I have a fever and so, instead of teaching today as I normally would, I am staying home. This isn't so bad as it allows me time to finish Thomas Rickert's book and start on Jane Smiley's Moo. I'm a little embarrassed I haven't read the latter, but glad to recommend the former. Rickert's work on cultural studies in composition is sorely needed. The cool part is how he so admiringly points out the flaws of icons in the field -- Berlin and Faigley in particular.
I am also interested in what he calls "pedagogies of risk," or the idea that as teachers we need to allow for the unexpected. It seems a very playful move to confront the limits of control and see how the classroom and curricular games we play depend on some form of risk -- the risk of disclosing one's own neuroses, biases, and (as Rickert is wont to say) modus vivendi. But I have to wonder how this meshes with the notions of risk proclaimed by Ulrich Beck. In my reading of Beck, this risk is everywhere and that underwrites our social functions, thus we are a "risk society." However, at the risk of oversimplifying the case here, Beck says this is what drives current progress. At length, he claims
the battle to distribute away the “poisoned cake” turns capital against capital – and,
consequently, occupational group against occupational group. Some industries and regions
profit by this, others lose. But a key question in the struggle for economic survival has
become how to win and exercise power, in order to foist on others the consequences of social
definitions of risk (1995, p. 10).
So, like the neo-Lacanian theory of Rickert, at the heart of contemporary society is the fissured un-whole that spawns only fantasies of societies yet to come -- societies where there is no racism, sexism, classism, or -- to point to Beck's field of influence -- no environmental destruction. But these are just that -- fantasies -- and the hope is that they are powerful enough to assuage any lasting damage we might do to ourselves and those around us. In any even, the tenuous relationships here urge us to work through these fantasies, always inventing fresh approaches to old problems that are continually dressed in new guises.
It is at once lamentable and heartening. I think Rickert is certainly right in saying that we will never be rid of threats to our social and biological beings. However, Beck urges a new Enlightenment and a renewed commitment to the dispersion of power to identify and mange environmental risk so that it can be dealt with through a democratic socious. Rickert is not so Habermasian here. Rather, Rickert still holds out hope for the power of the savvy individual or group -- the continual emergence of Dadaists, Situationists, hackers, and the like. Those may be risks I can take.