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

Review by Shantam Goyal, University at Buffalo

The cover of Derek. R. Ford's Politics and Pedagogy in the 'Post-Truth' Era
The cover of Derek. R. Ford's Politics and Pedagogy in the "Post-Truth" Era: Insurgent Philosophy and Praxis

If each operative phrase in the title of the book was not enough of a giveaway about its contents and context, Derek R. Ford (2019) begins his book saying, "Many are in shock that today the truth doesn't seem to matter in politics" (p. 1). He follows this with a mention of Trump and his jeers of "FAKE NEWS!" The idea, however, is not to use post-truth in its fashionable sense, which would involve invoking the long-gone days of truth in democracy. Instead, Ford's frame for his book is that truth has always been democracy's other, and that truth is the site of political struggle and pedagogy. In doing this, he unfolds a narrative which is at once staunchly communist in its avowal and urgently reparative in its call for new educational approaches.

Here I am reminded of Marx's (1887) preface for the first German edition of Capital, part of which he spends defending, apologizing for, and explaining, the necessary difficulties of the book's first chapter on "Commodities," perhaps afraid that those who stood to gain most from his work would be put off by the complexity of its beginning. Ford's book envisions its audiences and their engagement with its text similarly, in that its necessary theoretical rigor must give way to an understanding grounded in our lifeworld. In his "Introduction" and six short chapters, Ford uses the looming specter of Marx and Marxism-Leninism to bring together complex theoretical concepts from Jodi Dean, Giorgio Agamben, Lee Edelman, Lefebvre, Lyotard, Kant, and Althusser among others. Ford's skill lies in his al dente compressions of these complex concepts into intelligible explanations, which he then puts into the service of pedagogy. There are no ambiguities about the ends of this project: the use of classical Marxist paradigms for a communist political project against what he terms democratic communicative capitalism (p. 6). Ford argues for a Left solidarity and is cynical toward the communication-saturated public sphere. One of his many similar wry remarks goes: "Some even suggest that we can become so democratic and participatory that the class enemy will vanish or surrender. All we need are more blog posts" (p. 91).

Ford's project can be best described as a call for revolutionary pedagogy, but it is much more than that. At its core lies a discontentment with our present modes of opposition to the state-of-affairs, and our compulsion to communicate and to express, to make any and all secrets known in our expression (p. 8). The more we speak and write, the more we render our communication the currency of democratic capitalism and the more we eschew the possibility of silence. This silence is democracy's one fear (p. 6). If this sounds reminiscent of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's (2002) call for a reparative rather than paranoid reading (p. 123), Ford does borrow from her to tell us that exposing the truth in our pedagogy is no longer an option; pedagogy must become the site of political struggle. He adds, sarcastically, "If only our students could understand that it is really capitalism that is at fault, then the revolution will come!" (pp. 4–5). Aptly, his introduction is titled, "Don't Bring the Truth to a Gunfight." The introduction is followed by six chapters, whose titles I have provided here with my own short and woefully lacking glosses in parentheses:

  1. "Studying in the Party" (or the alternative to capitalist education)
  2. "In and Out of the Gap" (or the time of labor, and how to force truth)
  3. "The Sinthomostudier" (or queer communist study, student loans, and rejecting futurity)
  4. "Stupid Urbanism" (or the urban as opposed to the city, and the communicative regime)
  5. "(Un)communicative Aesthetic Education" (or the sublime beyond communicative capitalism)
  6. "Magical Bookkeepers" (or imagination, political struggle, and the future)

I see Ford's book speaking to all three of the hats I wear in academia: that of a teacher, a student, and a discontented subject of the polity. While these three roles overlap in Ford's presumed interlocutor for his writing, in the spirit of praxis I am cleaving the rest of this review into three sections, followed by a last word. None of these stand mutually exclusive from each other.