Politics and Pedagogy in the "Post-Truth" Era: Insurgent Philosophy and Praxis by Derek R. Ford

Review by Shantam Goyal, University at Buffalo

lines of protestors carrying signs demanding work for wages, black and white
Demonstrators protesting in front of the White House for International Unemployment Day in 1930.

For Teachers

A remarkable achievement of Ford's book is its commitment, as mentioned earlier, to praxis, and its insistence on digging pathways from theory to its present and potential manifestations in lived practices. He states in the very beginning: "Educators have a crucial role to play here, for we are the ones who teach the truth to others, or who facilitate the collective realization of the truth" (p. 1). He laments what he calls "zombie intellectualism," defined as all kind of intellectual productions from social media posts to books to classrooms that "do little else than denounce the present moment, condemn our political reality and subjectivity in near apocalyptic terms, whitewash history, and issue decrees to social movements" (p. 3). At times, Ford appears to be repudiating critique, as if we are suspended in a moment of critical fatigue. He is in fact looking for pedagogy to embrace politics in the same way the political right did long ago (p. 10). Driven by the search for an apparent truth, and by the belief that there is indeed a truth out there, our pedagogy is inherently communicative. We teach within the clutches of making sense out of an inherent instability, an urge described by Ford as the "death drive" (p. 71) of the subject of capital. Our search only serves to give more currency and revenue to capitalism.

What Ford's project is after is pedagogy as multiple modes of engagement whose primary business cannot be mere revelation, but rather resolution, or at the very least disruption (p. 13). The key to this, as much of it lies in the educator's hands, is to emerge from critique into imagination, to curb the continuum of fueling a system that thrives on education remaining content with listing out everything that is wrong with the world. If critique makes us abhor the present, imagination allows us to disconnect ourselves from its repetitions and formulate a viable, ideologically poised opposition (p. 123).

Citing Lyotard, Ford's pedagogical alternative to democratic communicative capitalism takes shape in the chapter "(Un)communicative Aesthetic Education," which he lays out as a form of communist pedagogy. His examples of early forerunners of this pedagogy come from narratives of education within the communist party, where learning engaged and continues to engage the fantastic, "opaque" gap between the actual and the possible. The incommunicable sublimity of an imagined potential future creates the affect of uncertainty necessary to revolutionary pedagogy (p. 104). And this form of study is conceived for and takes place in, as Ford says, the communist party.

Ford eschews vague calls for resistance and revolutionary pedagogy directed toward the academia at large in favor of possibilities, which are rooted in somewhat tangible histories of resistance. And since these historical examples come from within the communist party, be it the Bolshevik Revolution or the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), the possibility of his project is also to be realized within the party. I am unsure if we are to see this as a shortcoming of his pedagogy, because to situate it within a university operating within the capitalist system would defeat the logic of opposition on which Ford's project stands. The party delimits yet realizes what the book lays out, perhaps at the cost of rendering the realization of this pedagogy itself as an imaginative possibility.