Education Out of Bounds: Reimagining Cultural Studies for a Posthuman Age

reviewed by Inna Semetsky - February 01, 2011

coverTitle: Education Out of Bounds: Reimagining Cultural Studies for a Posthuman Age
Author(s): Tyson E. Lewis and Richard Kahn
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 0230622542, Pages: 204, Year: 2010
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The form of Tyson Lewis and Richard Kahn’s book Education Out of Bounds: Reimagining Cultural Studies for a Posthuman Age (2010; Palgrave Macmillan) is as radical as its content. Rather than adopting a habitual structure and proceeding in the linear form from chapter to chapter, Tyson and Richard break the linearity by inserting the appropriately titled Intermezzo in-between their “Introduction” and the main text. The text per se eludes the division into chapters as its unitary measure but consists instead of three extended sections. These sections as the core of the authors’ conceptualizations remind the reader of experimental vignettes.

The first vignette is devoted to the case study of the feral child, the Mawgli archetype. The authors argue that the education provided to Victor, the real-life wild boy of Aveyron, was a prime example of anthropocentric pedagogical practice. They connect Victor’s unique case with the broader social and political discourse that traditionally excludes the homo ferus in uncritical compliance with what Giorgio Agamben described as an anthropological machine in education, in which anything “monstrous” – the key word in Lewis and Kahn’s book – is typically presented as plainly abnormal.

The concept of the “monster” as critically and creatively examined by the authors is the major qualifier to designate a precise line of division between what contemporary collective “scientific” consciousness perceives as binary opposites, such as human and nonhuman animals, or normal and abnormal. Still, goes the argument, because a persistent surplus as “a residual stain” (p. 43) of the primal division cannot be incorporated into the stable symbolic order, the “educated” subject of this very order is left outside “zoomorphic imagination” (p. 69) that could have exposed it to the much broader epistemology and a specific grammar of the feral including survival skills or play as a suspension of the ban on the “social scapegoating” (p. 68).

In contrast to anthropocentric education, Lewis and Kahn propose an alternative pedagogy or exopedagogy as a form of posthumanist education. This radical form of cultural informal pedagogy transgresses boundaries of narrow rationality and represents what Lewis and Kahn posit as “education out of bounds” – the title of their book. Transgressing limits is achieved by means of savage imagination through a somewhat Dionysian rejuvenation of life. In this respect exopedagogy partakes of Nietzsche’s gay science that would be affirming life counter to neglecting the alternative possibilities for/of life and education.

Exopedagogy escapes measure and all quantitative disciplinary forms associated with prefixed norms thereby problematizing the notions of norm and normal altogether. The borderline between normal and abnormal, between human and nonhuman becomes blurred. Entering the paradoxical space that opens when the dualism between human versus nonhuman is abolished or at least suspended leads the authors into the “reptoid” territory as a province of the uncanny “UFOther” (p. 73). In their second vignette the authors, in the continual effort to “resist the lure of the anthropological machine” (p.74), critically and creatively examine David Icke’s “reptoid hypothesis” regarding the alien conspiracy theory for the purpose of further combating the humanist assumptions of “normal” pedagogy.

Lewis and Kahn investigate the possibility of the formation of new human/reptoid alliances toward peace unencumbered by the counterforces of humanistic and/or superstitious nature alike. They notice that the allegory of the alien is not limited to the cultural sphere but has been taking decisively political overtones. In contrast to the categorical definition of the alien within the mainstream liberal discourse, the close encounter with the UFOther in Lewis and Kahn’s conceptualization would have opened up a range of new possibilities precisely because of being (non)located in the imaginative zone existing “betwixt and between worlds” (p. 79).

Such trans-dimensional zone is permeated by one unifying force, love, that would have confirmed (here I am using the term that belongs to Martin Buber’s relational ontology and to Nel Noddings’ ethics of care in education) the uncanny otherness of the self rather than rejecting this other as a perpetual stranger, foreigner, or monster! Monster presents itself simultaneously as the breakdown of boundaries as well as the taboo against the breaking of such boundaries of common sense or socio-political realities alike.

Lewis and Kahn notice that when habitual dichotomies are under threat or become suspended, such as the categories of us versus them, destruction versus production, private versus public, sacred versus profane, or inside versus outside, then “monster appears as an important conceptual category” (p. 2). The monstrous may seem to be something mystical, but it cannot be reduced to just being an illusion. Lewis and Kahn’s monster is the ubiquitous symbol for the always already demonic alien, the generic Other, an a priori excluded foreigner or a stranger; a figure of “radical difference” (p. 74).  

Referring to Hardt and Negri, Lewis and Kahn posit the savage form of imagination as a real material force that can carry us across the boundaries of space, time, or habitual pre-existing knowledge and the modes of thought. The act of imagination necessarily represents a “resonance between sensation and sense, cognition and affect” (p. 2). It is exopedagogy that would have embraced a resonance between thought and affect thereby creating “thinking feeling” (p. 2) embedded in the new hybrid world of strange contaminations and mixings that may appear foreign to the mainstream humanist discourse in education. Imagination expands the world only narrowly realized in cognitive thought; it carries an affective, feeling-tone, quality.

