Part one: To no list
Foreword by Alessandra Pomarico (inspired by many).
It was a real struggle to define, in a 10 minute text, “the partisan No” that originates and informs the experience of Free Home University—an ongoing, experimental, open-ended pedagogical process—while being immersed in one of our sessions: 25 people from around the world living/learning together, with no time apart, no in-betweens, many voices and urgencies, different practices converging into what could always become a possibility for a different, yet undefined praxis of building learning spaces and learning communities together. I was already late to send my contribution to the curators of “Learning Plays—A symposium on radical pedagogy and knowledge without borders,” and my trip to participate was fast approaching. The people convened in the symposium—artists, activists, theoreticians and representatives of self-organized educational initiatives—and the framework of the conference, inspired by Brecht’s Lehrstück theory, politics, and pedagogy, were rather intriguing. The invitation was meant to “exchange insights among various organic intellectual practices (according to Gramsci those which every class, every praxis generates from within their own number) and to examine the boundaries of knowledge and education—and their economization, …testing various positions without dissolving them in consensus, …confronted with critical and radical practices of pedagogy.”
As curators Florian Malzacher and Nora Sternfeld explained in an email:
We want to practice taking up positions—and at the same time understand the consequences of our actions. What is the relationship, the contradiction, or the connection between organization and self-organization? What changes in society, what self-changes, do we want and how can they be achieved? What is the content, what does the specific educational process of each of the initiatives look like, and what is the context in which it takes place? Do we say yes to existing institutions and try to adapt them to our goals? Or do we say no and brave exodus? And if we say no, how can we prevent the new structures we found from simply becoming part of the old neoliberal game, or possibly even accelerating it? What new economies can we find? How does the connection of radical content with the prevailing mechanisms of the market operate? As with Brecht, interpretation remains open: Yes and No are interchangeable.
It was about taking a position. Saying yes or no. And appropriating the Yeses and Nos of others in order to understand them, in a dialectical way, along Brecht’s characters of the Yes-sayer and the No-sayer.
I let chance decide for me, and I was appointed to be a Partisan of the No, having to be also a respondent to a Partisan of the Yes, taking from what I would learn from that position or how that was reflected in my own practice. The structure allowed alternative positioning. In the first part, one half of those speaking formulated their position affirmatively “saying yes,” and the other half attempted to appropriate this position with reference to their own work. We learn from the option of affirmation as an optimism of the will, as a cure for despair, resignation and resentment. Then, in the second round, these “students of saying yes” become teachers of saying no: they refuse, resist, argue, strike, and position themselves and their work ex negativo—“which again will be seized upon and appropriated by the other half of the group,” clarified the curators. In the third part of the symposium, the discussion was then opened and the boundaries between the invited speakers and the audience dissolved (again as a Brechtian play aimed to). Small groups joined in a conversation around café-style tables, and after a while the full circle reunited again in an assembly, where everyone was invited “to be partisans, not participants,” to adopt a position and share to the temporary collective.
I appreciated the conceptualization of the gathering, openly approaching the question of the form of its organization and proposing this inherently dialectical shape. Oftentimes—either consciously or unconsciously—our structures end up informing our content, reproducing the same forms of power, without challenging the way we organize space and time, and we keep going on with business as usual. I was thrilled to participate, but our own dense program in Free Home University and the everyday convivial and emergent learning left little energy for other processes. I had to find a way to report from the “field.” Not wanting to recycle previous entries on the question of radical pedagogies, I invited the Free Home University fellows to reflect with me on what—in our many ways, and many heres and nows—we do or try to do when we activate the learning processes we care for: what do we oppose, reject, react against? How do we unlearn internalized hegemonic structures, to learn what we don’t know yet, and to re-imagine collectively a pedagogical tension that allows for truly emancipatory learning practices to emerge and abundant friendship to flourish? In a way, the ongoing challenge defining Free Home University—however the different inquiries, struggles or practices inform the various sessions—is how to self-organize a radical informal learning space that resists and contests the commodification and the privatization of our everyday (educational) experiences. How do we enliven a different temporality, in the dominant and almost immanent capitalist structure, in our autonomous learning communities, beyond capitalistic relations? In this particular session, the critique of modernism, the reflection around history, and the attempt to decolonize our positions was emerging from practices of dreaming together, enacting political therapies, storytelling, performing radical tenderness, attempting to build a gender-queer language, practicing intersectional solidarity, sharing our food and our stories, self-building social spaces, and analyzing the erased role of women and other marginalized subjects in social movement. The hope was that through these different tools we could have shared our own individual and collective narratives, heal from individual and collective traumas, and move together towards herstories, being better equipped to get out of the ruins of our time. Because of the way we are socialized, and the shadows we inhabit and reproduce even when our desires move us to attempt paradigm-shifting, this work is never easy, and involves the unfolding of contradictions, complicities and paradoxes, often leading to ruptures and break outs.
Learning is painful, but/and we keep walking even when the discourse of identity politics, for example, puts at risk the capacity for trust and reciprocity, making our possible coalitions shake, and our politics of hopes, our politics of care, our politics of possibility an almost impossible horizon to share…a lot was happening and a lot had to happen. These informal, radical collective learning environments are as poetic as they are fragile, as generative as they are invisible, as powerful as they are vulnerable. A lot of care, attention, presence and dedication is required.
From there, my hesitation to leave the process and retire to write my Partisan No for the Learning Plays, and the intuition that, even when a bit scattered, this group knew for sure what to say No! Ya basta! to, and our collective intelligence, resistance, and resilience had to be invited to speak out loud.
So, imagine a very diverse group of people at the beach near Lecce, south of Italy, on our first “day on” as we call our days off, after the first of the three intense weeks we had planned together. The sun is hot, the water cool, the breeze feels good on our salty skin. Some people have just completed the burial of Professoress Andreotti: covered with sand she became a sarcophagus of a mutant goddess, a militant mermaid, with many arms, several vaginas, and other weapons. We gathered around her with the question of what “radical pedagogy is not” and we started the exercise: rapping and snapping our fingers rhythmically. Later, our list of ‘no’ inspired the Brechtian hip-hop ballad, where at times our initial not became a NOT NOT, a double negative signifying affirmation, to be ultimately questioned, assumed, situated and acted upon again (and again and again). As the symposium invitation remarked: “there is no affirmation without struggle and no struggle without affirmation” and, with Gramsci again, “every relationship of hegemony is necessarily a pedagogic relationship.”
This is how this text came about, as well as its performative enunciation during the symposium: constructed in a dialectical form, with the introduction as a thesis, the poem “Radical pedagogy is NOT” as an antithesis, and the “On no-on going” conclusive collage, built again from collective voices, as a synthesis. In each part “No and YES coexist;” not presented as contradictory, but as complimentary, in a hopefully counter-hegemonic attempt that proceeds with partisans’ questioning…
Part two: Radical pedagogy is NOT-
A collective exercise adapted into a hip hop Brechtian ballad by N.O.- a.k.a the one and only, magical magnificent Aliosha Pantalone, founder of the legendary Lame Rhyme Sound System. [View/Save as PDF]
Radical pedagogy is
wet wet wet
sweat baby sweat shall
we start just like that?
Radical Pedagogy is not
how many reductions
of meaningful things
my brain retains during
my butt muscle contraction
Radical Pedagogy is not
a good shepherd
bringing us peace on a plate
look at that!
there is a head
of a mean father, he was
angry at you for the history lesson you refused to learn
now you start to be very concerned
with what Radical Pedagogy really is not
Radical pedagogy has no
Radical pedagogy has no
fear of repetition
of new mistakes
let’s think together what it takes
Radical Pedagogy is never
Impenetrable, separable, comprehensible
Not always intelligible,
It’s not ableist, ageist, sexist, not yet communist, not -ist
[ai-es-ti] able able
bubble-but!-bubble-bubble-bubble-bubble – but!
the language starts
where the (her-)stories began
when our tongues tightly intertwine
just a little bit of history repeating
while your guitar is repeatedly weeping
my heart’s insistently beating
it was overheard
or over painted\over taught
over heated\over thought
to the point it causes you a back pain
to the point you can’t move any further for many days
I’ve got the poison I’ve got the remedy
hits your body, takes your breath away
are you afraid of flying, anyway?
Are you afraid of being late?
Radical Pedagogy is not
scared (- of what?)
oh yeah, you know,
based on an intuition
an insinuation, you know
A piece of coral or a quarrel
or a squirrel squirting aquarelle
(tell me, what’s the price per barrel?)
Radical pedagogy is not on sale!
it’s not profitable, collectible
it’s not to be possessed, recessed, consumed, owned, assessed:
not a product, not a debt
Are you well-paid?
Am I too late?
the lie of scarcity
take a pause
what Radical Pedagogy is not.
Radical Pedagogy is not
the summer in Italy this year is quite hot
How about a mermaid gettin’ laid?
Isn’t it great?
Radical pedagogy is not about
Narcissus is always looking for her\his\their own reflection
Hey guys! something with your eyes!
Decolonize your guise!
Does size matter, otherwise?
like a clown, like a fool gettin’ down
Like the shepherd gettin’ laid, am I overpaid?
it’s an attraction, a circus
we’re kinda going in circles
lip-synch’ing after an oracle
as Shirley Bassey would put it:
Radical Pedagogy is not
Afraid of repetitions
Slam! Ta-ta-da! Let the boys be boys!
Remember Jos. Beuys?
Remember Free Int. University?
How ’bout a chauffeur gettin’ too late?nineteen sixty-eight!
No, you don’t remember?!
you were not a member of that session?
or you just did not study you lesson?!
what are you waiting for?
an angry father to punish you?
a good shepherd to serve you
all the answers on a plate?
you think Radical Pedagogy is child’s play?
You really think it’s a game with no rules, where everybody’s learning while they play?
That Radical Pedagogy is not about competition?
you hope it’s not a struggle, that no conflict would arise?
let’s think twice,
and do it two times,
and then repeat,
‘cause if it’s a game, you risk losing a lot!
why not, you say?
you say it’s okay?
you give up?
you say it’s really hard to say
what Radical Pedagogy is not
well, then let’s think of what we don’t want it to be
in alphabetic order, kids
repeat after me:
A – Neoliberal
B – Exploitative
C – Hegemonic dominant modern asymmetrical oppressive patriarchal
D – Apologetic
N – Not useful
N-Not not really useful
N-N-Not not not organized not not convivial
N-N-N-Not not militant
N-N-N-N-Not not insurgent
But sometimes it’s a knot. It’s a clumsy democracy –
Radical Pedagogy is definitely not without solidarity
Not apart (away) from communities in struggle
Not without the #Rock that is Standing
Not without the #Life that is Black and that Matters
Not not not non-queer
there is a glitter that’s bleeding
there is a matter that is heated
there is a roof that’s on fire
questioning my desire
isn’t education today
being a student in Ramallah
isn’t it hot?
being a teacher in Oaxaca isn’t it hot?
wanna cut it short?
what Radical Pedagogy can NOT?
won’t postpone (withhold) a resolution
is not to give all the answers
will not stop us seeking the fruits of truth
what game are we playing
win-win or lose-lose
if Radical Pedagogy won’t win it will lose
if Radical Pedagogy won’t lose it won’t win
when you play lose-lose game you can never win
if you don’t dare to compete you will never win
do we decline winning?
will we let them win? will we let them in?
Who let the dogs out?
not not not not not not not—this
not not not not not not not—that
not not not not not not—here
not not not not not not—now
Radical Pedagogy asks: do we wanna win?
Radical Pedagogy says: No way
Radical Pedagogy asks: Are we gonna lose?
Radical Pedagogy says: A-a-a!
What Radical Pedagogy asks?
How we wanna win?
Part three: on no on-going
To learn to say yes and to say no, becoming partisan by learning both to say yes and to say no. An ongoing quest, in a time that pressures us with too many (fake) choices and supposedly infinite possibilities.
