Notes on: Zembylas, M. (2007) 'A Politics of Passion in Education: The Foucaldian Legacy'.  Educational Philosophy and Theory.  Doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2007.00300.x

 Dave Harris

Lots of people have focused on the importance of emotions, especially as 'a site of resistance and transformation' (135).  These accounts have been based on post structuralism, but a proper account of poststructuralist theories of emotion is required.  Some people think there is no such thing, especially since Jameson had argued both for the decline of affect, and eclipse of the self.  Foucault has also been accused of dealing with 'a weakened affect'.  However, he did write about passion, a politics of passion, in the modern sense of legitimising particular emotions and relationships.  We need to analyse the 'cultural and historical emotional rules' (136) that permit some people to express legitimate types of passion.


Foucault talks about '"affective and relational virtualities"' that can be seen as offering a resource for alternative emotional responses and expressions and identities, especially for 'teachers and students who practice the "art of not being themselves"'. [Quite close to conflating affect and emotions here]  The word passion originally meant to suffer, and it has traditionally been opposed to reason, on the grounds that passions overwhelm us and make us behave passively.  A list of 'metaphors of emotions found in colloquial English' indicate this [love clouds the vision, anger stop you seeing things straight, pride swells you up and so on].  This represents a 'myth of the passions', and it is widespread in everyday life as well.  It tends to justify cool rationality, but also to excuse actions.  However, these views are produced as a result of practices and discourses '"folded" into us' (137).


Foucault in Madness…  argued that passion is no longer the meeting place for the body and soul, nor the place for antagonism between mind and body, as in Descartes.  Passions were seen as events inside the mind that produced the bodily action, as with lust or fear [as in Spinoza and other C17 mechanist heroes] .  These are usually seen [by moderns]  as dangerous unifications between mind and body .  We can see this in discourses of passion in discussions of madness—the mind cannot control the passions of the body, or it surrenders to unreason.  Madness was entirely negative, and the only treatment was confinement.  We have the usual 'assemblage of discursive and non discursive practices' producing these views.  Since passions are the place where mind and body meet, madness is a constant danger.  However, madness has a critical power, as we see in artistic forms of passionate disruption of the normal.  Nevertheless, it is passion that makes madness exceed normality and become more intense, violent and irrational, because it escapes constraint.  However, the void that appears can be a location for creative action, once the traditional framework of contemporary institutions are left behind [we can include schools], and new alliances and combinations of lines of force can be formed.  This is an early account of the processes of becoming subject.


When this analysis of the subject develops fully in the later work, we can see that passion emerges from various practices, prepares the body for action, and 'thus is inextricably linked to transformation' (139).  The conventional self is destroyed in '"emotional experience"', and this is a new kind of individuation, a total innovation.  If we allow ourselves to be affected by passions, we create 'the conditions of possibility that allow [the subject] to actively participate in transforming itself' [automatically participate for Spinoza though?].  Passions and emotions can disrupt social control, although institutions depend on 'affective intensities': the threat is that normal social relations will turn into '"love"'.  Foucault goes on to describe passion as something that just affects people, just arrives, can be short term, but essentially offers a state where one is not oneself: '"To be oneself no longer makes sense"'[citing a volume of interviews].  People can see the processes of becoming, making one's self or work of art, living outside normal identities.  It is both an 'ethical and political stance'(140), demanding that we move beyond learned habits and beliefs.  Passion produces pleasure, from an experienced autonomy, showing the 'transformative power of passion in our lives'. [Circular though – he means a C17th passion for autonomy in the first place]


Foucault combines the ethical and the political, and sees a major role for the aesthetic as a source of human freedom.  Understanding passion helps us see how selves are regulated, sometimes by 'our styles of living' (141).  Deleuze and Guattari support this view [at least in their vitalist moments].  Passion is not just an emotion but a force, and it can create 'new routes of subjectivation' [the usual circular definition is not far beneath the surface—'real' passion transforms us, and we know what real passion is and how to define it—it is something that transforms us].  There are no universal rules of moral conduct [only a universalist injunction to seek joy, extend thinking and aesthetic experience].  We can see that certain practices and technologies prevent this, and so expressing oneself passionately is a form of freedom and resistance.  Living with passion produces an ethics, a way of living, 'marked by intensities and movements', encounters, the capacity to affect and be affected.