It is along such a resonating, even if imaginary, line – the line of flight or becoming, as Gilles Deleuze would have called it – that we can break away from being “trapped in a five sense prison” (p. 98) and thus acquire a novel ability “to hear, to see, and to feel the appearance of difference” (p. 98) even if it may strike us as uncanny. According to Lewis and Kahn, it is the sensorial alteration that must take place in order for exopedagogy to actually begin and respectively dare to produce “divine violence” (p. 101) as a new form of spirituality. Such alternation cannot be a redistribution of the sensible but represents a radical rupture that disrupts logic, which customarily underwrites contemporary power relations.

In their third vignette, the authors create the world of the “faery” as the ethical and aesthetic response to overcoming the limits, which are being continuously sustained and maintained by the active anthropological machine. The authors contrast “fairy” as plainly a cultural artifact with the “inoculating trace of the faery [as] a utopian promise” (pp. 103-104) and even faith. Supporting new utopian visions, Lewis and Kahn call for a new exo-revolution informed by their project of exopedagogy that would have created a theory/practice nexus, which is missing within the present secular and materialist-oriented capitalist discourse.

Faery is a phenomenon associated with spirits and magical experiences; and it represents an indigenous, psycho-spiritual assemblage of becoming-animal (the concept articulated by Deleuze and Guattari). The becoming-animal is the very first assemblage embedded in the Deleuze-Guattarian transformational pragmatics associated with posthumanist education and partaking of “exopedagogy [defined] as a teaching and learning about the monstrous” (p. 38).

Lewis and Kahn present the archetypal beast drawing from Marx’s reading of the ancient Greek myth of Medusa and notice that

monstrous animality is gendered female, indicating a sense of connection between patriarchy, anthropocentrism, and superstition. Medusa was once a beautiful young virgin who participated in the cult of Athena. Poseidon, who could not resist her beauty, brutally raped Medusa, which led to her ultimate banishment as a monster. If, as Julia Kristeva…argues, women are the original strangers, then Medusa is the ultimate foreigner. (p. 26)

Indeed rational (predominantly patriarchal) thought tends to privilege the “‘hero’ capable of ‘taming’ or ‘killing’ the irrational beast using the tools of reason” (p. 5). The proverbial beast always already represents a threat, a fear of “the uncanny return of the other [as] a site of great ambiguity, a paradoxical location that speaks to the limits of the enlightenment reason” (p. 62).  Yet it is within this paradoxical, uncanny, location that the habitual dichotomies break down thereby defying the supposedly illogical and monstrous status of the other by virtue of transforming the old and creating new assemblages based not on the opposition but on inseparability of self and other, subject and object, cognition and affect, nature and culture, human and nonhuman.

Exopedagogy therefore is always a form of eco-pedagogy and as such transgresses many of the “contemporary forms of anthropocentric domination and destruction of complex natureculture assemblages” (p. 103), itself becoming the very threshold between cultural and natural histories. Significantly, in the framework of the present-day standardized education, faery pedagogy – faery being neither self nor other but located in the imaginal (using Henry Corbin’s term), yet real, world in-between – represents, as the authors argue, “a form of decisively political poetics” (p. 112) that can open up new configurations, scramble ideological codes and moral norms, and create new sensory experiences above and over reductive empirical science.

Among new configurations established in practice, in experience, in life, will be “new spiritual connections” (p. 113). Exopedagogy thereby exceeds critical pedagogy oriented to the production of critical consciousness. As incorporating affects and sensations, exopedagogy is oriented towards creating new modes of the altered states of consciousness by means of training our senses to perceive beyond the given data and “to revision our relations to nonhuman life” (p. 114).

The alternative topologies would reverse categories; and what narrow rationality delegates to the realm of the monstrous may actually showcase itself as enchanted. Beast can become beautiful by virtue of love. Resignation and melancholia pervading the current system of education may turn into affirmation and joy. Still the uncanny confrontation with its own other is a precondition for such a sensorial alteration.

Incidentally, in Plato’s Symposium Diotima the Priestess teaches Socrates that Eros or Love is “located” in-between lack and plenty; it is a spirit or daimon that, importantly, can hold two opposites together as a whole, therefore capable of eventually reconciling what analytic thinking habitually perceives dualistically, that is, as binary and supposedly irreconcilable opposites. Indeed, in their Conclusion, the authors revisit the multiple valences of love and present it as an event of “de-subjectivation” (p. 146) that can defy the control of power.

Lewis and Kahn are adamant that exopedagogy is the very training of love and as such gains a new urgency. Connecting the trope of love with the figure of St. Francis of Assisi (following Hardt and Negri in Empire), the authors interrogate his “passion” as diasporic and germinal, itself paradigmatic of the pedagogy of the monstrous. St. Francis is the epitome of a paradigm shift, of the New Age as a “confrontation with its repressed excess” (p. 13). Exopedagogy therefore is both the means and end to a particular posthumanist vocation irreducible to professional occupation but taking over the whole space located out of bounds yet permeated with a new vision of untimely love together with the new image of thought and posthumanist education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 01, 2011 ID Number: 16324, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 1:06:18 PM

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