Notes on: Lewis, T (2011) 'The Future of the Image in Critical Pedagogy' Studies in the Philosophy of Education 30: 37--51

Dave Harris

Discussing aesthetics seems irrelevant in the face of more urgent concerns and philosophical tasks, and philosophers of the aesthetic conventionally start with an apology [Marcuse is one example].  The same thing is found in radical educators working in difficult schools: aesthetic theory seems anachronistic and inappropriate.  However, what questions like what constitutes the beautiful or the sublime are crucial in critical pedagogy.  Critiques of popular culture are common [including Giroux], but the fine arts need attention as well. 

Freire is one of the few who have used art in his 'culture circles', as a guide to raise consciousness, but there are additional considerations and these are provided in Rancière, especially with notions like the pensive image and the emancipated spectator.  Rancière revives the notion of Kant's aesthetic community.  We should see how this has affected his more educational work.  Most of those who have drawn on Rancière have not focused sufficiently on the work on visual arts, however.  We also need a reassessment to 'bridge the pessimism of Rancière' with 'Freire's utopianism'(38).

Freire argues for a democratised culture through the notion of the culture circle [in Education for Critical Consciousness 1973].  This encourages debate to clarify situations, and action which might then arise.  The point is to see that students themselves are active in the production and transformation of culture, as Subjects rather than Objects of history, to encourage their own creative acts, including searches and inventions.  Freire uses '"codified" existential situations' to accomplish this (39).  This includes using images 'designed to visually represent a particular stage of critical consciousness on its path toward self recognition'.  Images were to be decoded by the participants.  One example includes image of 'a man standing with book and hoe poised between a tree (nature) and the house and a well (culture)'.  The idea is to get people to see how human beings can create and recreate the world, to connect nature and culture.  Notions of literacy and liberation are extended with the use of 'a corresponding generative word' which is supposed to represent '"the oral expression of the object perceived"'.  Dialogue proceeds until the decoding is exhausted.

The whole exercise presupposes a 'correspondence theory between intention, codification, decodification and action', but there are other possibilities to see students as 'creative interpreters and translators'.  Rancière provides us with new options in the move from codified image to pensive image, and from passive to emancipated spectators.  Freire has at least pointed to the aesthetic 'dimension to emancipation', however (40), and how 'forms of visibility' are linked to 'manners of speaking', but his work is still limited and demonstrates conventions through 'the intentional fallacy, the fallacy of artistic hierarchicization, and the fallacy of spectatorship'.

For example, Freire offers a contradiction between his democratic goals and his pedagogical activity, which in practice involves 'a careful selection of codes to illustrate particular messages', according to some theory of the stages of the development of critical consciousness.  In turn, this implies that images can be decoded 'in a rather transparent manner' under guidance.  This implies some correlation between the intention of the artist, the representation, and the interpretation of the students.  This is not really 'the creation of the new', nor are agents really inventive ones, but discover 'an ideal causality that translates intentions to images to signs'.  In particular, the oppressed cannot 'disidentify themselves with their own pictorial representation'.  In another example, a picture depicts a conventional seated audience being addressed by a coordinator, 'an image that offers little distinction from the depiction of a banking classroom'.  If students do identify with the picture of the audience, 'they actively participate in their own objectification' (41) [which assumes that there is no place for passive learning in the move towards critical consciousness: it is equally paradoxical to insist that students must immediately be 'active', even if this means rejecting to learn how to read].  Freire has not discussed these possible 'ambivalences'which affect the whole 'pedagogical act of dialogue'.

This use of images is still conservative and conventional.  Rancière [in his Dissensus...] has offered a criticism of pedagogical art and the underlying view that images are merely signs of an intention by the artist, designed to induce some kind of passive edification, such as resistance against spectacle, or a critique of conventional forms of representation.  Freire's tactic depends on this simple identification between the people in the image and the viewer's subject position.  It is the underlying pedagogy that needs attention, however, not the use of art in education.

There is no direct cause and effect relationship between intention and effect, word and image, despite the classical notion that the visible just illustrates what the words say, assuming that speech governs the forms of the visible, for Freire.  This is detectable in the notion of dialogue as the teacher uses the image to illustrate the word.  This makes students dependent on the word provided by the coordinator to point to the meaning of the image.  In turn, this imposes a hierarchy, with speech as the most important, while Rancière would see images as just 'another mode of the sensible that becomes visible'.  Indeed, we can even have a split between what is seen and what is thought, 'and between what is thought and what is felt'.  This permits 'a space of dissensus', breaking with common sense.

Freire 'reenacts the paradox of spectatorship found in avant-garde theatrical experiments' (42).  Politically, this postpones democracy and liberation until after insight [in his case literacy] is established.  Some theatrical radicals, including Brecht and Artaud attempted to break the passivity of the spectator and replace them with an 'active community of participants'. Other experimental theatre does the same. Boal is close to Freire here with his notion of a 'theatre of the oppressed' [see link]  but he has a deliberate policy to oppose spectatorship.

