touching screens | dream teaching
Fish, Jeremy Fernando, 2019
by Jeremy Fernando
In places like universities, where everyone speaks so rationally,
it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear.
— Joseph Beuys
To teach, perchance to dream,
aye, there’s the rub
Keeping in mind that dreams come to one, envelop one, quite possibly take over one — and not only does one never quite have control over the dream, it might well write itself into one in ways that will always remain beyond one’s knowledge.
A dream writing; an unreadable writing; perhaps an invisible writing; or maybe a writing that is awaiting reading. And where the effects of said writing are precisely its traces unveiling itself — waiting to be read.
Where perhaps, to teach is to risk being in the realm of the unknown — in the oikos of the idiotes.
Stumbling around in the dark.
All whilst trying not to forget that the scene of teaching be not so much a transfer of information, but involves the opening of selves to the possibility a coming-together, an inter-course — with something which, or someone(s) who, might remain beyond one’s cognisance, until or even after, said encounter.
And here, it might be helpful to turn to one Martin Heidegger and his reminder that « the real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than — learning ». And, the only thing that the teacher is better than her students at is learning: simply because (s)he is « far less assured of his ground that those who learn are of theirs ».
And where the role of a teacher — bearing in mind that it is a particular performance; whether one embodies it or not is another question — where becoming a teacher, entails nothing other than learning alongside — maybe a learning to learn better than — her students.
Which has nothing to do with demonstration, putting on show (montre), even less a pedestal.
For, as Jacques Rancière, channeling the experimental Belgian teacher Joseph Jacotot, says, « to explain something to someone is first of all to show him he cannot understand it by himself … explication is the myth of pedagogy, the parable of the world divided into knowing minds and ignorant ones, ripe minds and immature ones, the capable and the incapable, the intelligent and the stupid. The explicator’s special trick consists of this double inaugural gesture. On the one hand, he decrees the absolute beginning: it is only now that learning will begin. On the other, having thrown a veil of ignorance over everything that is to be learned, he appoints himself to the task of lifting it ».
And that is, for Jacotot, ultimately the principle of enforced stultification.
Which is nothing other than a game of power:
for, « there is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another ». Therefore, as Jacotot continues, « the two faculties in play during the act of learning, namely intelligence and will, had to be separated, liberated from each other ». In this case — because both the teacher and her student are learning, and neither are claiming to know, to fully understand the object of their learning — « a pure relationship of will to will had been established between master and student … [with] the intelligence of the book the thing in common [between them] ». Thus, « the student [is] linked to a will, Jacotot’s, and to an intelligence, the book’s — the two entirely distinct ».
And this separation is called, emancipation .
In which one gets away (ex-), delivers (mancipare) oneself, from ownership (mancipum), breaks free from the hand (manus) — where daddy is no longer there to guide (agogos) the young one (paeda), where there is no pedagogy, nor even its contemporary manifestation which hides behind the name of facilitation, rendering easy (facile), but a genuine learning amongst equals; where everyone — including, and perhaps especially the one going under the name of teacher — is a peer.
All whilst trying not to forget that to peer is also to catch a glimpse —
perhaps more importantly, to look over, or maybe even through, something; certainly discretely, at a particular distance, quite possibly always trying not to get caught; perhaps even a forbidden glance, looking with a certain criminality, one that is beyond the pale.
Always bearing in mind — even if this remains a burden on one — that Socrates was put to death for corrupting the youth: not by turning them away from the good, but for opening them to questioning what is good, by opening the question, or love of wisdom if you prefer, in them.
And even if we acknowledge Jacotot’s disdain of Socrates — once again evoking the séance of Rancière, we read, maybe even hear, him say: « like all learned masters, Socrates interrogates in order to instruct. But whoever wishes to emancipate someone must interrogate him in the manner of men and not in the manner of scholars, in order to be instructed, not to instruct »  — one cannot ignore the fact that both of them were, in their singular ways, challenging both the norms of what it means to teach, and the relationship called the teacher-student one, contesting the very relationship called learning itself.
And, if a seminar is about the possibility of dissemination, perhaps even insemination, then the question that we are quite possibly facing — the quest that lies right in front of our eyes — is what does one do with the prophylactic between.
How to touch without touching as it were —
bring forth a touchless touch.
Which might well be the question of:
how does one engender the space for the possibility of an immaculate conception.
And, perhaps more importantly — if we are to take the question of emancipation, of freedom, seriously — how does one engender said conception without being the author of it, without authorising it, without enframing it, sullying it even, with echoes of authority.
Which is the question of: how does one bring forth teaching without being a — the — teacher.
