The Pedagogy of Totality
"One thing is clear; the
Middle Ages could not live on Catholicism, nor could the ancient world
on politics. On the contrary, it is the manner in which they gained
their livelihood which explains why in one case politics, in the other
case Catholicism, played the chief part".
Marx, Capital, 1
'abstractions reflect nature more
deeply, truly and completely"
"Conspectus of Hegel's The Science of Logic"
of the signs of the collapse of contemporary U.S. pedagogy is the
interpretation the majority of Americans make of the "event"
that is now marked by the cultural sign of "9/11". To them, the "event" was (and remains) proof that
"'they' hate 'us'". The only way, in other words, most
Americans brought up in the U.S. educational system could make sense
of the "event" was affective. Any attempt to introduce even
a mildly analytical "why" ("Why
do you think 'they' hate
Americans?") was (and is) taken as the height of emotional
crudeness and intellectual vulgarity if not outright anti-Americanism.
reduced the "event" to a "trauma", the reaction to
the "trauma" was (and remains) also "traumatic".
In the days following the "event", waves of violence
by ordinary people, the FBI, the police, the INS, the local militia
and neighborhood vigilantes were unleashed towards the
"other" and those who had the "same" look as the
"other". With a
sentimental and equally violent patriotism the U.S. flag was (and is)
used to more decisively sort the world out into lovers and haters of
"our way of life". U.S.
pedagogy has so paralyzed people's critique-al consciousness, most are
now helpless witnesses to the emergence of a national security state
("The Patriot Act") and the preemptive class aggressions of
teach-ins and forums which were held about the "event" were
only slightly more layered expressions of the affective. Most were
sessions in talking trauma which, following the trauma theory now
popular in many cultural circles, dissolved history into the
unrepresentable affect (Shoshana Felman, The Juridical Unconscious:
Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century; Lyotard, The
Differed; Dominick LaCapra, Writing History, Writing Trauma;
Cathy Caruth, ed. Trauma: Exploration in Memory).
The teach-ins became occasions for displacing an analytical
grasping of history by an ecumenical sentimentality for the suffering.
Berube's essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education
(October 5, 2001, B-5) is
exemplary of the lessons in empathy to avoid the analytical.
It is rhetorically a masterful lesson in the erasure of all
traces of thinking about the "event" in part because it
preemptively announces itself as an intervention in ignorance ("Ignorance
Is a Luxury We Cannot Afford").
After describing how he had shelved "the course
assignments" in his classes to devote "most of the rest of
the week…to a discussion of [students's] reactions to the
attack", he narrates a range of readings of the "event"
and concludes that the "most troubling" analyses of the
the political left, some of which were coming uncomfortably close to
justifying the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents.
Many students immediately connected the attack to various
American operations in the Middle East, and I wanted them to be very
careful about how they made those connections. Of course, I said, of course
the attacks must be placed in the broader context of the history of
U.S. foreign policy in Asia and the Middle East. But any analysis that
did not start from a position of solidarity with, and compassion for,
the victims, their families, and the extraordinary rescue workers in
New York and Washington was an analysis not worth time and attention
Berube's teaching seeks is moral clarity, which has become the
conservative touchstone in reading the "event" (William J.
Bennett, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism)
not analytical critique. Berube moves quickly to block by
"clarification" any attempt at such a critique by saturating
the session with details (what he calls "background
information"): "Very well, some students replied, but what
does it mean to 'place the attacks in the broader context of U.S.
foreign policy'? Here, not surprisingly, what my students wanted and
needed most was basic background information" (B-5).
follows, in the name of curing ignorance, are stories about U.S.
foreign policy but no conceptual analysis:
it true, they asked, that the CIA once financed and trained bin Laden?
Well, yes, I said, but at the time, in the 1980s, we financed just
about anyone who showed up and offered to drive the Soviets out of
Afghanistan. No, we didn't have the same kind of relationship to bin
Laden that we had to Noriega or Pinochet or the Shah or Somoza or any
of the other dictators we'd propped up in the course of waging the
"story" in contemporary pedagogy (which has
opportunistically concluded that knowledge is a story and all concepts
are tropes) performs an essential ideological task: it offers a
non-explanatory explanation and thus constructs an "enlightened
false consciousness" in the classroom (Peter Sloterdijk, Critique
of Cynical Reason, 5-6). Teaching by stories produces knowingness
not knowledge and consequently cultivates a savvy cynicism about
ideas, analysis, and explanation. It rejects causal explanations (in
fact it dismisses the very idea of "cause-effect") and puts
in its place vaguely plotted details that hint at moving but have no
analytical yield: the pleasures of stories replace the cognitive.
