not the worst and vice verse, he protested that David had begged the primary question by implicitly assuming that the point of his cooking was to produce tasty food. Instead, its point was far more radical and indeed unpredictable than that: it was to provide a mirror of self-reflection for the others to remind them of what they ought to be doing, namely cooking; to decolonize their minds with respect to the influence of hegemonic cooking ideology which claims arbitrarily that food should be tasty; and, most important, to consider the question (which may be undecidable) what is it to be a cook.

On hearing this wisdom, Steve's eyes widened, his nose began to twitch, and his lips curled in a high smile which had the effect of making him squint. For in a pure instance of dialectical synthesizing multidimensional insight he had realized that Richard's deconstruction of hegemonic cooking ideology was supremely important, the first volley of many to come from one of the most gifted and brilliant thinkers writing today. For this reason (so continued Steve's line of thought), Richard would be a valuable asset to the Institute for Critical Animal Studies; so valuable, indeed, that it would more than make up for his bad cooking.

And it was at this point that we decided to leave the wilderness, for we had already achieved the aim of our second expedition; in doing so, we managed also to observe Richard alongside his fellow multidimensionalists.

[1] This post was inspired by comments left by Richard Kahn in the comments section of the following blog post of Tim Gier's: