Critically Committed Pedagogies, #2
A recap of a semi-public seminar
by Amber Coomans
March the 10th is a vibrant day in Castrum Peregrini. Together with Dr. Esther Peeren, (University of Amsterdam, ASCA and Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies), Professor Peter Kraftl (University of Birmingham), Jack Halberstam (Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University) and the moderators Renee Turner and Frans-Willem Korsten, the students of the Piet Zwart Institute and many other guests immerse themselves in “critically committed pedagogies.” Although the word critical may sound as a cliché, Frans-Willem Korstens states, together with the word committed, it’s exactly what this seminar is about.
The seminar begins with Dr. Esther Peeren talking about where we teach and how the spaces in which we teach influence learning. She’s inspired by philosopher Michail Bachtin and his so-called chronotopes: intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically exposed in literature. There is the chronotope of the adventure novel, in which the main character always forgets the things he has learned in the previous episodes and is constantly surprised by everything. In this world learning is not possible. Another example is the chronotope of the Road, in which meeting new people from different backgrounds is central. Bachtin states that these chronotopes also exist in the real world.
The chronotope of the Salon is the place where dialogues can happen and where there is a more dialogic and interactive atmosphere. Perhaps this is an example of what a classroom should look like?
What does it mean to have this seminar at Castrum Peregrini? You could see the former WWII hiding place as a learning space for the hiders. They continued learning by writing and discussing, as in the chronotope of the Salon.
The discussion then turns to the VOC-room in the University of Amsterdam where the faculty of Humanities is now seated. How does the history of this place influence the learning processes that characterize this place? And what does it mean that this hasn’t really been discussed? Our heritage from WWII seems to be allowed to haunt us, as shown by the popularity of the Anne Frank house, but our colonial history isn’t. Why is this the case? Peeren concludes with Bachtin, who explained that learning is an internal conflict: It’s going to be difficult! That internal conflict, or internal dialogue is not ignored at Castrum Peregrini. It is a learning space and thinking space where attention is paid to time and space. If more learning places such as universities would pay more attention to time and space, we would achieve different ways of learning, resulting in more inclusion.
To end with a clever statement from one of the students: It’s not about what the space does to you, it’s who you become because of the space that matters.
The second talk of the day is given by professor Peter Kraftl. He talks about his research on geographies of alternative education, and alternative childhoods in the UK, which is fuelled by his interest in space and place, being a geographer.
Alternative childhoods question standard ways of testing and the way children’s bodies are treated in schools. They create spatial ways of learning. Examples are the so-called forest-schools in Denmark, where the pupils are largely being taught outside in nature, the Kilquhanity Democratic school in Scotland, where teachers and pupils come together every week to discuss what will happen next week in a completely democratic way, and the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland which is more spiritual. What was striking in his research is the fact that teachers in alternative schools speak about love so often. Love as a completely non-sexual, non-romantic emotion. In mainstream society these senses of love are touched upon, but not as frequent. One of Kraftl’s respondents states that we need to see something like love as something bigger than just between two people: love as a responsibility. Kraftl concludes that we need to see alternative childhoods as autonomous, rather than seeing them as alternative. They are autonomous because most of the time they are independent and more outward-looking. They are distinct, but not divorced from the mainstream!
Another point of discussion in the room revolves around the issues of class and inequality in relation to alternative childhoods. It really depends on the places you go to, states Kraftl, because there is a huge diversity within alternative childhoods. It is an important topic.
Jack Halberstam responds to Kraftl’s talk by saying that love being defined as opposed to sexuality is nonsense and impossible. Kraftl agrees that it is indeed problematic to separate love and sex (and jokingly suggested perhaps a very British thing to do.)
A student presses the question whether it’s ethical to homeschool a child. Isn’t it a form of child abuse? Maybe it is, but maybe it’s abuse to put children in a learning environment with only people of the same age. A complicated but interesting subject with much to discuss about.
The seminar ends with Jack Halberstam talking about frightful leaps into darkness based on Auto-Destructive Art. In Halberstam’s own words: from talks about utopian projects we now dive into total destruction at the end of the day.
‘Art without a safety net’ is what Halberstam speaks about, in combination with why we might use queer theory to think differently about death. Why? We’re living in a world where life expectancy has been greatly increased. Also, technological investment happens so fast that we will reach the moment where we will have transcendent the physical condition of death. At least, this is what the trans humanists want us to believe. In a way, Halberstam states, we already are at that point because of IVF. People that normally wouldn’t be able to reproduce are able to now. You can see humanity move towards destruction and we have to think about reproduction and death differently. Auto destructive artists, like Gustav Metzker who lived in Amsterdam for a while in the 70s, aim to think about these subjects in a different way. Metzker has tried to shatter the sentimental investment in WWII, by making clear that the genocide continues and could easily happen again.
Halberstam ends with the following: let’s see if this archive of auto destructive art can give us a set of tools to think differently about embodiment, life, death, risk, safety, art, creativity, and violence. Is there anything within this archive that we can use for the current set of disasters that threaten us?
The contribution of Jack Halberstam was also broadcasted on Castrum Peregrini Facebook Live Feed, Friday 10th March.
As part of the project The Warp and Weft of Memory artist and writer Renée Turner took the initiative for a number of Critically Committed Pedagogies in the House of Gisèle on 20 January and 10 March 2017. The Warp and Weft of Memory is a research project by Renée Turner, which will result in an online narrative exploring the contents of Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht’s wardrobe, and the ways in which it reflects her life, work, and larger histories through textiles and clothing. The Warp and Weft of Memory is made possible by the generous support of Mondriaan Fund
Amber Coomans studies heritage at Reinwardt Academie Amsterdam, and a minor Philosophy, Worl religions and Spirituatlity at HKU Utrecht. Amber joins team Castrum Peregrini on a voluntary basis.