This is important because no
account of the "event" can forget the CIA. However, most
accounts of the "event", evoke the CIA to obscure its role
by telling CIA stories of high intrigue in exotic lands and thus
divert attention from the other CIA whose role is crucial in
understanding the "event". The CIA which is openly discussed
and critiqued to obtain radical credentials for the story-teller is,
as Berube's tale demonstrates, a political agency of the US
Government. The other CIA—the one that is covered up by these
narrative details—is only officially a political agency of the
State. In practice, it is the gendarme of American capitalism: it is
an economic not a political outfit.
lesson obscures this CIA which is an extension of U.S. corporations
and whose task is to wage a clandestine class war against the working
people of the world to keep the world safe for U.S. investment. There
is no hint in his teaching of the event that the CIA's actions might
be symptoms of the systematic aggression of market forces against the
workers and that the "event" might be an outcome of market
forces. In his teaching, the CIA becomes a story machine producing
absorbing stories that circle around personalities, places, and
actions but lead nowhere. They build an illusion of knowing. Analysis
of the economic role of the CIA (which produces material knowledge of
global relations) is obstructed by details that have no analytical
effect. Why, for instance, did the CIA fight to drive the Soviets out
of Afghanistan? Berube's
"waging the cold war" seems to imply that the
dynamics of the conflict is "ideology".
The U.S. and the Soviets simply had two different
"political" systems and cultures. Thus, in Berube's version
of history, it is natural that the CIA wanted to drive the Soviets out
of Afghanistan and increase the U.S.'s sphere of political and
cultural "power" in the region.
The conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States is,
in other words, a clash of ideas.
his pedagogy is, in other words a view of history as an expansionism
of "power" (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire)
and as conflicts of "ideologies" (Francis Fukuyama, The
End of History and the Last Man). It is based on the notion that
"discourse" and "ideas" shape the world since
ultimately, history itself is the discursive journey of the Soul
towards a cultural and spiritual resolution of material
contradictions. This theory mystifies history by displacing
"class" (labor) with "ideas" and
"discourse" and consequently produces world history as a
"clash of civilizations" (Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash
of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order) that
re-writes the world in the interest of the Euroamerican capitalism.
According to the clash theory (which is the most popular interpretive
axis of "9/11"), people do what they do because of their
"culture" not because they exploit the labor of others (and
live in comfort), or their labor is exploited by others (and therefore
they live in abject poverty). "9/11",
in other words, is an instance of the clash of civilization: culture
("values", "language", "religion", the
"affective") did it. "They" hate "our"
way of life ("Their 'values' clash with Our 'values'). Since
"values" are transhistorical, the clash is spiritual, not
material. But culture,
didn't do it. Contrary to contemporary dogma (Stuart Hall, "The
Centrality of Culture: Notes on the Cultural Revolution of Our
Time"), culture is not autonomous; it is the bearer of economic
interests. Cultural "values" are, to be clear, inversive:
they are a spiritualization of material interests. Culture cannot
solve the contradictions that develop at the point of production; it
merely suspends them. Material
contradictions can be solved only materially, namely by the class
struggles that would end the global regime of wage labor.
"9/11" is an unfolding of a material contradiction not a
clash of civilizations. If teaching the "event" does not at
least raise the possibility of a class understanding of it, the
teaching is not pedagogy, it is ideology (as I outline it in part 5 of
more precise: the CIA fought the Soviets (and then the Taliban)
because U.S. capitalism needs to turn Afghanistan into a "new
silk road". The
conquest of Afghanistan, in other words, was planned long before the
"event", and its goal was neither liberation of the Afghani
people nor what the CIA calls "democratization". It was simply aimed at turning the country into a huge
pipeline station. In his testimony before the "House Committee on
International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific" on
February 12, 1998 (three years before "9/11"), John J.
Maresca, the Vice-President for International Relations of Unocal
Corporation, stated that
Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves, much
of them located in the Caspian Sea basin itself. Proven natural gas
reserves within Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan
equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region's total oil
reserves may reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil—enough to
service Europe's oil needs for 11 years. Some estimates are as high as
200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000
barrels per day (44 million tons per year [Mt/y])" (Monthly
Review, December 2001).
problem for U.S. capital was how to get the energy to the market.
The safest and most profitable way to get the energy to the
West was, Maresca testified, by building "A commercial corridor,
a 'new' Silk Road" through Afghanistan. Developing
"cost-effective, profitable and efficient export routes for
Central Asia", according to Maresca, is the point of converging
"U.S. commercial interests and U.S. foreign policy":
Afghanistan had to be liberated to build the "new"
silk road not because of a "clash of civilizations".
that brings up the "event" in the classroom has a
pedagogical responsibility to at least raise these issues: to limit
"knowledge" to "background information" and then
substitute CIA stories for conceptual analysis of material causes is
not curing ignorance but legitimating it. Attributing the causes of
the "event" to culture, therefore, is to obscure the world
class relations and the fact that their "hatred" is not the
effect of an immanent evil in their "religion" or
"language" or "values" but the brutal
exploitations of capital that has torn apart "their" way of
life to build new "silk roads" all over "their"
world. The silk road always and ultimately leads to
blame other "cultures" as Berube does when he refers to
"searing images of cheering Palestinian children", is to let
capitalism off the hook. It is a practice that produces a "false
consciousness" in students so that they make sense of the world
through spiritualistic "values" that marginalize the actual
struggles over the surplus labor of the "other"—which is,
what makes their own life comfortable. This is not curing ignorance;
it is the corporate pedagogy of a flag-waving nationalism.
pedagogy of affect piles up details and warns students against
attempting to relate them structurally because any structural analysis
will be a causal explanation, and all causal explanations, students
are told, are reductive. Teaching thus becomes a pursuit of floating
details—a version of games in popular culture. Students
"seem" to know but have no knowledge. This is exactly the
kind of education capital requires for its "new" workforce:
workers who are educated but nonthinking; skilled at detailed jobs but
unable to grasp the totality of the system— energetic localists,
pedagogy provides instruction not in knowledge but in savviness—a
knowing that knows what it knows is an illusion but is undeluded about
that illusion; it integrates the illusion, and thus makes itself
immune to critique. Savviness is "enlightened false
consciousness"—a consciousness that knows it is false but its
"falseness is already reflexively buffered" (Peter
Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, 5). The effect of this
reflexive falseness is that "one knows the falsehood very well,
one is well aware of the particular interest hidden behind an
ideological universality, but one still does not renounce it"
(Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, 29).
pedagogy of savviness teaches is knowing with a wink. In fact, the
"wink" places such knowledge on the borderlines of what
Sloterdijk calls "kynicism" (217-218)—absorbing the
falseness by an ironic, tongue-in-cheek pedagogy that completely
abolishes the conceptual for the pleasures of the story. The story is
represented as liberating the concrete of daily life from the
conceptual totalitarianism of abstractions. (I will use
"totalitarian" and "totalitarianism" in their
sanctioned "liberal" senses because I do not have the space
for a critique of liberal vocabularies and their concealed economic
assumptions). "Totalitarian" and its derivations, however,
have always been used by liberals to guarantee
"liberal-democratic hegemony, dismissing the leftist critique of
liberal democracy as the obverse, the "twin" of the Right
Fascist dictatorship" Slavoj Zizek, Did Somebody Say
Totalitarianism?). Story-pedagogy consequently becomes lessons in
politics as desire, affect and unsurpassable experience as in the
writings of Marjorie Garber (Symptoms of Culture), Elaine
Showalter ("The Professor Wore Prada"), Nestor Garcia
Canclini (Consumers and Citizens: Globalization and
Multiculturalism), and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity).
pedagogues theorize desire, the affective, trauma, feelings, and
experience, which are all effects of class relations, as spontaneous
reality and deploy them in teaching to outlaw lessons in conceptual
analysis of the social totality—which is aimed at producing class
consciousness in the student (the future worker). The classroom is
then constituted as the scene of desire where the student is
interpellated as the subject of his affects, which, in their assumed
inimitability, ascribe to him an imaginary, matchless individuality.
The un-said exceptionality of affect in the classroom of desire
becomes an ideological alibi for the negation of collectivity grounded
in objective class interests, and the student is taught to "wage
a war on totality" by activating "the differences", and
in "the honor of the name" identify with himself as an
unsurpassable singularity that exceeds all representations
(Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, 82).
The pedagogy of totality is the negation of the negation.
stories of a political CIA are narratives of capitalist desire aimed
at fragmenting the internationalism of class connectedness among
working people by dehistoricizing and localizing affects (suffering of
the same and cheering of the other). However, the "event"
has a history and, as an objective materiality, cannot be understood
without placing it in the world-historical class struggles. But in the
classroom of "enlightened
false consciousness" constituted by desire, class has no place.
Any explanations of the "event" as a moment in the unfolding
of the international class struggles; as a moment in which "two
great classes" (the rich and the poor) are finally
"directly facing each other" (Marx and Engels, Manifesto
of the Communist Party, 41) is suspended in silence.
"class" back into teaching of the "event" is to
move beyond dissipating history through "trauma" and
anecdotes of affect and thus put an end to the teaching of savviness,
which masquerades as a curing of ignorance.
The task of the pedagogy of totality is to teach the abstract
relations that structure the concrete material reality and not be
distracted by the details of appearance because "abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and
completely" and bring the student closer to grasping social
totality: "the relations of production in their totality"
(Marx, Wage-Labour and Capital, 29), which is constituted by
class antagonism, and therefore its unity is a "unity of
opposites" (Lenin, "On the Question of Dialectics",
358). The hostility to conceptual analysis and particularly to
class critique in contemporary pedagogy goes well beyond the teach-ins
on the "event". It is the fundamental dogma of
"radical" bourgeois pedagogy. Henry Giroux, for example,
wipes out class from pedagogy on the grounds that "class" is
part of what he calls "totalizing" politics (Impure
25-26). To be so totally opposed to totalizing is, of course, itself a
totalization. But totalizing in opposing totalization does not seem to
bother Giroux and other anti-totalizing pedagogues because the issue,
ultimately, is really not epistemological ("totalizing") but
economic (class). In contemporary pedagogy "totalizing" is
an epistemological cover for the class cleansing of pedagogy.
is most effective when its lessons are situated in the conceptual
analysis of objective social totality and grounded in historical
materialist critique. Totalization is essential to transformative
pedagogy because it is through totalization that the student—the
future worker—is enabled to "see society from the center, as a
coherent whole" and therefore "act in such a way as to
change reality" (Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness,
69). Changing reality in a sustained way, requires knowing it
historically and objectively, that is, conceptually as a totality in
structure and not simply reacting to it as a galaxy of signifiers (as
textualists have done); as the working of power in networks of
discourses (Foucault), or as a spontaneous reality that is available
to us in its full immediacy (as activists have done with eclecticism
and sentimentality). Pedagogy, in other words, is always partisan and
the only question is whose side (in the great class struggles) it
takes and why: "Who does not know that talk about this or
that institution being non-partisan is generally nothing but the
humbug of the ruling classes, who want to gloss over the fact that
existing institutions are already imbued, in ninety-nine cases out of
a hundred, with a very definite political spirit?" (Lenin,
"The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth").
of totality as a closural space that excludes "difference"
and thus leads to "totalitarianism" is based on an
anti-materialist reading of difference as "contingency"
(Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity,
3-69); as "hybridity" (Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture); as "differance"—the play of
"traces" in the differing and deferral of the sign
(Derrida, "Differance"); or the performativity of identity
(Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits
of "Sex"). These
and other versions of difference (Anthony Giddens, Runaway World:
How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives) in contemporary
pedagogy, are based on cultural heterogeneities that deflect the difference
that makes all the differences: the social division of labor under
capitalism. The pedagogy
of totality writes the foundational difference of class, which
explains all these differences, back into teaching and foregrounds it
not as aleatory signs (which is the epistemology of all these
differences) but as a historical necessity for capital, which divides
people with rigid clarity in the regime of wage labor (Marx and
Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 40-60). Social
totality, as I have suggested, is a totality with a materialist
(class) difference. It is a resistance against the ferocity of
"contingency", "performativity", "hybridity",
which, with the spiritual aroma of religion, have re-written the world
in cynicism, in pathos, and ironically but always in the interest of
the transnational bourgeoisie.
pedagogy that understand class—as an objectivity—will be able to
contribute to its transformation.
Without teaching for ending class, which is possible only
through understanding it as objective, all acts of pedagogy become
acts of cultural adjustment to the dominant social conditions—acts
of learning "how power works" (Giroux, Impure Acts,
139) in order to manipulate it and make it work for them. Giroux calls
the arts and crafts of manipulating power, "critical
pedagogy" and call its manipulators "critical
citizens". This is a citizenry, however, that is always concerned
with how power works on "them", through "them" and
for "them" (not the collective).
