Arendt a la Taminieux

Arendt’s account of politics is contaminated by its mimetic relation to her mentor Heidegger’s account of politics. When engaging with a locutor, there is always a region of underlying agreement assumed in order to form a ground on which to engage. In this way, even the most diametrically opposed and hating interlocutors invariably take for granted more than they disagree on. Moreover, the more they engage in dispute, the more similar they come to resemble one another. That is, the taken-for-granted world or imaginary or ‘for-the-sakes-of’ grounding their views and arguments tend to align more and more. In this way, the dispute moves towards being a more local dispute against a shared Background, rather than a dispute between different Backgrounds. This is why unionists can jump the table; and why major political parties come to exude a managerialist ethos; and why Trotskyists can mutate into rabid neo-cons.

To me it seems that the key move in Arendt’s difference with Heidegger is to unpick the way Heidegger too quickly mashes together the world of practice and activity consigning it to the realm of ‘the Same’ and then contrasting this with the higher vocation of authentic Dasein as a philosophical engagement with its own unique factical finitude and death.

Structurally Arendt mimics these relations but reverses their valence.  Read more of this post

Musing – what is it?

But what exactly is ‘musing’ and what is its point? Why do it? What is its meaning, its outcome, its point?

Musing is mulling over something that you cannot get clear on, that you cannot pigeon-hole or slot into a definite place. Musing is thinking. Musing is being drawn back to turning something over and over in your mind trying to bring together all the different angles and dimensions so that it settles into a coherent unity. Musing is being caught up in a mystery, conflicting or contradictory intuitions or thoughts. Musing is circling round and round, like the proverbial moth, trying to find a point of rest or resolution.

It is important at this point to make clear that musing cannot be resolved by knowledge. Musing is not a search for knowledge; it is a search for coherence, for insight, illumination, for a metaphor. Read more of this post

Difference between analytic philosophy & continental philosophy 


If my experience of Anglo analytic philosophy is of a practice obsessed with the effort to formulate absolutely transparent propositions and their logical linkages or de-linkages bent on forming implacable movement towards unassailable conclusions, what about Continental philosophy? What has my experience of immersing myself in continental philosophy revealed?

We should remember an old adage: the point of greatest strength is also the point of greatest weakness. Thus for anglo analytic philosophy the concentration on clarity and logic is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the one hand, it means that their writing is clear and compelling, but on the other hand it is nit-picking and reductive: any gestures towards larger claims or illuminating metaphors or passionate speech are frowned on and denigrated. Analytic philosophy is thought, spoken and written in the most literal prose possible, in logical symbols even better; and thus draws a strong boundary between itself and any thinking/discourse/writing that is figurative, rhetorical, imaginative, emotional, expansive, or in any way ‘excessive’: this is the realm of literature and fiction.

So, what is my experience of continental philosophy? The first thing that stands out is that it cannot be read analytically—in the way I was taught to read in analytic philosophy. Perhaps I could put the difference like this: although continental philosophy can seem to be stringing propositions together in logical fashion to form an argument, in fact it is doing something different: it is bringing a range of considerations, metaphors, thoughts and ideas together in order to form a picture of things as a whole—not a concluding statement about some thing specifically. Continental philosophy is focused on trying to convey a sense of the whole; if you like, the whole of who we are, where we are, and possibly why we are. Thus continental philosophy is concerned with, if you like, the meaning of life, whereas analytic philosophy has narrowed down its interest to the meaning of propositions and their logical relations with other propositions. Analytic philosophy is not interested in projecting a sense of the whole—of reality, of the world, of history, or language, of culture, of our lives, of our hopes or desires. But these are precisely what interests continental philosophy.

This means that even the style of writing is different. Continental philosophy is trying to help the reader form a sense or feeling for the whole. This means its writing is more flowery, more rhetorical, more metaphorical, is more poetic, has more twists and turns, more jokes and irony, and is more playful—in short, is less driven by logic. The injunction underlying continental philosophy is: You must change the way you see things; use your reading of this text as a help to do this’. This contrasts with the injunction underpinning analytic philosophy which is: ‘You must follow this line of reasoning to its final conclusion with absolute attention; this will safe you from getting silly or grandiose ideas’. One focuses on the ‘meta’, the other on the ‘micro’.

OK, so far so good. But now this neat opposition between nit-picking logic and grandiose gestures must be complicated. For in another sense continental philosophy is also opposed to grandiose gestures too. What I mean by this is that historically in philosophy, grandiose gestures took the form of philosophical systems. That is, what was gestured at was a structure of strict concepts – just like the concepts that analytic philosophy is dedicated to refining and burnishing. These conceptual structures are what has been called metaphysics. That is, they are the underlying structure of reality, of everything, of us, of knowledge, of morality, of politics, of life.

