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Posted by on Nov 24, 2010

Strangeness and Liminality: How do we know when we have passed?

I will just start out this post with my question in regards to liminality and crossing boundaries as uncanny acts. If the posthuman pedagogy becomes one of pursuing “strangeness” or the unfamiliar as an act in itself, how do we know we have crossed disciplinary spaces or boundaries? How do we recognize boundaries at all if the de facto position becomes one of constantly moving through them? If all the world is strange or uncanny, doesn’t the normal become novel (and itself a boundary)?

“For Barnett (2005), the notion of ‘strangeness’ promises nothing less than a ‘new universal’ for the university in an age of supercomplexity. Teaching in this vision becomes focused on ‘the production of human capacities… for the personal assimilation and creation of strangeness’: Such a conception of ‘teaching’ looks to a fundamental break with conventional pedagogical relationships and look to curricula that present awkward spaces to and for students. Through such spaces, they will realize for themselves their capacities for assimilating and even for producing strangeness. (Barnett 2005, 795) (7)

The awkward space I can understand as a break with conventional pedagogy; that does indeed make sense. I do believe that these awkward spaces do generate capacity in students for producing their own (controlled?) strangeness experiments and, as such, this should be encouraged in education. This does indeed make sense. I suppose my only question is about the boundaries themselves. If we move past them regularly and with urgency, even at times simply ignoring them in an attempt to produce an ontological strangeness, then don’t we eventually blur them? Doesn’t our collective movement across these boundaries create an undertow that shifts their foundations considerably? Rightly so as they are presumably in need of some updating (disciplinary boundaries especially), but doesn’t this undertow eventually disengage the boundaries altogether?

What about creating liminal movement, across boundary movement without first establishing the familiar, ie the boundary itself? How do we know that we have crossed and ultimately does it matter? There is something about liminality that strikes me that it only works if the boundary has been established, if there are thresholds to be crossed. A posthuman pedagogy ignoring or crossing them easily might eliminate that construct for learning. Then we would need a post-post human pedagogy.

It reminds me a bit of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and how they unhooked literature from its Victorian constraints (not just them, obviously; they have become a symbol of all of this), opening the floodgates to decades of experimentation. But eventually, a pattern emerges from that noise and boundaries are re-established? Perhaps. Speaking of ontological strangeness, see this video of Joyce reading his poetry. An uncanny voice, perhaps? Unnerving, not at all like I once thought he sounded like. A boundary has been crossed here.

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