Sunday 17 April 2022

Of course there were elephants

 “I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, & thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past'' Virginia Woolf.

It's taken a week, but it finally feels time to reflect on the Posthuman Pedagogies weekend and explore what it was that made the time in Malham so special. It's true that you don't always live in emotions as you feel them; and culturally-dominant linear ideas of time reinforce the way that we are conditioned to feel everything in the present moment.  As the person organising the event I felt like my own responses were deliberately frozen in time, and not to be indulged in; being responsible in a way for everyone else (even though we avoided any sense of hierarchy). In a way I would like to go back and run it through again as someone invited to attend, rather than the facilitator; although, as we said a few times during the weekend, you never walk through the same river twice.

On the first evening I introduced some ideas of Posthuman and More-than-Human Pedagogies, and we explored what these might be.  What could we learn from teachers, but not the human kind?  What might happen if we saw moss...fungi...water...trees...the wind, even - as educators, full of things to tell us, them having been - as Robin Wall Kimmerer puts it - on this earth far longer than us?

The theory behind all of this comes from the critical posthumanism of Rosi Braidotti and differs from other strands (actor network theory, transhumanism, anti-humanism, and so on) in that it is not philosophy as such, but a “…theoretically-powered cartographical tool” (Braidotti 2013, 12), or a lens through which to read the world (the latter is a fitting analogy for a practice which draws heavily on the work of Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher and optical lens grinder). Posthumanism is essentially a final call to “…mark the end of the self-reverential arrogance of a dominant Eurocentric notion of the human, and to open up new perspectives” (Braidotti and Hlavajova 2018, 3). It requires us to make a double move; the first, going beyond, or afterhumanism as we augment and reposition the voices of those overlooked and oppressed by Enlightenment ideas of “humanity.” The second move is post-anthropocentrism; the decentering of the human and elevation of other species and ecological systems which have been relegated beneath “Man” in an exploitative and limiting hierarchy. This convergence of ideas – which are often dealt with separately – necessitates complex, non-binary responses to the questions of our times.

Our focus for the weekend was particularly on this latter move; the decentering of the human. I shared an image of mushrooms, ants, moss and - rather randomly - elephants. I joked about how I might struggle to find the latter for everyone in the Yorkshire Dales. We planned workshops on learning from fungi, poetry inspired by material objects, and outdoors art-based practices. We spent a morning walking around Malham Tarn and looking at the landscape through a critical lens, considering the problematic history of pastoral spaces and our own privilege in relation to even being there. I imagined us exploring numerous ways in which we could learn from nature and what that learning might change for our own teaching practice. 

And yet.

'One knows that Life lives on regardless of human pretentious and expectations. ‘We’ can only intervene in this as transversal ensembles, acting collectively: ‘We’-who-are-not-one-and-the-same-but-are-in-this-convergence-together' (Braidotti, 2019, p.182).

What I hadn't fully anticipated was the need for us, after two years of pandemic, to firstly reacquaint ourselves with what it is to be human. Reflecting afterwards with a friend on Sunday night, we talked about the need for a 'reset'; a reminder of what it means (and how much it means) to be in the company of unfamiliar others; to share food; to make new friends; to share the often traumatic stories of what it has meant to try and teach in the presence of a virus, within oppressive education systems, and in the hands of a corrupt and dehumanising government. To decentre ourselves is always already impossible. We needed to think about identity (the 'effect of power', Deleuze put it) but also move beyond this together as ethical subjects. As Braidotti states 'A subject is a matter of forces, of relations, of capacities, of inclinations' (2018, p.182). To acknowledge this was about becoming intimate with naturalised others, but also about being open in relations with other human subjects. Helped by the practices of a Thinking Environment, which opened the weekend with simple but vital question 'How are you?' we had the opportunity to show up as ourselves and reaffirm our values, ethics and forge assemblages that I know will be long-lasting and essential to do the work that is required. I truly hope that others will find similar spaces of reconnection and affirmation.

And the elephants? They are also well-known for their close social relationships and fostering of strong, sustaining communities. Looking out of my window on the first morning I spotted a line of them surrounding Malham Tarn. Well, they were trees of course, and you need to zoom in quite far to see them. But it's all about perspective.

Elephants on Malham Tarn

Braidotti, Rosi. (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Braidotti, Rosi, and Maria Hlavajova. (2018) Posthuman Glossary. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Braidotti, R. (2019). Posthuman Knowledge. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Braidotti, R. (2018). Affirmative Ethics, Posthuman Subjectivity, and Intimate Scholarship: A Conversation with Rosi Braidotti. In: Decentering the Researcher in Intimate Scholarship. Eds. Strom, K., Mills, T., and Ovens, A. Bingley: Emerald Publishing. pp. 179-188.
Virginia Woolf quote from her journal, Wednesday 18 March, 1925.

No comments:

Post a Comment