By Stefan Bengtsson
An overarching project in my current work in a couple of writing projects relates to the conception of the learner as it is framed by enlightenment thought. In particular, I am interested in the characteristics of unity, autonomy and invulnerability and how that can be seen to frame even to this very day, common educational thought.
A key concept for thinking about this learner has been put forward in Kant´s notion of the principle of primary or pure apperception. This pure apperception relates to the synthetic unity of thought the subject thinking it. It is this unity of “I think” that I see as crucial for today´s understanding of learning. In particular, it is the claim of unity of this “I” thinking that can be seen to be framing notions of intellectual development, as it is still the same “I” thinking even though it can, in line with the project of enlightenment, be seen to become more mature and to emerge from an age of non-reason. The concept of pure apperception can be seen to be trying to ward off the danger of inconsistency of thought and, maybe even more frightening, the idea of a self that varies according to the thoughts it pursues. What this claim of synthetic unity of “I think” can also be seen to be related to is the autonomy of that “I” thinking. Thus, the I thinking is autonomous in the way that that thought is my own.
This autonomy is crucial for warding off a potential variation of the self or rather opaqueness of that self. It is for example crucial for thinking progression through learning as that progression needs to be congruent with a singular “I” who´s capacity to reason is progressing. If this autonomy would be undermined, then there is a danger that the whole idea of singular and synthetic development of mind might be in question. Shall we briefly challenge this assumption?
Do not think of a polar bear! … What just happened? Did you think of a polar bear? If you did think of a polar bear, was that thought your own? Were you fully in control of your mind? That is, not thinking of a polar bear, but did it do things that were not initiated by you?
What this example aims to illuminate is that the workings of the mind, as well as that of the self, might not be fully transparent to ourselves as assumed in the thought of Fichte and Kant. Accordingly, learning as partially relating to cognitive activity might not be fully owned by the learning subject.
We might end up with a reconception of the self-as-thinking which resembles something close to the movie Inception. We might discover that a thought we thought was ours is not ours – do not think of a polar bear! The self might have been transgressed by something that is not that self. The law of non-contradiction seems to be become loosened when we think for a moment about this. Of course it was my thought as I was thinking of a polar bear, however, it was also not my thought.
The point to be made here is that what we find at the core of what often is taken for granted as the central unit of education and learning is not the autonomous unit called the learner. That unit seems to be unable to fully account for itself as well as not fully in control of itself. Thus, the notion of reason as a way of appropriation by a subject can be seen to be weakened.
For t-learning, this might mean that transformation and transgression might not always be initiated by a learning subject, the agent of change or whatever we might call that human something at the centre of our thinking. What if the human agent, is an agent, however not fully in control of that change? What we are touching upon here is a fear addressed by psychoanalysis, post-structural theory, as well as nihilism. In the case of nihilism, there might, for example, be the danger that the will to know (the will to power) is an expression of a will to nothingness (Brassier, 2007). That is, that the agent of change is engaging in its own extinction?
However, I interpret this loosening up of the subject as also offering an alternative for learning and education. I see this weakening of the subject, that is its autonomy and unity, to allow for its vulnerability to emerge. Why this vulnerability, you might ask yourself? Because, a weakening of the subject, that is the acknowledgment that it is to some extent opaque to itself and at the same time itself and not-itself opens up for an intimacy to other selfs. Thus, what we might find at our very core is a glimmering blackness (Morton, 2015), an overlay of all the colorful other things out there, or rather in here, that constitute that self that I call my own.
Might this not be a transgression of a self in an a temporal sense? That is, I might discover that what I am is already something else. T-learning might here take another turn, leaving behind the antagonistic conception of change as it can be seen to be informed by a dialectical approach to transformation and instead open itself up to a more gentle and maybe even more frightening engagement with a self that seemingly is already transgressed.
As I am currently exploring this opening up of an alternate understanding of t-learning, I see a pedagogy of vulnerability as a viable option for an alternate engagement with issues related to current planetary challenges.