But Rancière points to the contradiction in this pedagogical relation as well—only the schoolmaster can abolish the distance between knowledge and ignorance, and this involves recreating the distance.  Instead, we should be allowing spectators to translate images and this will inevitably lead to dissensus.  We have to realise that this is positive for Rancière, producing something heterogeneous, something aesthetic, in that it makes some things visible and audible despite attempts to regulate these possibilities.  The moment of dissensus and dis-identification produces the possibility of democracy, and makes spectators actively engaged.

Freire thinks that dialogue can eventually be exhausted, but again this implies some 'predetermined final destination'(43), with the danger that dialogue itself becomes 'nothing more than dialogic explication', with dialogue as merely illustrating a linear narrative.  Rancière wants to propose instead '"silent speech"', which arises when images initially resist speech and refuse interpretation and thus remain silent.  Otherwise, the image becomes a mere symptom to be explained by speech.  The silence of the image is a constant reminder of this resistance.  It stops spoken dialogue managing the image.  In democratic politics, it is important to retain 'contingency', dissensus, to avoid materials that provide lessons, and to open new configurations, whose meanings are not anticipated.  In this sense, images can reconfigure common experiences of the sensible, in Rancière's terms, beyond anyone's intentions.

This is what makes images 'pensive', something which escapes both the author's intention and the surprise of the punctum [see Rancière] , but conjoins both of these possibilities or '"regimes of expression"'.  It provides 'a surplus in the field of the sensible', by overlapping different forms of indeterminacy, which escape the agency of the artist - or the teacher.  For Freire, there is always a danger that the illustration 'interpellates the viewers' by its immediacy, and that dialogue domesticates pensiveness.  Instead, images can offer different regimes of expression, different sorts of thoughts and questions, which are not regulated by submitting to the 'classic regime of art' (44).  The images Freire uses are always more complex than he suggests, for example combining 'realism, abstraction, and poetry', both mimetic and figural, representational and abstract.  But there is 'a rush towards narrative closure'.  What is missed is the more general political concept of arts as a way of producing new ways of seeing the world, something that can work directly on 'the sensorial apparatus' of the viewer, requiring no use of 'dialogue as a suturing or coordinating intervention'.

The 'democratic leveling' of the visual and the verbal produces 'aesthetic pensiveness', but this is managed by Freire's dialogue.  Even at the first stage, nature and culture are distinguished, even though the image itself offers 'a state of creative surplus between dichotomies'.  In the precise image itself, there is even a 'marginalised woman in the background' and she could be seen as standing between categories [more likely to be seen as on the side of nature, I would have thought, although Lewis does not read it that way and says she stands between the two].  The full political gesture of the image is both the man confidently demonstrating cultural mastery and the woman standing aside from such identifications.  This is the full 'marginal, pensive detail' (45), but to get to it would mean refusing Freire's identification.  The woman is the unstable element, 'the unintended event of democratic disordering', which resists colonizing dialogue. In The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Rancière specifically refers to mothers as figures of equality, something representing equal capacity, carrying the mother language.  The continuity between mother and child refers to 'a continuity between life and learning', unlike institutionalized schoolmasters.  She opoposes male mastery of nature and the world, for Lewis, and represents 'the zone of indistinction where anybody can be a teacher'.  At the least, analysing that element of the image raises questions and makes it a pensive image.

In Freire's 8th image, there is a drawing of 'human forms intermingled with natural elements' on one page, and a poem on the other.  The dialogue emphasises the nature/culture split again, and argues that poetry 'is a distinct cultural artefact'.  This is a classic indication of the approach taken to link words and images, poetry and language.  The ambiguity of poetry is ignored, and the illustration becomes 'nothing more than a mere prop, subservient to the arrival of the word as the final destination'. What could have been explored is that 'words themselves are images and the images are words', so that there is something between literacy and illiteracy—'a state of open possibilities or dissensual arrest'.  Freire does say that words are to be visualized as images, and this could have led to a new understanding of the relation between the visible and the intelligible, one where words are seen as 'phonic images', which can be juxtaposed.  Rancière talks of the 'sentence - image' [in The Future of the Image] which combines two aesthetic functions rather than seeing text as representing image: texts offer a 'the conceptual linking of actions', while the image is the '"supplement of presence that imparted flesh and substance to it"'.  Words represent images of the 'phonic pieces'which can be recombined, producing 'a generative literacy tool'.  This operation is quickly bypassed by Freire, however, in the interests of 'a myth of progressive overcoming'.

