A Stanford on the Waitemata

Get this: The New Zealand Herald promos Michael Parker’s book The Pine Tree Paradox (2010) in Michael Dickison’s “A Stanford on the Waitemata” (The New Zealand Herald 25 Sep. 2012). Parker argues that

New Zealand’s chance to become a world-leading economy could be on our wharves, with a true research university to rival Stanford.

Stephen Turner and I wrote about this proposal in our essay, “Knowledge Waves: New Zealand as Educational Enterprise,” Australian Journal of Communication 38.3 (2011): 153-77; see my earlier post that links to it.


tà mathémata: we can only learn what we already know

“Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here!” (inscription above the entrance to Plato’s Academy)

In his essay “Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics” (1962; from Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell [San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1977] 247–82, an excerpt from “What is a Thing?” [1967; Chicago: Regnery, 1969] 66-108), Heidegger wrote:

In its formation the word mathematical stems from the Greek expression tà mathémata, which means what can be learned and thus, at the same time, what can be taught; manthanein means to learn, mathésis the teaching, and this is a twofold sense. First, it means studing and learning; then it means the doctrine taught. (249-50)

  • mathésis: teaching and learning
  • tà mathémata: what is teachable or learnable

Learning is a kind of grasping and appropriating. But not every taking is a learning. [. . .] To take means in some way to take possession of a thing and have disposal over it. Now, what kind of taking is learning? Mathémata—things, insofar as we learn them. . . .

The mathémata are the things insofar as we take cognizance of them as what we already know them to be in advance, the body as the bodily, the plant-like of the plant, the animal-like of the animal, the thingness of the thing, and so on [verbatim from “The Age of the World-Picture“]. This genuine learning is therefore an extremely peculiar taking, a taking where he who takes only takes what he basically already has. Teaching corresponds to this learning. Teaching is a giving, an offering; but what is offered in teaching is not the learnable, for the student is merely instructed to take for himself what he already has. If the student only takes over something that is offered he does not learn. He comes to learn only when he experiences what he takes as something he himself really already has. True learning occurs only where the taking of what one already has is a self-giving and is experienced as such. Teaching therefore does not mean anything else than to let the others learn, that is, to bring one another to learning. (251)

Heidegger continues:

Teaching is more difficult than learning; for only he who can truly learn . . . can truly teach. The genuine teacher differs from the pupil only in that he can learn better and that he more genuinely wants to learn. In all teaching, the teacher learns the most. (251-52)

I’m reminded of Plato’s discussion of amamnesis, of learning as remembering in the Meno and Phaedo—though Heidegger most often employs this characterisation of ta mathémata in his critique of the pseudo-circular nature of modern scientific research, which is almost tautological in its foreclosure of knowledge by its use of deductive or hypothetico-deductive method and its pursuit of objectivity.

In “The Age of the World-Picture,” he argues that scientific research is a type of rigorous knowledge (Erkennen, a.k.a. “judgement”) that relies on a procedure (Vorgehen, a.k.a., “priority, lead”) that establishes its field of operation by the projection (Entwurf, “design, project, plan, outline”) in advance of a ground-plan (Grundriss, a.k.a, “framework”): projection → procedure → knowledge.

But for him, to speak in the most general terms,

[t]he mathémata, the mathematical, is that “about” things which we really already know. Therefore we do not first get it out of things, but, in a certain way, we bring it already with us. (252)

Affect in the Writing Zone (Susan McLeod)

It must be recognized that affect (that is, the noncognitive aspect of mental activity) plays a large role in writing and in learning to write. Most models of the writing process are based either on cognitive psychology (“embrained” cognition) or a social constructionist approach (embedded cognition)—and ignore affect (embodied cognition).

This is a problem in—and of—the governance of the supposedly “excellent” (transnational, transcendentally capitalised, technobureaucratic, programmatic) university (“U 1.5”) in which we find ourselves, I would suggest, because the calculative or quantitative measurement of processes from above in terms of throughputs and outcomes does not reckon with affect, except insofar as it can be registered on rating scales and in repeat business (essentially measures of customer satisfaction)—not that it was registered particularly well in the old national university (“U 1.0”), which was captured by a reductive Enlightened model of rationality. The “exploded” (nodal, glocal, technoimaginary, programmable) university (“U 2.0”) must take account of the media that do manifest affect from below—like Facebook, etc.—and embody a new orality beyond literacy (the term was coined by Ong in the ‘seventies [see 136-37]).

So, to understand the writing process more completely, Susan McLeod suggests that “we need to explore how cognitive, affective, and social elements interact as people write” (n.pag.).

(Note that though I use three terms—embrained, embodied, embedded cognition—I’d say that the first is not, in fact, separable from the second, though it is often seen that way, the corollary being that one cannot, except in theory, split the cognitive and affective elements of the writing process.)

This, then, is a ecological reading of the writing zone, a description/decryption of the living relations that are at work—and at play—there (ecology: from Greek: οἶκος, oikos, “house, household, housekeeping, or living relations”; -λογία, -logia, “study of”).

Affect in the writing zone manifests itself, for example, in

  1. anxiety in the face of the secret codes (cryptograms) of the university and at the failure of autodidactic codes (idiograms)—what I call fumblerules—to adequately encode their own writing. Alice Horning calls this the “climate of fear” in the classroom that becomes a “Filter” [sic] between the teacher and the learner (65). Elsewhere, in the context of L2 research, Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt describe an analogous process by which “the [L2] learner constructs, internally and unconsciously, the system of rules and principles by which a language is governed” as filtered by “affective delimiters” (1977, 99), there being four key ones: the learner’s personality, anxiety level, peer identification, and motivation to learn (1982, 72).
  2. aspiration, which begins with writers bringing their humanistic assumptions about learning to learn in the university (in particular, that learning will be passively received and mimicked in return) and then becomes mimicry of these secret codes in an attempt to propitiate the university
  3. a background awareness of the dissonance of space and place (the global and the local), which to a degree work at cross purposes (thereby generating the glocal site we actually inhabit)

And . . .

Teachers are not unaffected: they are anxious about the process (about the contract, assessment, revealing themselves, their writing, and their likes and dislikes); they aren’t objective about either their students: McLeod describes a “Pygmalion effect”—students becoming better because the teacher believes they are—and the more common opposite, a “golem effect”—students becoming less capable because their teachers view them that way (108-09), or their writing: see Elbow on liking.


Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt. “Remarks on Creativity in Language Acquisition.” Viewpoints on English as a Second Language. Ed. Marina Hurt, Heidi Dulay, and Mary Finocchiaro. NY: Regents, 1977. 95-126.

Heidi Dulay, Marina Burt, and Stephen D. Krashen. Language Two. NY: OUP, 1982.

Alice E. Horning. “The ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Teaching of Writing.” Teaching Writing: Pedagogy, Gender, and Equity. Ed. Cynthia L. Caywood and Gillian R. Overing. NY: SUNY P, 1987. 65-81.

Susan H. McLeod. Notes on the Heart: Affective Issues in the Writing Classroom. Carbondale: SIUP, 1996.

Walter S. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. 1982. NY: Routledge, 1988.

The University in Ruins (Not)

The problem

Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Harvard UP, 1996), the blurb:

It is no longer clear what role the University plays in society. The structure of the contemporary University is changing rapidly, and we have yet to understand what precisely these changes will mean. Is a new age dawning for the University, the renaissance of higher education under way? Or is the University in the twilight of its social function, the demise of higher education fast approaching?

We can answer such questions only if we look carefully at the different roles the University has played historically and then imagine how it might be possible to live, and to think, amid the ruins of the University. Tracing the roots of the modern American University in German philosophy and in the work of British thinkers such as Newman and Arnold, Bill Readings argues that historically the integrity of the modern University has been linked to the nation-state, which it has served by promoting and protecting the idea of a national culture. But now the nation-state is in decline, and national culture no longer needs to be either promoted or protected. Increasingly, universities are turning into transnational corporations, and the idea of culture is being replaced by the discourse of “excellence.” On the surface, this does not seem particularly pernicious.

The author cautions, however, that we should not embrace this techno-bureaucratic appeal too quickly. The new University of Excellence is a corporation driven by market forces, and, as such, is more interested in profit margins than in thought. Readings urges us to imagine how to think, without concession to corporate excellence or recourse to romantic nostalgia within an institution in ruins. The result is a passionate appeal for a new community of thinkers.

This sounds familiar.

The solution

Jeffrey J. Williams outlines the history of the idea of the university and offers a solution to this ruinous situation: teaching the idea, history, literature and sociology of the university in the university, specifically, in English departments that, as writing zones, are supposed to know well what is ostensibly the language of the university: writing (“Teach the University,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 8.1 [2007]: 25-42).

