In a true fairy tale everything must be marvelous ... everything
must be animated. Each in its different way. The whole of nature must be
mixed in a strange way with the whole of the spirit world. Time of
general anarchy--lawlessness--freedom--the natural state of nature--the
time before the world (state). This time before the world brings with it
as it were the scattered features of the time after the world--as the
state of nature is a strange picture of the eternal kingdom. The world
of the fairy tale is the absolutely opposite world to the world of truth
(history)--and just for this reason it is so absolutely similar to
it--as chaos is to accomplished creation. (On the idyll).
In the future world everything is as it is in the former--and yet
everything is quite different. The future world is reasonable
chaos--chaos which penetrated itself--is inside and outside
itself--chaos squared or infinity.
The true fairy tale must be at once a prophetic representation--an
ideal representation--an absolutely necessary representation. The maker
of true fairy tales is a prophet of the future.
... In time history must become a fairy tale--it will become again
what it was in the beginning.
I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary
in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.
Amorfati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war
against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to
accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all
in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
It is hard to know where to turn in an age increasingly constituted
by sociological no exit and ecological endgame. To today's
globalization of highly integrated quasi-fascist administrative
complexes, those of us interested in working for an ecopedagogy for
sustainability must attempt to imagine orders of planetary community.
Yet, such community has not fully arrived in the concrete, and so we
must look critically to alternative ideas and practices as possibly
anticipatory of a qualitatively different form of society. The critical
dimension is crucial to this work--for, since current ideas and
practices are anticipatory at best of a more sustainable world, it means
that they take place within limit situations that must themselves be
named, reflected upon, and acted against in order to articulate and
re-affirm contemporary liberatory tendencies.
Clearly, a major imaginary at work in sustainability politics is
that of "rootedness," which is often connected to vernacular,
local, or place-based movements for revitalization of the public sphere
and/or commons. On the other hand, since we have moved beyond a moment
in which local struggle can be thought as developing free from
transnational capitalist (as well as other powerful global) forces, we
must engage with multiple visions of alter-globalization as a kind of
rosetta stone for the kind of planetary community which we seek. The
dialectical tension between these two corollary valences is often
captured by "local/global" cosmovisions, the most radical of
which may correspond to what Wolfgang Sachs (1992) coined as
"cosmopolitan localism" (112), Homi Bhabha (2001) termed
"vernacular cosmopolitanism," or Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
(2003) simply identified as "planetarity." In my book,
Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis (2010), I provided
critical analysis of the emancipatory sustainability work of the
Shundahai Network in the occupied territory of the Western Shoshone
people (what is now called "the Nevada Test Site") as a
potential example of what such planetarity looks like in practice. While
perhaps not the only way to interpret the Network's praxis, I
further argued that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's concept of
the "multitude" (2004) provides a fertile imaginative ground
from which to understand the way groups such as Shundahai manifest as
planetarity in place.
According to Hardt and Negri (2004) the "political project of
the multitude ... must find a way to confront the conditions of our
contemporary reality" (352) and this project is characterized
fundamentally by love--one which is capable of creating a "new
science" (353) of life for a radical earth democracy, which also
entails the revelation of what they term "a new race" or
"new humanity" (356). (1) It is my contention that the
material, intellectual, and spiritual turns necessary to more fully
realize a new science of the multitude--both ontologically and
epistemologically--constitute a distinctly educational vocation. As
Guevara (1965) put it, "Society as a whole must be converted into a
gigantic school" (202). Of course it was in this same famous
letter, in which Che described how a socialist revolution desires the
ever-birth of "the new man and woman" in terms of both
emancipated consciousness and material practices, that he also
importantly mused, "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say
that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love"
It was undoubtedly with these comments in mind that Paulo Freire
(1998) himself remarked that "I do not believe educators can
survive ... without some sort of 'armed love,' as the poet
Tiago de Melo would say....It is indeed necessary that this love be an
'armed love,' the fighting love of those convinced of the
right and duty to fight, to denounce, and to announce. It is this form
of love that is indispensible to the progressive educator and which we
must all learn" (40-41). In the context of a multitudinous new
science of planetarities, however, in a time when our historical
challenge is to undertake the humanist aufheben (sublation) of the
"human" itself as a hegemonic category, we will need more than
simply the armed love of classroom teachers or civic educators. Instead,
we need to learn to anticipate adequate visions of a multiple-armed
love--the image of the Mahakall Kali comes to mind--if we are to forge a
truly planetary community. Such love is literally and figuratively
As I have argued previously, the central concern for the Frankfurt
School of critical theory remains a foundationally necessary task for
ecopedagogy generally: to understand the domination of nature in all of
its complexity and totality as part of an ongoing transformative inquiry
(inclusive of both theorization and transgressive action) into the
possibilities of achieving a fully liberated world. Just as critical
theorists previously explored the manner in which the reification of the
human enlightenment project resulted in the cold heart of
authoritarianism and the false pleasures of industrial capitalism, as
well as the closure of reason generally by irrational forces, so too is
ecopedagogy concerned to illuminate ways in which the global ecological
figure of the "human" stands as arguably the great
sociopolitical (and hence educational) challenge of the 21st century
along similar lines.
