I've been tagged by Philosophers' Playground with the teaching meme. There have already been so many varied responses to this question of why we teach the things that we do, that I won't begin to be able to respond to all the different issues raised. So I will simply pluck at one or two of the strands of this far-flung discussion that resonate with my most recent teaching. This past week I have been teaching Marx and Zizek. Why?
I'm tempted to simply answer: "Because that's what I've been hired to do." The job aspect of teaching in the academy sometimes tends to disappear behind the presumed pleasures of teaching. After all, any job that pays this poorly must be a labor of love, and variations on "I love teaching" have been one of the most frequently recurring themes in response to this meme. Exceptions to this can be found in posts from Professor Zero and The Little Professor (along with a response at HTUW) who both express their ambivalence about this love of teaching. But even those who profess such a love will, I think, admit that on at least some days love is the last thing they feel in the classroom. This would be the Marxist answer in me. I teach because that's the place within the current social division of labor where I can best sell my labor-power. Every other reason for teaching tends to melt away when confronted by this simple economic fact.
However, one of Slavoj Zizek's oft repeated riffs is on the ways our culture has forced us to internalize our duties such that not only must we do them, we must enjoy them as well.
Superego is the reversal of the permissive "You May!" into the prescriptive "You Must!", the point in which permitted enjoyment turns into ordained enjoyment. We all know the formula of Kant's unconditional imperative: "Du canst, denn du sollst". You can do your duty, because you must do it. Superego turns this around into "You must, because you can." ... The external opposition between pleasure and duty is precisely overcome in the superego. It can be overcome in two opposite ways. On one hand, we have the paradox of the extremely oppressive, so–called totalitarian post–traditional power which goes further than the traditional authoritarian power. It does not only tell you "Do your duty, I don’t care if you like it or not." It tells you not only "You must obey my orders and do your duty" but "You must do it with pleasure. You must enjoy it." It is not enough for the subjects to obey their leader, they must actively love him. This passage from traditional authoritarian power to modern totalitarianism can be precisely rendered through superego in an old joke of mine. Let’s say that you are a small child and one Sunday afternoon you have to do the boring duty of visiting your old senile grandmother. If you have a good old–fashioned authoritarian father, what will he tell you? "I don’t care how you feel, just go there and behave properly. Do your duty." A modern permissive totalitarian father will tell you something else: "You know how much your grandmother would love to see you. But do go and visit her only if you really want to." Now every idiot knows the catch. Beneath the appearance of this free choice there is an even more oppressive order. You seem to have a choice, but there is no choice, because the order is not only you must visit your grandmother, you must even enjoy it. If you don’t believe me, just try to say "I have a choice, I will not do it." I promise your father will say "What did your grandmother ever do to you? Don’t you know how she loves you? How could you do this to her?" That’s superego. On the other hand, we have the opposite paradox of the pleasure itself whose pursuit turns into duty. In a permissive society, subjects experience the need to have a good time, to really enjoy themselves, as a kind of duty, and consequently feel guilty for failing to be happy.This passage also resonates for me with much of Limited, Inc.'s ongoing interrogation of the pursuit of happiness as a new and strangely misplaced goal of life.
Teaching Marx and Zizek provides me with a way to raise these issues for my students who also face a similar bind of being forced first to take classes, and then forced to enjoy them. After all, why would someone pay all that money and spend all that time reading and studying subjects they don't enjoy?
I confess, I enjoy this part of my teaching. D'oh!
Rather than tag new victims and require them to respond to this meme, I'm simply going to ask for volunteers. If you would like to respond to this meme, just leave a comment below with a link to your post. Of course, you only have to respond if you would enjoy it...