Williams Intro

Jacques Derrida offers a radical—and perhaps utopian—response, arguing for “The University without Condition,” in which the “new humanities” will play a vital role, because they are concerned with humanity, human rights and crimes against humanity, the same concerns that “organise” mondialisation (globalisation), “which wishes to be a humanisation” (Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf [Stanford UP, 2002]):

University Without Condition 202


University Without Condition 203


What, then, is the role of the humanities in the university without condition? It is to exercise the right to speak without condition—“to say everything” and “to say it publicly,” as literature does (cf. Jacques Rancière, who might say that whereas the “police” operates via consensus, “politics” operates via dissensus; the university without condition would be “political”—or “redistributed” according to what he calls the “democratic heresy”):

University Without Condition 205(205)

(So I read Williams as more pragmatic than Derrida—or perhaps he’s just less Continental: for Derrida, literature, the writing of différance, will take over from philosophy as the language of university; for Williams, it seems, it’s writing per se.)

This solution is complicated if we view the historical situation in which we find ourselves as not amenable to humanistic, literary or writerly enquiry, as Vilèm Flusser suggests it is in “The Codified World” (Writings [U MN P, 2002] 35-41). His epochal reading of codes is as follows:

  1. premodern/prehistorical: image—the scene (imagination: magic, myths)
  2. modern/historical: writing—the concept (conception: explanations, theories, ideologies)
  3. postmodern/posthistorical: techno-image—the program (techno-imagination: models, games)

For Flusser, we face a “crisis of values” at the transition to techno-images because the old written “programs,” politics, philosophy and science, not to mention art and history, have been disempowered (41).


I would say: the university is not in ruins—a certain idea of the university might well be: of the university as “literary” research institution, certainly, or, more broadly, of the human university. It is, in fact, in rude good health, not so much in the Crystal Palace of the Business School, the “excellent” (transparent/transcendentally capitalised) university, with its reduction of governance to calculability, but in the face-to-face encounter in the place of learning, wherever it should be.

Said “excellent” university wants to count its students and research outputs, but it does not account for itself (it is non-reflexive); teachers in the university ought to account for themselves—as should students (they should be reflexive). This teachers can do, not by grading students and counting research outputs, but by taking account of the “distribution of the sensible” (a description of what counts) that prevails in the place of learning: affect from below (democratic affect); deformance, intentional and otherwise; decryption; etc. . . . (of which more later).

And because the “excellent” university is also an “exploded” university, it is distributed well beyond the walls of the Crystal Palace through the relatively autonomous—and thus relatively incalculable—nodes of remote learning and other @-universities; and encloses within its walls other similar nodes, such as centres, writing-studies classrooms (!), and (post-)seminars.

The place of learning

teachers put/keep students in their place—and step into the centre of the room: the institutional place-holder (the zero in the zone)
the only alternative seems to be mapping the places within the PLACE (description [+], rather than prescription [-]—tho this process is in itself prescriptive [either it offers an open prescription or a prescription that is a decryption [kryptos, “hidden,” thus uncovering, a.k.a. aletheia], i.e. decodes the institutional code [a code uses a cipher or algorithm that makes it unreadable to anyone who doesn’t possess special knowledge, a.k.a. a key], transcribing its ciphertext in

Quin etiam obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt auctoritas eorum qui se docere profitentur; desinunt enim suum iudicium adhibere, id habent ratum quod ab eo quem probant iudicatum vident.

In fact the authority of those who stand forward as teachers is generally an obstacle in the way of those who wish to learn, for the latter cease to apply their own judgment, and take for granted the conclusions which they find arrived at by the teacher whom they approve.

—Cicero, De Natura Deorum [On the Nature of the Gods], trans. Francis Brooks (London: Methuen, 1896) 1.5.10 (see Montaigne, “Of the Education of Children“)

Normally, in the classroom, the place of learning, teachers cannot help but put and keep students in their place by stepping into the centre of the room, which is the institutional place-holder. They then, intentionally or not, prescribe what learning work can take place there.

This happens even in the liberal—read: enlightened and equalitarian—writing studies classroom in a university, where students are compelled to disclose themselves to their co-workers to be allowed to participate fully and freely in the work of learning. This is obviously problematic, say, when the classroom is multicultural and the teacher is of the dominant culture—or, for that matter, when there are females in the class and the teacher is male (see Alison Jones’s “Pedagogy by the Oppressed: The Limits of Classroom Dialogue“).

Thus, the “democratic heresy” of the writing zone, to borrow Rancière’s phrase, which takes “equality as a point of departure” (see “Politics and Aesthetics: An Interview” 192), proves, like most heresies, to be an authorised misreading of a “religious” authority. That is to say, the writing zone’s not really democratic or heretical: it’s another cloister, a “free” space within the institution that has been authorised by it—much like the space of the seminar.

It’s not one of those sites that, according to Foucault in “Of Other Spaces,” “have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites [in the spatial network of a society], but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect,” the non-site of the utopia or the counter-site of the heterotopia that “contradict all the other sites.”