Deleuze on Spinoza argues this.  Minds and bodies are united in the person, and affections produce effects.  Some affections are active and others passive.  The latter can be sad or joyful according to effects on our power of action.  Deleuze says that this involves us in searching for active affections, and experiencing a maximum of joyful passions, to increase our own power of action.  We should maximize joyful and minimize sad passions, and joyful passions help us to develop to a social level.  Deleuze says that Foucault is on the same lines, where he says there is a development between forces acting on or some outside, and a knowledge which develops producing only internal constraints and limits.  Both Spinoza and Foucault talk about development in terms of relations with others, and between external and internal effects [comparisons follow between Foucault and Spinoza on pleasure].


For Foucault, there is a necessary historical and political dimension.  Freedom involves becoming active and maximising your preferred relations, pursuing pleasures and passions by forming 'new assemblages of bodies and pleasures' (143).  However, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, there are no universal passions or procedures.  Passions are always creative, energising 'the art of existence', the search for new assemblages.


Passion is an example of a Deleuzian haecceity [what?], an individual case produced by relations of movement and rest, and '"capacities to affect and be affected"'.  Subjects become passional and transforming agents.  Educators interested in transformation should therefore consider passion.  It could be seen as a 'becoming of learning', making oneself into a work of art, and reconsidering body and pleasure.  'Emotional liberty' is central, 'the freedom to undergo conversion experiences and life course changes' (144).  Liberation is a constant struggle and practice, involving critical and productive political engagement.


Learning might be considered as 'an art of not being oneself', driven by a passion.  It produces a decentring of the conventional subject, and this can also be a source of pleasure.  It involves a constant project of becoming, considered as '"the passion of unending metamorphosis"' (144, citing Robinson).  Learning can shatter the normal self, and this will involve resistance to the normal forms of emotional control in schools, in the name of the project to render oneself differently.  This will also require 'an environment that encourages different assemblages', a process of 'experimentation of the self', reconsidering classrooms in order to permit these transformations.  Classrooms already offer chances of new possibilities for encounters and pleasures, and this involves creative and innovative relationships between teachers and learners, going beyond the prison of conventional identity.  Passion can help fight off any despair arising from obstacles—this is the new relation of bodies and pleasures.  Using Foucault will help us understand constraint and develop new practices and 'economies' of passion, through 'critical attentiveness' and the rejection of any naturalism.  We can also develop a new politics [as ethics], involving challenging expressions of resistance based on 'creative disruption' (146).


Earlier work stressed the potential of emotions as shared meanings, a way of criticising emotional rules, but passion is particularly unruly and disruptive, so it can be a key element in the politics of struggle.  This will help us see that some assemblages can be subversive, perhaps by tracing them in particular forms of teaching and learning.  We will have to break with the normal concept of the subject and of identity politics.  At the moment, passion is seen as romantic or experienced only by a few talented individuals, but we must see it as a force behind social relations and a route towards understanding power.  There are no general rules, and context is crucial.  And educational politics should also be constructive [a reference here to Hardt and Negri on unleashing immanent desire to mobilize the multitude].  Passions then become an expression of the power to change things and to build communities, but we have to rethink them as something more than just sensational experiences.  Instead, they involve self expression, at levels including the emotional and the spiritual [in Spinoza's sense?]: emotional liberty comes first.  Foucault helps us see both the dangers and the potential of such practices.


Passions motivate us but they also have a subversive role.  They enable resistance even though they are not themselves emancipatory—'being passionate alone will not bring positive changes' (147). [No mileage in passion as an anti-reification force?]  Much depends on how passions are developed in particular contexts: in particular there must be 'a willingness to challenge previous self constructions' [not celebrate them, as most advocates of passion imply?] .  Foucault can be taken as an inspiration for educators to mobilize passion and construct 'a passionate educational terrain'.  Foucault suggests that passion is central to human activity.  Understanding passion 'as assemblages of bodies and pleasures' is both cognitive and emotional.  Thinking of education as an attempt to escape the conventional self 'is not only ethically responsible but also politically valuable'[because ethics and politics are run together].  Developing a passion can lead to a sense of loss of previously held beliefs, discomfort, but overall, Dewey was right in saying the education needs more passions not fewer.

[A rather libertarian Deleuzian reading of Foucault, with a lot of skating on thin ice joining everybody up to Spinoza and joy.  Why no Nietzsche? Try him on the will to power? The activist politics seems to have left out the automatic nature of becoming enlightened by relying on passions as a guide to truth.  The Foucault readings include fairly minor things in various readers and collections, although there is a book on dreams and existence which I do not know.  There is obviously a lot of material on the History of Sexuality vol. III and the care of the self.  There also seem to be some feminist commentaries on Foucault, and other essays in Patton's reader on Deleuze].

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