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The Child and Postmodern Subjectivity

The Child and Postmodern Subjectivity

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Published by: David Kennedy on Nov 03, 2009
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THE
CHILD
AND
POSTMODERNSUBJECTMTY
DavidKennedyDepartment
of
EducationalFoundationsMontclairStateUniverity
In
between
the
view
that
childrenarewhatadultsare,knowwhatadultsknow,anddeserveexactlywhatadultsdeserveandtheview
that
childrenarethenegationoroppositeofadults
in
being,knowledge,anddesert,isanayetunfathomablerangeofpoibilitiesthatmeritsexplorationandmapping.'
The
epigraph,takenfrom
the
introductiontoarecentlypublishedvolumeofessaysontheviews
on
childhood
of
elevenWesternphilosophers,combinesmetaphors
with
agentIebutunsettlingsense
of
disjunction.
2
The
firstsitssquarelyon
the
Aristotelianlogicalfoundationofidentityandnegation.Adultsareadultsandchildrenarenot-adults,orviceversa.
The
econdevokes
the
explorationofunchartedwaters.Where,betweenthe
immutable
logicalmarkers
of
thelaw
of
contradiction,doesthediverslipintotheproblem?
If
sheenters
with
ethics,philosophyofrights,propertyandlaw,shesoonhitsthehardandshallowbottomofcenturies
of
accretionoftheWesterntradition-asubsurfacelongetchedandstriated
with
familiardistinctions,contradictions,dilemmas,andaporias-andfindsherselfwading.Forthisdiscourse,"child"mightaswellbemarkerforanysubspeciesrealorinlaginedbythewhitemale
We
ternacademicphilosopher-woman,primitive,insane,slave,poor,aninlal:
the
Otherheld
at
arm'slength.But
what
if
thecontradictionssoadamantlyupheldandinstitutionalized
in
Westernbinaryconsciousnessenter
into
dialecticalrelation?What
if
werecognize
them
aspolesofawholesystem
of
relations,and
so
liabletoall
the
transformations,deformations,reversals,andtensions
of
theprocessofdialectic?Here
we
slipofftheledge.Canthe
word"
child"bespoken
without
speaking
the
word"
adult,"andvicever
a?
Ischildhood,likeadulthood,aform
of
knowledge,andthereforeavailableeithertobothchildrenandadults?Isadult"reason"whichchildren,all
of
thesephilosopherssay,lack-isthisReasonimaginableapartfromanirrational
that
gives
it
itsshape?Howarechildrenlikeadults?Howareadultslikechildren?Canadulthoodandchildhoodbeknownapartfromtheirrelation?
If
thesequestionspushustowardthepsychological,
so
beit.Psychologyisaform
of
thephilosophy
of
subjectivityanyway,andphilosophyiscapable
of
more
than
oneform
of
logic.
THECHILD
AS
"VALUABLESTRANCER"
AND
REASO
's
IRRAT10NAL
CORE
Whatispeculiarandcompellingaboutthesequestionsis
that
theyprobe
the
boundaries
of
twoepochalproblems
of
Westernself-interpretation.Atleastsince
1.
GarethMatthews,
ThePhiloophel'sChild
(Cambridge:HarvardUniversityPress,
19991,6.
2.
Socrates,Aritotle,theStoics,Hobbes,Locke,Rousseau,Kant,Mill,Wittgenstein,Rawls,andShulamithFirestOne.3.Plato,
TheRepublic,
nan
.and
ed.
P.M.Comford(London:OxfordUniversityPress),140.EDUCATIONALTHEORY/Spring
2002/
Volume52/
Number
2
©
2002Board
of
Trustees/UniversityofI1linoi
155
 
156
ED
U
CAT
ION
AL
THE
0RY
SPRING
2002/
VOLUME
52/
NUMBER
2
Friedrich
Nietzsche,
and
probably
sinceErnst
Hegeland
the
Romantics,
the
question
of
thestatus
ofreason
in
the
economy
ofsubjectivity
has
preoccupied
some
artists,
some
psychologists,
some
philosophers}
and
many
of
thosewhopresume
toconsider
themselves
artists
of
theirown
live.
Related
to
thi
question,
and
rendered
insistent
by
centuries
ofradicalindividualism,is
the
question
of
the
historicalcharacter
ofsubjectivity}
andthepo
sibilities-
if
therebepossibilities
at
all
-of
bothits
development
anditsevolution.
The
Western
subjectdefines
itself
accordingto
the
relationsbetween
rea
on
and
d
sir
.
Plato's
tripartite
soul
isthe
first
statementthathas
come
down
to
usof
this
relation,
although
his
formulaia
reproduction
ofIndo-Europeanocial,economic,
and
political
structure,
which
was
in
place
centuries
if
not
a
millennium
before
his
Republic.
Reaon,
the
smallest
of
the
three
parts}
must
ruleemotion
and
appetite.Although
the
imagesPlato
uses
to
invoke
thi
tripartite
relationinclude
mu
ical
harmony
and
the
proper
tension
ofa
drawn
bow,
the
finalimagesareof
dominationand
control.Reason
and
its"
subordinate
and
ally"
the
"spiritedelement,
/I
hays,
"must
beset
in
command
over
the
appetite,
which
form
the
greater
part
ofeach
man's
souland
are
by
nature
insatiably
covetous.
/13
This
rightrelationb
tw
enthe
three
parts
of
the
soul
isimpossibleforchildren,
who
are,along
with
women,
laves,and
the
"inferior
multitude,"
be
etby
"th
greatrnaof
multifariou
appetite
and
pleasuresandpains,"4forbeingan
adult
require
aninternal
awellaan
external
submission
toaseparated
part
of
one'
ubjective
tructure.
It
is
th
part
that
Ari
totle
call
the"
executive."s
It
requires,
not
so
much
aprocess
or
a
movement
aa
terminal
reorganizationaccording
to
hierarchical
internal
power
relation.Iti
the
foundingmetapsychological
condition
for
Descartes's
res
cogitan
,th
u-
pendedaboveitself,
which
finds
the
res
extensa
alien,aflesWy
mechani
m.
Thi
formof
subjectivitycomesto
the
boundary
between
childhood
and
adulthood
a
to
agreatdivide-for
which
adulthood,as
GarethMathews
says,is
/I
a
statewhich
iaccomplishedabsolutely
andonceand
forall
when
childhood,
it
contrary,istranscended.
Childhood
is
merely
the
preparationfor
that
which
definitivelyleave
it
behind."6
This
normative
self-structure
dominates
the
Westernpatriarchal
tradition,
and
itmust
exclude
theOtherinthe
formofchild,
woman,"native,"
and"
lave"
-
any
formof
subjectivity
in
which
body
and
feeling,
inother
word
,
/I
deire,"
In
terplay
in
adifferent
relation
with
reason.
This
structure
begin
tounravel
in
the
nineteenthandtwentieth
centuries,along
withthe
understanding
ofreason
that
holds
it
in
4.
Ibid.,125.5.Aristotle,
Physics,
uan
.
W.
Charlton,in
A
New
AristotleReader,
ed.
J.L.
AckrilllPrinccton
.J.:
PrincetonUniverityPre
51,
.l
04.
6.
Matthew,
ThePhiloopher'sChild,96.
DAVIDKENNEDYiAociateProfeor
in
theDepartmentofEducationalFoundationsatMontclairStateUniversity,UpperMontclair,
NT
07043.Hisprimaryareaofscholarshiparcphilosophyofchildhoodandcommunityofinquirystudies.
 
KE
EDY
Child
andPostmodemSubjectivity
157
place.Somethingbegintoemerge-atentativesubjectivityasyet
in
doubt
but
stillemerging,influencedbyand
inturn
influencingtheacceleratingtransformationsofmodernism:evolutionarytheory,physicsandcosmology,depthpsychology,technologicalexplosion,ideologicalstruggle
inthe
realms
of
politicsandeconomics,postcolonialism,andperhapmostimportant,theever-increasingintervisibilityofculturesonaplanetaryscale.Oneoftheprophetsofthislongtransitional
momen
t(along
with
women,peopleofcolor,theartist,
the
mad,and
the
aboriginal)is
the
child.LaunchedbyJean-JacquesRousseau'sbrilliantandcontradictoryformulationofEmile,childhoodasapsychologicalconditionandaform
of
knowledgeassumesiconicsignificanceamong
the
Romantics,thosefirst
modem
ecularrebelsagainstReason.
In
theirsearchforthe"foreign/,
the
exotic-othercultures,othertimes,otherformsoflife-theyfind
the
mostexemplaryspecimenofdifference
within
theirmidst.
The
child,andespecially
the
youngchild,
that
"bestphilo
opher/
J7
beginstostand
in}
withthe
artist,asprophet
of
anewsubjectiveeconomy,aneconomy
in
whichPlato'sthreedimensionsenteracrisis
of
interpretation.
Aufklarung
hasalreadyshownitsdarkunderside
inthe
excessesoftheFrenchRevolution,and
the
rieofhyper-rationalizedstatebureaucracies
which
followsreinforcesthesense,growingthroughoutthenineteenthcentury,
that
it
hidesanirrationalcore-asinisterreversal.FriedrichNietzsche,FyodorDostoievsky,andSigmundFreudbeginchartingdimensions
of
the
pyche
that
progressivelyconfoundPlato'snestedlinearhierarchy,and
hint
at
otherpsycho-logics-Freud'slogicofdreams,forexample-tha
tare
deconstructive
of
thelawofcontradictionwhichdominatescommonsensenotions.
In
thisshiftingmoment,thecondition
of
childhoodcomegraduallytobeseen,nolongeras
an
unformedadultsubjectivity,butasaformofsubjectivity
in
itself.Relativeto
the
dominantnorms
of
adultsubjectivity,thechildbecomewhatthefeministphilosopherSandraHardingcharacterizesasa"valuablestranger"among
the
cultural"natives,"an"outsiderwithin,"
with
an"epistemicprivilege."
The
childrepresentsnolongeran
incomplete
but
an
altemative
epistemology.Ontogenetically,thechildisasubjectivetructurecharacterizedbytransformation-aparadigmforwhatJuliaKristeva,
in
describingtheemergentpostmodernelf,called
the
"subject.in-process/'orself
as
apluralism
of
relationshipsrather
than
an"organizationconstitutedbyexclusionsandhierarchies."9Childhoodstandsfor"jouissance,"
the
experience
of
pre-Oedipal"forgottentime,"ecstatic
momentsin
whichthe
sociallyconstructedform
of
theboundarylinebetweenselfandexternalworldisdeconstructedintheinterestsofongoingelf·reconstruction.
10
The
childis
7,
WilliamWordsworth,"Ode:IntimationofImmortalityfromRecollection
of
EarlyChildhood,"in
Poems,
ed.
H.T.
HalllNew
York:ScottForesman,
19241,
195.
8.
Sandra
Harclin&
WhoseScience!WhoseKnowledge!ThinkingfromWomen'sLives
(Ithaca,N.Y.:CornellUniversityPress,
1991),124,131,307.
9.
JuliaKristeva,
Desire
in
Language
(NewYork:ColumbiaUniversityPress,
1980),135
andJuliaKristeva,
ThePowersof
Horror:
An
Essay
onAb;ection
INew
York:
ColumbiaUniversityPress,
1987),65.
10.
CatherineMarchak,
"The
loY
ofTransgression:BatailleandKristeva,"in
PhilosophyToday
34,
no.4IWinter
19901:
354-63.

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