Analytic Philosophy as a dead-end

Rhetoric is not only concerned with the how of what we say, but also with the what. That is, it is just as concerned with how we work out what to say, how we find and follow ideas or thoughts as with how we shape them to create a convincing speech or text.

So, I will begin with some reflections on my own ways of finding what to say.

I was trained in philosophy, analytic philosophy, a discipline that was obsessed with logical reasoning. The idea was that you would begin with one thought or proposition and then realise that that logically led to another one, and then on to a further one, and so on until you reached the final concluding thought or proposition. Each link in the chain of thoughts was a logical necessity, a deductive relation. There could be no jumps or gaps between the thoughts. Those trained in philosophy will immediately associate this description with three things: the practice of reasoning formulated by Descartes; the flow of ideas in philosophy articles or books; and the aggressive search by reading or listening philosophers for any jumps or gaps or ‘holes’ in the necessary flow of propositions.

This game of finding the hole in an argument was an intellectual game I threw myself into with relish when young. Read more of this post

Emergence of New Rhetoric

Insofar as the revival of rhetoric under the auspices of a theory of argumentation is a renewal of the Aristotelian emphasis on inventio, on the discovery of the persuasives in relation to a matter or case in question, then I am all in favour of this theoretical and pedagogic effort. It constitutes a way for those regions – Germany, France, Holland, England – where rhetoric had been reduced to the stylistic study of rhetorical figures in literature and oratory, to renew a more substantive rhetoric, a rhetoric concerned not just with style, figures and elocutio, but with also with logos, inventio and persuasive argument.

For both Perelman and for Toulmin, this renewal of argumentation was enacted via a return and reworking of Aristotle. However, it is important to note that it did not involve a renewal of contact with Cicero, Quintilian or Isocrates. That is, what is being renewed is a quite narrow understanding of richness of ancient rhetoric. Read more of this post

Appliable pedagogy

I have always been suspicious of the idea of ‘appliable theory’ (but cf Halliday’s clarification re difference between ‘appliable’ and ‘application’/‘applicable’ (in The Influence of Marxism’).

To me, each new pedagogic site or context is wholly new. Rather than simply transferring pre-existing frameworks or practices or curricula, I prefer to try to begin with a blank slate and let the affordances and exigences of the place emerge in their own way. Thus, I do not like to begin a new pedagogic task with a preconceived palate or framing. Whereas Descartes insisted on beginning theory and thinking with a tabula rasa, I insist that that is how we should approach practice and action. We should begin with nothing formulated, but trust the interchange between our theoretically informed imagination, habitus and attunement to respond to the affordances, powers, capacities, blockages, possible openings of the pedagogic scene.

This contrasts with those who enter a new pedagogic situation with the mantle of ‘expert’ or ‘primary knower’. A stance like this cannot learn or listen: it is only by acknowledging that we don’t know and don’t even know what we don’t know, that it is possible to open up to learning from the new context. As Gadamer insists: Experience is learning that you what you currently think and habitually think is untrue.

My assumption is that any attempt to simply transfer a pedagogy from one context to another will fail. Stoically, one could gloss this by saying that you were using the new context as a test case, Popper style. However, in my experience those using this approach usually blame the context for not living up to their pedagogic scheme rather than acknowledging that it has revealed a deep flaw in their conceptual scheme. Those following this subsumptive style of acting invariably work a few small tweeks and then proceed to the next context and again try to impose their regime … again with little success. That is, they might justify their approach by arguing that it is an inductive methodology and that over time it will accumulate the features of a pedagogy that is generally applicable.

However, fundamentally this style of acting is subsumptive. It is based on a strong belief in the universality of concepts and their appliability-capacity to form, shape, dominate, and productively harness the messy conjunctures of social life to conform to the demands of the concept.

By contrast, my practice is (or was) governed by two principles: every context or instance is unique; practical success can only come from emptying your mind of preconceptions and attuning your sensibility to the meanings circulating and shaping a context or instance. This means that you are forced to reinvent your pedagogic practice from scratch: sometimes you find that you have created a wholly new pedagogy, sometimes you find that you have recreated a variation on an existing pedagogy. in either case, the emergence of the pedagogy is in response to a phenomenological encounter and entanglement with the realities of the situation within which you are hoping to form, or better, which you are hoping to shape into a form that constitutes a productive pedagogy.

