Pedagogy, Survival and the Permanent Emergency
It is equally important to keep these lessons in mind as we tell the story of 9/11 itself. For one of the most obvious pedagogical ramifications of 9/11 has been the mobilization of a discourse of pedagogy to justify political action: What are the lessons of 9/11? What has the terrorist attack taught America? Even a cursory glance at national struggles over other trauma stories show us that to fully control the interpretation of this "lesson" is impossible, whether those seeking that control are survivors, hawkish governmental authorities, peace activists, or teachers. I do not mean to underestimate the state's power to shape discourses of trauma and to act upon the stories they have produced - it is very great indeed. But we need not issue forth a unified counter-narrative in order to speak truth to this power - even if it were possible to do so.
Trauma stories banished from the mainstream have often found a home in literature and other spaces where we look for evidence of the spectral, the unquantifiable. But it is the habit of looking for this evidence, the arduous defile of literary interpretation, as much as the possession of the evidence itself that allows us to resist calls to crisis and unity. Writing against another call to crisis, on the eve of another war, Walter Benjamin reminded us of the tradition of the oppressed, and what it teaches us of history's permanent emergency. One way to take this emergency seriously in the classroom, is to let the literary do its slow, circuitous work in the face of a crisis that has gone on, and will continue to go on.
1. Some of the crises I investigate include a multiply declared national crisis of violence against children (which gives rise to the professionalization of social work and the political codification and usurpation of grassroots survivor testimony), the implicit crisis of the disappearing Indian (which fuels the motivations and rationalizations of salvage anthropology), and a perceived crisis in the body of American law (which produces the American Law Association's efforts to control for the traumatic effects of the real world's incursion on the effectiveness of the law's praxis). My final chapter, from which this article is, in part, drawn, brings the methodology I develop to bear on the American literature classroom. [Return to text]
2. "The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to brink about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as the historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are 'still' possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge - unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable." (Benjamin 1969, 257). [Return to text]
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