How can Radical pedagogy be beyond reform, questioning the level of meta-narratives that drive the world, disinvesting from the current unsustainable present, walking with others into the possibility of other worlds?
How do we avoid the reductive, binary thinking that creates disciplined and passive individuals, in service to the hegemonic system and markets, leading us and the planet to a permanent state of crisis and destruction?
How do we create a post-neoliberal education? One that resists the principle of profit, extraction, competitiveness, and exploitation? How can we challenge the monoculture of the mind, the fragmentation, the isolation, the commodification of life that gets reproduced also by mainstream academic institutions?
We need to know that we don’t know, to unlearn in order to learn, and to re-learn with others. The formation of temporary autonomous zones of learning is a constitutional step for the change we are called upon to produce, in times of social and environmental catastrophe, of material and existential poverty.
How can we learn with the 99 senses that have been silenced? With and from the people that are constantly silenced? (with Andreotti)
How can we learn with Pachamama, and with all the other species?
There is a war going on, affecting everyone in very different ways, some people in some places are facing death, some others somewhere else are succumbing slowly under the mask of democracy and the lie of development and scarcity; we see the Global South warning the Global North about the approaching storm. (with Garcia)
Preguntando caminamos, (asking, we walk) the Zapatistas would say, an invitation to proceed—in our paths, research, or struggles—always posing questions, making queries, situating us in the investigations. We need to embolden ourselves, overcome our own disillusion and skepticism, create spaces not only to contest, but also to take care and hope, to heal from the systemic pain, to realize “a new topography of the possible” (with Rancière). How do we create politics of care, politics of possibility, politics of life, and radical love, radical tenderness?
How do we reimagine our languages, build brave spaces for reflection, deepening the analyses (of self, systems, and social and ecological complexity), acting upon unconditional solidarity, recognizing the intersectional forms of oppression?
Practicing, practicing, practicing…
How can we come out with different questions and different answers? How can we make new mistakes? How do we acknowledge the systemic and ongoing harm without guilt, paralysis, quick fixes, or pessimism? (again with Andreotti)
An utopian gesture is needed; a call for action. Some people think it’s already happening, a perhaps invisible and gentle planetary revolution, ‘an unfolding insurrection’(with Esteva). Many people are resisting, creating viable alternatives, experimenting with forms of living based on mutual support, assuming responsibility for the regeneration of their communities.
Reclaiming the right to different ecologies, epistemics, economies in order to re-ignite our visceral sense of connectedness with, and responsibility towards, each other and the planet.
How will we learn the essential lesson of what it means to be human?
Learning to learn in a context of war to defend and create life. (with Garcia)
Part Four: Common to all is to dream
The summer session started with Common to all is to dream, an exercise in which artist Emilio Fantin proposed to share the dreams we have had during our first night together.
We retold our dreams and continued dreaming collectively, laying on pillows and rugs in a dark room. Later, we divided into smaller groups, following the interconnections that the dreams allowed to surface. Each group chose a different medium to highlight the affinities they had found. The final part of the exercise involved the group going for a walk in Lecce, using 8 Polaroid cameras, to look for a “guiding image,” a common symbol, or a connection among real events in the physical world to images from the world of dreams.
After taking these pictures, the group was asked to work on recognizing which photos could have represented the common spirit, the guiding image of our time together.
 From the invitation of “Learning Plays- A symposium on radical pedagogy and knowledge without borders”, Impulse Theater Festival, June 2016 Düsseldorf, curated by Nora Sternfeld & Florian Malzacher. With partisans Markus Bader (Urban School / raumlaborberlin), Jamil Dishman (KulTür auf!, JugendtheaterBüro Berlin), Nils Erhard (KulTür auf!, Jugendtheater Büro Berlin), Valeria Graziano (School for Studies), Stefano Harney (School for Studies), Ahmet Oğüt (The Silent University), Alessandra Pomarico (Free Home University), Rubia Salgado (Universität der Ignorantinnen / maiz), Mårten Spångberg (PAF), Vierte Welt Kollaborationen, Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat).
The audio of the presentations can be found here:
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