Yet more ‘prefacing’ re. mode of address

My work is not directed towards positing a new specific concept of literacy to displace or replace existing accounts and definitions. Rather, my concern is to stitch literacy, its pedagogies and practices into a larger canvas, to discover and release threads and themes between literacy as a bounded field and the larger culture and worlds on which it rests. To show that literacy is part of a much larger picture and human enterprise, and that framing literacy as an expression or part of this larger praxis, a part that both draws on this whole for motives and motifs, in short for cultural sustenance and ethical resolve, while at the same time contributing its own energies and experience to the larger process. There is thus a two-way, dialectical, mutual enrichment in construing literacy in relation to this larger background.

By situating literacy within this larger context, I am not deconstructing or doing ideology critique on literacy. I am not showing it to be a mere symptom or expression of larger social or historical forces. Rather, I am hoping that filling in the details and scope of background ideas, values, practices and history lying in back of literacy will enlarge and strengthen the meaning of literacy pedagogy in the minds of its practitioners, that literacy will not seem a small almost paltry ‘basic (workplace) skill’, but entry into the rich veins of conversation and discourse of the whole diversity of humans and their worlds.

Literacy as moving towards participation in universes of discourse, not as a set of discrete, self-contained skills.

Reflections on Genre Theory

SFL (systemic functional linguistics) typically defines something by relating it to a range of contexts – contexts around it, below it, or above it, [notice there has not yet been much attention to ‘before’ or ‘after’]. However, in practice we find that the notion of genre is almost never explicated in terms of what is above it. In other words, generic categories tend to function as a meta-discourse within which other categories are located, but they themselves are not explicated through a further set of categories. In effect, this amounts to the banishment of history, philosophy, psychology, ideology critique, sociology, politics and so on as ways of articulating social meaning. This has the effect of presenting us with a brute positivity – ‘This is what narrative is and what it is for, and here is how you do it; now, let’s do it’.

The problem with this is that it obscures from view what we might call ‘the moment of enunciation‘. Read more of this post

Genre theory: a critique

The Sydney Genre School (SGS) conflates two distinct theoretical lines of investigation. One is a matter of educational linguistics investigating the role of language in learning. The other is the study of language in social life generally, as-it-were in extra-curricula social life. For SGS, there is a synergy between these because both realms – education and social life at large – are constituted by genres, ‘gatherings of meaning into relatively stabilised practices’. In fact, the relationship between genres in the two realms seems to be posited as quite transparent – or at least potentially transparent if an SGS curriculum were to be implemented.

Assumed identity of genre between school and social life

Whereas van Leeuwen has emphasised that the ‘recontextualisation of a practice from one social region to another is fundamentally an act of colonisation in which the coloniser imposes its own imperatives and constraints on the initial practice, SGS has (to my knowledge) never really studied the difference between genres ‘in the wild’ and educational genres that have been stylised and streamlined to function as scenes of testing and assessment. (Note: I have not included ‘learning’ in this listing of the roles of writing in education because in general teaching and learning are engaged through dialogue, listening and reading – not through writing. This is at odds with the ‘writing to learn’ movement. I will say more at another time about some ways that I think that writing does or could figure as a scene of learning, not just assessment.)

In general, SGS is too complacent in assuming that schooled genres and wild genres are identical, and that as a result learning to write a school genre means that one will be able to write wild genres. Read more of this post

Genre is not enough


This article, drafted in 2001, attempts to articulate my disagreement with efforts to construct the goals and processes of the educative practices appropriate to Batchelor Institute (BIITE) in terms of the concept of genre. I will argue that the focus on genre is a reductive account of the goals of education at BIITE, a focus that inevitably substitutes a mono-cultural definition of learning outcomes for the richer educational commitments defining BIITE.

In the past, power in education and training was exercised at the point of ‘inputs’, in the writing of textbooks and in the design and production of curriculum resources. However, during the 90s, the exercise of power in education and training has shifted its focus to ‘outcomes’. This shift from the moment of instructional input as a point of leverage to the assessment of outcomes as the object of governmental gaze means that definitions of ‘what is assessed’ has become the key site for negotiating and contesting the purposes, modes and meanings of education and training.

What I find particularly disquieting is the claim that genre captures the entirety of social life and that therefore there is no worthwhile distinction between ‘genre’ and ‘socio-historical practice’. This means that the latter is irrelevant to the goals of the curriculum as expressed in its assessment practices. Sometimes it is acknowledged that understanding the socio-historical dimension of a genre may be a ‘teaching strategy’, ‘a means’ to mastering the genre, but still, it is insisted, it does not form any part of the content or goal of assessment. This can be captured in the claim: ‘It is the essay itself that we need to assess, not depth of cultural analysis and understanding’.  Read more of this post