Freire talks about poetry and its creative power, but promptly defines it in terms of offering access to a different form of action with its own interests and needs, a specialisation.  But that too is 'an aesthetic partitioning of the sensible', and a proper understanding of aesthetic sensibility involves blurring these distinctions, and questioning where poetry actually lives and functions.  And all these ways, the culture circle loses a great deal of emancipatory potential, which would be restored by seeing the image is pensive, potentially dissensual.  The relation between image and word, production and reception, and the different senses should be seen as an 'event (not a pedagogical method leading to a predetermined ends)'(47).  This event cannot be managed by considering only the intentions of the artist, or a fixed kind of dialogue.  The potential has to begin with displacement of the conventional notions of the aesthetic, produced by 'the silent speech of the image'.

We need to consider the Kantian notion of the aesthetic community if we are to make a proper use of images in education.  For Kantians, the aesthetic opens a possibility of politics, especially, the possibility of community.  It is an actual community of people making judgements that we have to consider, not an idealised one.  In such a community, no one can be required to agree on what is beautiful, even though that is claimed in any judgment, based on the assumption that any rational being can see beauty. [Sounds like Habermas on the isa].  The judgement of taste is not produced by education but is 'the spontaneous accord between the faculties of the subject and the object'.  This provides a radical openness to all participants [in principle], and any subject can participate.  There is no need to establish a consensus.  The aesthetic community is 'radically democratic', 'a community founded on disagreement rather than on consensus', a peculiar community indeed [organic solidarity?] .  There is no hierarchy 'between those who have and those who do not have "taste"' (48).

Freire aims at community based on commonality, agreement over the intended meanings of images, and identification with those images.  At best, it tries to embody the Kantian beautiful.  But the sublime is needed if we are to go beyond mere consensus and to permit disagreement.  The sublime produces dissensus, 'inoperative communication', and this is necessary to maintain 'the possibility of politics'.  Rancière suggests that his notion of the aesthetic community refers to the 'sublime nature of the beautiful itself', the combination of attraction and repulsion, the inherent ambiguity in the sentence-image.  Aesthetic experience is dissensual, denying the relationship between sensation 'and the law of understanding', and the distinction between sensory perception and desire, denying both are 'conceptual determination [and] consumable desire'.  In this way, the aesthetic community resists the main ways in which power is exercised [through concepts, and through commercialism?]. Overall, there is 'resistance to any strict law of measure that hierarchicizes and institutes an inequality'.

Freire advocates community through solidarity, but this is a way of preparing people 'for emancipation through literacy'.  The aesthetic community itself 'embodies democracy in its constituting disagreement'.  It values pensive images and their ability to disarticulate the senses, producing a zone of ambiguity where 'new subjects can be invented that do not fit within predetermined allotments of activity and passivity, nature and culture, human and animal, etc.'.

Such a community might be built 'around the image of performance/installation art'[apparently, Rancière has been used to analyze the educational possibilities of a particular work by Hirschhorn  Bataille Monument].  This piece apparently disrupts the partition of the sensible between high and low, verbal and visual culture, and thus challenges the conventions about who can speak and think.  Communities emerge which are not confined to just recognition or belonging, or even 'mere disintegration' but which are invited to reorient the sensible.  This works by locating the museum within a slum area, and using educational organizations like workshops and libraries in alignment with 'parodic forms of public transportation' to shuttle between elite and slum areas, local television, the Web, and some fast food services to create a possible community, as '"the result of an assembly process, open (to a certain extent) and unforeseen…  by artist or spectator"' (49).  Connoisseurs and local residents come into contact, art institutions are connected to the affects of global poverty, the museum becomes transgressive rather than preserving aesthetic compartments, and the slum area can now become 'the site for artistic happenings'.  This new community does not depend on proximity, collective acknowledgement or consensus, but features 'articulated distances': 'new narratives and new translations' are required, especially to translate across boundaries, and participants are challenged to rethink conventional understandings of community.  The whole community becomes pensive [well--the visiting critics do], focused on a new distribution.  Art becomes life, but not through a consensual framing of the common world, and life art, but not through the operations of institutions like museums: both options are collapsed producing 'an inoperative dissensus', precisely as Rancière advocates.

The proper use of images in critical pedagogy produces things that are 'necessarily ambiguous and contingent' [the old argument about forcing people to think], abandoning the usual roles as a form of 'ideological interpellation or political weapon', and insisting that there is a connection to political life.  In this way, aesthetic experience lends value to educational experience 'as a disorganized pensiveness'.

[All of this ignores the Bourdieu point that avant-garde experimentation induces hostility and panic to those rooted in the popular aesthetic.  I would like to know who reacted to this installation and how they reacted.  Lewis has been skeptical about whether a Brechtian approaches have demonstrated any affects, but he is entirely optimistic about this approach.  It is the old distinction really between material politics and cultural politics that is at stake?].

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