It is obsessed with "power" and never concerned with
"exploitation". It is, in the language of bourgeois
stratification, an "upper middle class" citizenry for whom
the question of poverty (exploitation) is non-existent, and the only
question is the question of personal liberty (power), as Giroux makes
even more clear in his stories in Breaking into the Movies:
Film and the Culture of Politics;
Public Spaces, Private Lives.
the name of a "pedagogy without guarantees" (Impure Acts,
12)—which legitimates the right-wing ideology of "equality of
opportunity" but not outcome and the bourgeois obsession with
"self-definition and social responsibility" (12) as if these
were simply matters of "contingency and contextuality"
(12)—Giroux opposes a pedagogy of totality and rejects class as
"the totalizing politics of class struggle" (Impure Acts,
25). Indeterminate, non-totalizing cultural interpretations
("producing a language", 12) in pedagogy displace
explanatory class critique, and consequently all structural material
contradictions are re-written as contingent cultural excess that
surpasses all structures. Consequently,
racism, in Giroux's contingent pedagogy of adjustment is not the
effect of structural economic compulsion
(Marx, Capital, 1, 899)
but a cultural oppression: the "legacy of white
supremacy" (Impure Acts, 66).
Giroux and other critical pedagogues always criticize
capitalism and regard their pedagogy to be a resistance against it.
Their criticism, however, is, in practice a radical complicity with
capital because it always erases the fundamental material
contradiction of capitalism (the appropriation of products from its
producers) and instead focuses on such matters as race, sexuality,
gender, and the environment as autonomous sites of the exercise of
power. When their teacherly criticism approaches capitalism as an
economic system, it is finance capital that is their object of
attention. Focusing on finance capital, however, represents money
itself ("interest") as the source of wealth. In doing so, it
marginalizes labor as the source of value and class as the marker of
relations of property and exploitation. Replacing capitalism as wage
labor with capitalism as finance capital has been the political goal
in the writings of such post-al writers as Derrida (Specters of
Marx), Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia) and Bataille, The Accursed Share.
"In a sense", write Deleuze and Guattari,
is the bank that controls the whole system and the investment of
desire. One of Keynes's contributions was the reintroduction of desire
into the problem of money; it is this that must be subject to the
requirements of Marxist analysis. That is why it is unfortunate that
Marxist economics too often dwell on considerations concerning the
mode of production, and on the theory of money as the general
equivalent as found in the first section of Capital, without
attaching enough importance to banking practice, to financial
operations, and to specific circulation of credit money—which would
be the meaning of a return to Marixst theory of money". (Anti-Oedipus
Focusing on banking effectively diverts attention away
from how "money" is obtained at the point of production and
instead focuses on the institutions of its distribution, as in Fredric
Jameson's "Culture and Finance Capital". In the manner in
which Felski and others substitute class affect for class economics,
in the left discussion of capitalism, the conceptual analysis of labor
as the source of wealth and wage labor as the structure of
exploitation are displaced by empathy for those who suffer at the
hands of financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, as in
Amitava Kumar's World Bank Literature—a book of
pedagogical mourning and melancholia. The grounding premise of "Culture and Finance Capital", World Bank
Literature and other contemporary left writings on capitalism is
that it is possible to have capitalism without oppression, namely
capitalism as a compassionate exploitation of people by people. Capitalism is for
them always and ultimately cultural.
It is, as Kumar writes, a web of
"power relations" and "cultural practices".
In Kumar's affective politics, banks are criticized in order to
reform capitalism not to overthrow it.
The popularity of "bank writing" in bourgeois left
circles now is, in part, grounded in the writings of Pierre Bourdieu
who theorizes "capital" as a form of wealth—a
resource—which produces power (The Field of Cultural Production,
74-141). Capital is, of course, not a thing but rather a social
relation (Marx, Wage-Labour and Capital, 28-30; Capital,
3, 953-0954) that is clearly recognized as such in revolutionary
writings on banks (Fidel
Castro "Abolish The IMF" (Capitalism in Crisis
288-292). Capitalism is not about "money", it is about the
social relations of property: class. Class is not lifestyle, income or
job. Nor is it life-chances in the market (Weber), a state of mind or
a matter of social prestige or status.
are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they
occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by
their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the
means of production, by their role in the social organization of
labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social
wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are
groups of people one of which can appropriate the labour of another
owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of
social economy. (Lenin, "A Great Beginning: Heroism of the
Workers in the Rear. 'Communist Subbotniks'" 421).
Class is, fundamentally, the relation of the subject of labor to ownership of the means of production; it is the objective social relations of property, not a story of desire, affect or power.
This is a short excerpt from Mas'ud Zavarzadeh's essay, "The Pedagogy of Totality" which appears in full in the Journal of Advanced Composition Theory (JAC) (23.1-2003).
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