(For Foucault, utopias [ou-topos, “no place”] are unreal places “that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of Society,” that perfect or invert it; heterotopias [hetero-topos, “other place”] are “real places . . . which are something like counter-sites, . . . enacted utopia[s] in which the real sites . . . are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted” [see wikipedia].)

The writing zone’s not a utopia, an ideal refuge, or a heterotopia, a critical vantage. It is not the counter-university within the university: there is no counter-university—especially not one that works from below; the university goes all the way down.

Of course, this was always already true of the university, ever since the academy was placed at the centre of education by the Greeks (not at the centre of the state per se, which centre is occupied by the religious site). It is called the academy (Ἑκάδημος) from when Castor and Polydeuces, guardians of Sparta, invaded Attica to liberate their sister Helen, and Akademos betrayed to them that Theseus had concealed her at Aphidnae. Whenever the Spartans invaded Attica, the twins always spared Akademos’s land, which lay on the Cephissus, six stadia from Athens. In the historical era, his land became identified with a grove of Athena outside the walls of Athens—just outside the city proper. The academy, the garden of Athena, goddess of wisdom, seems, then, to represent a haven from politics—but it is one secured by politics.

The only alternative for teachers seems to be to enable learners—and teachers themselves—to map their places within the place of learning, thereby taking account of the various positionalities at work there and their relative positions: a process of description, rather than prescription. Of course, this process is in itself prescriptive, in that it closes off the room by defining what can or does go on there. Or, you might say, it offers

  1. an open prescription for what can or does go on there or
  2. a prescription that is a decryption [kryptos, “hidden,” thus decryption, “unhiding,” a.k.a. aletheia, truth as unconcealment], in that . . .

. . . we thereby decode the institutional code (a code uses a cipher or algorithm that makes it unreadable to anyone who doesn’t possess special knowledge, a.k.a. a key), transcribing its ciphertext in plaintext. The teacher gives the lead in this decoding process, because they work within and know how to “work” the system to which the learner wants access and cannot but work with.

Not coincidentally, this is akin to the sacrilegious practice that Vilém Flusser in “The Future of Writing” calls writing, by which we “learn to decipher . . . images, . . . [to] learn the conventions that give them their meaning,” images—and imagination—for Flusser being mythic, magical (and thus propitiatory) and prehistoric, and writing—and conceptual thought—being religious, scientific (and thus political) and historical (65). When we write (rightly) at university, we decipher the immutable mythic entity that is the university to understand the magical gestures by which we propitiate it and thereby understand it as a mutable institution, with a liturgy (a way of working), an epistemology (a way of knowing), and thus a politics (a distribution of work).

The Brain is a Muscle

According to Carol Dweck,

people’s self-theories about intelligence have a profound influence on their motivation to learn. Students who hold a “fixed” [static] theory are mainly concerned with how smart they are—they prefer tasks they can already do well and avoid ones on which they may make mistakes and not look smart. In contrast, she said, [those] who believe in an “expandable” or “growth” [dynamic] theory of intelligence want to challenge themselves to increase their abilities, even if they fail at first. (Stanford Magazine)


changing a key belief—a student’s self-theory about intelligence and motivation—with a relatively simple intervention [e.g. learning study skills] can make a big difference.

This model could allow us to transcend the binary of the sophistic and philosophical methods of teaching learning:

  1. sophistical teaching: teaches strategy/ethics—institutional know-how, e.g. study skills like shortcuts (a relativistic rhetoric according to which truth is strictly contextual, a skill)—to produce efficient knowledge-workers
  2. philosophical teaching (à la Socrates): teaches wisdom/ethos or “character”—knowledge, e.g. fidelity to a way of thinking (truth to oneself or to Truth itself, a good)—to produce good citizens

So a sophistical intervention in a student’s learning process, e.g. learning a skill, might change a key belief or “self-theory” and thereby enable a student’s philosophical growth.

And dynamic students can learn from their mistakes (something fostered in, say, in an erratological approach to learning writing):

Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don’t mind failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved.

(The theory also has implications for parenting, as Dweck suggests:

One very common thing is that often very brilliant children stop working because they’re praised so often that it’s what they want to live as—brilliant—not as someone who ever makes mistakes. . . . It really stunts their motivation. Parents and teachers say they now understand how to prevent that—how to work with low-achieving students to motivate them and high-achieving students to maximize their efforts.

So we should “praise children’s efforts, not their intelligence. . . .”)

See “If You’re Open To Growth, You Tend To Grow” in the New York Times for some links; Design Tumble Log for a visual:

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