Here, it might once again be helpful to turn to Martin Heidegger and his reminder that the essence of technology is enframing: making clear, clarifying, drawing boundaries, and thus containing, constraining; where it is the legein — the picking of, the gathering, the putting together — which encloses the possibilities brought forth by tekhnē, limits it within the realms of knowability, logos; where perhaps, it might well be the fantasy of truth, and more specifically a legible kind of truth, which cages the potential of what is brought forth by craft.
Which suggest that — if we are to take seriously the possibility that teaching is the setting of the stage for the potential called learning — we might have to attempt to think of a stage beyond a frame.
Which becomes doubly-tricky when said staging is taking place through a screen: for, that would entail imagining a screen that is not just a frame even as it frames everything that we see.
Keeping in mind that the screen is also a mirror —
for, one try not to forget, not that the screen will allow one to, that your face is screened right back at you, that you not only hear and see yourself, but you see and hear yourself speaking; both an echo in your ear and an image in your eye.
But where, what it is screening off, at the very precise moment when it is on screen, is the one who speaks, the one who is attempting to say (legein).
Which also means that it is always potentially an interrupted conversation
Keeping in mind that to converse is to twirl with, to dance alongside, another:
which means that even as we are attempting to turn with each other (versare), even as we are trying to be with (con-) others, maybe even whilst we are participating in a debate of sorts (versus) with all others, this is a dance in which all bodies are separated, screened-off, from each other.
And here, we should try not to forget that a screen both shows and hides away at exactly the same time. Which means that even as we screen, what we are screening is potentially being screened, screened-off, even as it is put on screen; and perhaps not even by us, but by the screen itself, in the very act of screening. That even as we are putting on, and exposing ourselves, to the light of the screen, it is already layering us with sunscreen.
And here, we should try not to forget Heidegger’s reminder that technology only unveils itself, that we only manage to catch a glimpse of its essence, in moments when it breaks down: thankfully, as Paul Virilio tries to never let us forget, each tekhnē brings with it its own, its singular, catastrophe, its own down (kata) turn (strephein), dip if you prefer.
Which would suggest that all hope lies in the potential failures of the screen; in other words, in the potential of the screen itself — when the screen fails to screen, as it were; or even, when the screen screens itself as screen.
Which is not to say that is this a situation that can be programatised, planned, instrumentalised: far from it.
Which also means that all we can do is to await the possibility of such a moment, and attend to them as they happen, if they do: all whilst bearing in mind that waiting is not passive; far from it. But that it never knows, cannot know, what it is awaiting — otherwise futurial possibilities are always already enframed, limited, by what is expected. Where, if waiting is about the possibility of an encounter, it is a state in which one waits: nothing more, and infinitely nothing less.
To wait — to think;
perchance to dream
Perhaps even whilst we are touching screens, rubbing the screen with our digits — writing, staining, painting, on screens with our fingers.
Opening the possibility that it is our fingers (digits) that are doing the feeling, walking, seeing, whilst opening — by touching, caressing — the typewriter, keyboard, screen. Where, it is a response to the object of one’s critique, inquiry, thinking, to the intelligence of the book, as Jacotot would say — and a response to each other — which comes through the skin of our fingers; where one, like a surgeon examining bodies, is attempting to see through touch, by stroking around; where one is performing a dance through seeing without seeing, as it were; by feel.
All whilst wholly other from each other —
but quite possibly in a situation where a pure relation of will to will can be established.
And with one’s fingers — with all of the fingers in the dance — perhaps making our languages, our skins, our screens, vibrate with an intensity that brings forth certain potentials within them.
Alongside our voices — which go through the screen, along with silences, gaps, mishearings, un-hearings, double entendres; hearings screened by the screen.
Like a veil (un voile) —
which perhaps, in moments, momentarily, turns, transforms, trans-substantiates even, into a sail (une voile), flies away (s’envoler) like a thief (un voleur) in the night.
And if this sounds like word-play, like merely playing with words, one might take comfort in the words of the great Australian philosophers — Barry, Maurice, and Robin, Gibb — that « it’s only words, and words are all I have/ to take your heart away ».
And, as Roland Barthes tries to never let us forget, « language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire ».
Ah, to rub …
perchance to dream …
An earlier version of this piece — entitled ‘screens | digits | teaching’ — was published at The Singapore Review of Books.
About the Author:
Jeremy Fernando reads, and writes; and is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and his, more than twenty, books include Reading Blindly, Living with Art, Writing Death, in fidelity, and resisting art. His writing has also been featured in magazines and journals such as Arte al Límite, Berfrois, CTheory, Cenobio, Full Bleed, positions, Qui Parle, TimeOut, VICE, and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, amongst others; and has been translated into the Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Serbian. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and the visual arts; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He has been invited to perform a reading at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in September 2016; and in November 2018, to deliver a series of performance-talks at the 4th edition of the Bienal de la Imagen en Movimiento in Buenos Aires. He is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Lecturer & Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore.