ellsworth (p55 quoting felman) states that pschoanalysis “gives us uprecedented insight into the impossibility of teaching,” and that this opens up “unprecedented teaching possibilities, renewing both thte questions and the practice of education.”
this parallels my own writing about creation. to summarize: to create is impossible, because creation redefines the possible. creation (as i define it) necessarily involves a reconfiguration of self/other because it is a change in the structure of belief. this change in the structure of belief changes the manifestations of belief (images, objects, truths). however, to create does not necessarily involve the manipulation of beliefs directly or abstractly, instead, for example, to rework a piece of clay involves a direct reconfiguration of self and other through a suspension of those categories via touch. what we are reworking when we touch clay is not the clay, but the border/intersection of self/other while within it. we are inhabiting the interstasis, the skin. (pedagogy is a performance that is suspended (as in interrupted, never completed) in the space between self and other (p17).) but not “purely.” creation exceeds re-production, but does not exclude it. so the process becomes one of (re/de)creation. re-production, re-presentation itself is an impossibility, but it denies its own impossiblity. re-presentation is blind to its own belief structures (or it pretends to be). it attempts to recreate truth according to belief, but to create necessarily involves change of the self/other – whether or not this change attempts to re-enforce what one believes or expects. that is, whether or not the process of creation is seen as open or closed, accepted or denied, it always involves change. and this process occurs moment by moment.
to teach then, as traditionally defined, is to have students understand. students are to distinguish forms in a designated manner. they must inhabit a certain belief structure in order to see these designated forms. students, in other words, are to be able to re-present the designated forms. in order to do this, students themselves are force to inhabit a designated space of belief re-created within themselves. students must reform their selves as re-presentations. to “understand” is to con/re-form, to reinforce the belief structure already established (therefore avoiding a crisis within the belief structure of the teacher, as baldwin notes “if i am not what i’ve been told i am, then it means you’re not what you thought you were either. and that is the crisis.” (ellsworth p50)), to inhabit the realm of pre-constructed possibilities (the possible), to be “empowered” rather actually having power.
understanding is framed in the old-fashioned terms of neutral objectivity. “it’s usually reframed as a matter of some onerous relation between students and their broader social and cultural contexts and constraints. in other wods, students would get it if only they had the right cultural competencies, intellectual skills, or moral virtues. / this allows understanding itself to escape scrutiny.” (ellsworth p47)
“understanding,” in other words, inhabits all the problems that representation inhabits. to understand is to inhabit the belief structure of an other, it is to become (to some degree) the person the other wants you to be – to inhabit a position within their belief structure, to be on the receiving end of the mode of address (ellsworth).
ellsworth discusses that because of the difference between (self and other?), it is necessarily impossible to actually re-present. (lacan via felman via ellsworth p55) or difference is seen as a way the individual resists identity by ellsworth (p44 summarizing donald).
we must be careful here, however, not to posit an actual difference. difference cannot be elevated to the supreme reality or actuality. (what is ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ are in fact products of belief structures – see below.) “this ‘self’ is what is generated in ‘the gap between what we are supposed to be and what we have in actuality not become.'” (o’shea quoted in ellsworth p43)
i’ve been down this road before, “reality is the difference between the object and our thoughts about it.” (from my 1998 thesis abstract sites), based on bohm) therefore, in order to have more of a self, i concluded, “the person within the room of nothing becomes the difference, the failure, the reality within the design.”
this conclusion, however, led me to abstention and stasis. to define the self as the gap is to essentially dissolves agency (contrary to o’sheas argument, ellsworth p43) because the self inhabits only an anterior space over which it has no control of the structure which defines this space. because self-objectification is impossible, the best possibility for the self is to fail, to sin, to become ‘real,’ as defined in contrast to a structure of other.
it took me years to work beyond that, but what i found was that in fact it is i who define other. i was the architect designing the minimal space of failure for myself. the true believers fail to see their own agency in the construction of the structures they inhabit (the delusion of the architect – see my “the plan abandoned.” sites))
this is, in fact, what ellsworth defines as a passion for ignorance (p.57) and castoriadis (more accurately, in my opinion) describes as a passion for not knowledge, but belief.
“passion is in effect brought to its maximum intensity on account of the fact that the soicalized individual has to, under penalty of being faced with his own non-sense and with the non-sense of all that surrounds him, identify himself witht he institution of his society and with the significations that society incarnates. to deny the instituteion or to deny these significations is, most of the time, to commit suicide physically and, almost always, to commit suicide psychically. the obvious underside of this passion, of this boundless love for self and one’s own is the hatred of all that denies these objects, namely the hate of the institutions and of the significations of the others and of the indeividuals who embody them.” (figures of the thinkable “passion and knowledge” p272 sites)).
(conversely, if the self is seen as the failure (the sinner in relation to god) then we are left with a perverted self-hatred.)
ellsworth states that “the field of education is driven by research aimed at determining ever more exactly who the student is so that s/h can be more efficiently and effectively addressed.” (p58) and that all learning takes a detour through prohibition and the repressed (p64).
foucault, however, examines how the soul/identity does not pre-exist the power/position structure. instead, the student is created by allowing the inhabitation of a certain empowerment structure. repression or prohibition sound like negative impositions, instead, what are offered are possible positions for the self within a predefined structure. education is not so interested in finding out who students are, but in directing/guiding/empowering students into (entrapment) structures of identity. we can re-write ellsworth as, “”the field of education is driven by research aimed at determining ever more exactly who the student is.”
difference, instead, is inherent within representation because of the tension between re-newal/re-presentation/re-creation (that is belief and its structure) and creation (changing belief and its structures), between the possible and the impossible, between our desire to believe and the impossibility of a closed system (see castoriadis, passion and knowledge in figures of the thinkable). (ellsworth (and psychoanalysis?) seems to locate the impossibility of difference within the unconscious as it’s tactic, rather than as a logical problem. the “necessary” failure. p.52)
it seems somewhat ridiculous then, to ask, “how can we cause difference and resistance to spread?” (ellsworth p53)
to move beyond attempting to define the self through self-objectification or through a converse other-objectification, we must abandon the attempts to see the self. instead, the self can be seen as so many sites of construction, vectors, directions, vehicles – with porous and changing borders. (thus temporary positions of desire are inhabited because of their use, their function, what they allow us to be/experience instead of aligning themselves with a pre-defined identity. (see ellsworth on this difference, p37)
“the self is no longer cathected as the possessor of the truth but, rather, as source of, and incessantly renewed capacity for, creation.” (castoriadis, p.274)
in other words, abandon the project of representation as an end in itself. we must exceed representation.
“learning, felman (1987) says, comes ‘as a surprise: a surprise not only to the others, but also to the self.’ learning happens, she says, when ‘the answer is bound in effect to displace the question’ and when what ‘returns to itself, radically displaces the very point of observation.'” (ellsworth p18) learning is creation.
faith (as i have defined it) is the understanding that creation itself is always blind. possibility is simply our way to limit/visualize/cope with the impossible, to finitize the infinite.
[above, i have used ellsworth’s book as a vehicle that has allowed me to translate much of my previous thinking about creation and belief towards education and learning. my “belief structure” approximates ellsworth’s “unconscious”]


“what if we teachers became as curious about the productiveness of our continuously remodeled ignore-ances, lacks of fit, and limitations of knowing as we have been about how to achieve full and complete understanding?” (ellsworth, p53)
what if we throw out a million scraps and tools and students take what they want and combine it with other things they have and find and start making something, and then search out a few more pieces, and then re-order the whole thing and then it starts to work, or works in a different way, or they get bored, or they push it to the back of their minds as they work on the next thing?
ellsworth, elizabeth. teaching positions. isbn 0-8077-3668-6