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143 Shireen R. K. Patell Learning Impossibility: Pedagogy, Aporia, Ethics Le maître n’est donc pas destiné à aplanir le champ des relations, mais à les bouleverser; non pas à faciliter les chemins de savoir, mais d’abord à les rendre non seulement plus difficiles, mais proprement infrayables. —Maurice Blanchot, Entretien Infini It is better to fail in teaching what should not be taught than to succeed in teaching what is not true. —Paul de Man, “The Resistance to Theory” How can one thank the beloved teacher? (I mean, without bringing a dead mouse to the door, as if one were a cat.) —Avital Ronell, The Test Drive Can I Read You? Even if inaudible, this question perhaps attends every textual encounter. Before May I read you? or Do I read you?, before even before, this: Can I read you? For even if I do read you, it is not certain that “I can read you”— each term in that locution is pressured, shaken, fissured by the very passage of reading. And if you were the one who vitally gave me reading, reading as a strange, depropriative task, the question is even more pressing: can I read you? How? I shall here be direct about the acute scene of writing in which I find myself: How can I read my teacher, my mentor, my friend, Avital Ronell? Marking the particular exquisite difficulty of this writing occasion is just one fine trace of her teaching. To express the impact of her thought, her writing, and her teaching, not just on me but on us, I cannot help but respond to this reading/writing call by submitting to the cognitive limit, reading elsewhere, guided by the pull of that other scene, reading in and i-viii_1-256_Davi.indd 143 4/10/09 3:14:43 PM 144 shireen r. k. patell as a displacement. She always returns to the pedagogical scene—or maybe “returns” is the wrong word because we have never left it. We are in and of it. Only in a displaced way might “I” read my teacher. And yet, displaced, who are we, I and teacher? Submitting to the impossible as the very response to the granting of responsibility—the articulation of responsibility itself—this is also the mark of being in the pedagogical scene, a strange place, staged over an abyss that terrifies and thrills. Teaching is always addressed, somehow , to the enigma of our survival despite the breakup of ground. I will try and approach this abyss by attending to Ronell’s pedagogical theory and the other other economy that subtends it—the ineluctability of a rupture non-Oedipal that accompanies every itinerary of learning, Oedipal or other. This writing will be an entry into the atopical field of “abysstemology” with which Ronell concludes her reading of the Rat Man in “The Sujet Suppositaire.” In that essay, devoted to an elaboration of what she calls “Oedipedagogy,” Ronell reads the “pedagogical deposit” into the student body: “The ‘truth’ of such a transmission is measured by the test of alterity which the student body, an excretory installation, produces, or, more properly speaking, in relation to the receptacle through which the teaching subject (who does not know what it knows) attempts to find articulation in the Other.”1 In the Oedipedagogical scene, the aporetic structure of transmission is intensified, and the drama is one of both conveying and covering over gaps in being. Even in the midst of this articulation of Oedipedagogy, however, Ronell implies that the Oedipal economies do not exhaust or saturate the pedagogical field when she specifies a certain type of pedagogical scene, “particularly one structured by Oedipal constraints” (FS, 109) and thus suggests that not every teaching scene is determined only by Oedipal pathways. She concludes her reading of Rat Man at an abyss of radical doubt “where one simply cannot decide for one semantic field over the other” (FS, 126). This undecidability motors the tropological compulsion and “[Rat Man and Freud] produce a desire that is reconstituted as source and origin, surveyed by the control tower that monitors indecision in the face of some terror.” It is to this indeterminate terror as the displaced and displacing core of the pedagogical scene to which I will submit this, my reading practice. I will tend to swerve between teaching and reading, or render them around a slash, marked or not, always to invoke them as a kind of unshakeable couple. Ronell teaches reading, and teaches reading by reading, as if...


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