Rather than the biopolitical love of the sovereign leader for
totalitarian power over all existence, the capitalist love of profit, or
the many other forms of socially antagonistic sadism that are reproduced
every day across the stage of transnational Empire, ecopedagogy as I
understand it argues that it is legitimate to retain hope for a coming
community of cosmic zoophilia. (3) Such would be a re-enchanted
planetary home of peace, biodiversity, and freedom; a virtuous state of
being that could significantly heal (if not resolve) the historical
terrors of the three-headed hydra of human civilization which unfolds
into the endgame of genocide, ecocide, and zoocide respectively when
revitalized organizations of zoe are popularly absent (Kahn, 2010). Yet,
as this hydra is the condition of our contemporary reality it means that
outpourings of zoophilia today are always limited and contradictory.
Still, the ancient goddess/god of love (4) was also the lover of war
(Burkert, 1991). While this delineates exactly our contradictory problem
in one respect, it may also be the wise oracular truth that beckons us
toward the necessary acceptance of the present moment's
revolutionary fate (amor fati).
But there is also of course the omnipresent eventuality of
kulturkampf, culture war. Accordingly, in my work with Tyson Lewis
(2010), we have engaged with the alternative aesthetic registers of
posthuman cultural figures--such as the feral, the alien, and the
faery--in order to reveal how they demonstrate monstrous tendencies
alive within the larger public's "common" sense that
should be taken seriously by those who presently work for radically
democratic sustainability education. For, on the one hand, these
imaginaries are positively anticipatory of a moral destabilization
ofbourgeois humanism in which ideological boundaries are politically
reconstructed as the democratic multitude that is the evolving
"mangle" (Pickering, 1995) of earthlings with each other and
the planet. On the other hand, a failure to critically interrogate these
cultural forms by the public-at-large potentially allows for the
terrible return of the repressed elements within such culture (e.g. the
nonhuman; nature as both alien state of otherness, or as the outer
environment) resulting in a cataclysmic social threat--perhaps as an
anthropogenically-induced mass extinction event or via nature's
cultural re-appropriation by the larger hegemony in the guise of the
naturalization of primary accumulation strategies.
For this reason, the idea and practice of zoophilia itself demands
critical evaluation lest ecopedagogy be committed to a highly limited
form of eduction of irrational (and possibly fascist) mythologies of the
primeval, or to reactionary combinations of either nature/culture or
human/nonhuman that work curricularly throughout society to re-inscribe
the domination of nature proper. In other words, I do not imagine
zoophilia as a form of monstrous love that occurs through immoral
consubstantial identifications with an essentialized nature by those who
would claim the right to authoritarian violence as spokespersons on its
behalf. (5) Likewise, though, I also cannot envision a working
vivisection laboratory itself as a sensible example of an ethical space
inhabited by a liberatory zoophilia, even though it might be
acknowledged that it (as with any place) could possibly serve as a
future home for ethical zoophilic returns. Simply crossing ideological
borders is not necessarily evidence of progress or transformatively
educational. Such action may be a challenge to hegemonic norms from
below, but it may also be a colonialist invasion from above. A critical
reading of the myriad interactionist (Tuana, 2008), intra-actionist
(Barad, 2003), and trans-corporeal (Alaimo, 2008) contexts is demanded
by the desire to know more about how zoophilia is socially situated in
any given instance.
The ancient philosopher Heraclitus was therefore correct:
"Nature loves to hide" (Kahn, 1981, 33). Knowledge of nature
is always mantic--it neither declares nor conceals itself absolutely,
but rather takes the form of an enigmatic sign that demands our
diagnostic critique. Accordingly, ecopedagogy looks to emergent
subcultural valences and avant-garde representations to critically
listen for novel generative themes that might be the germinative
subjects of multitudinous dialogues--Haraway's (2008)
"otherworldly conversations" (174)--on behalf of a new science
of life. But ecopedagogy also reads global popular culture against the
grain after the manner of a critical public pedagogy (Giroux, 2000;
Sandlin, Schultz, & Burdick, 2009) in order to isolate and inveigh
against dominator values, norms, ideas, and their various mainstream
commercial representations. In this manner, then, ecopedagogy seeks to
mount a form of posthuman cultural studies in accordance with the
normative demands made by a revolutionary zoophilia.
A Prophetic Representation of Planetary Zoophilia?
[T]he Great Refusal: refusal to accept separation from the
libidinous object (or subject). The refusal aims at liberation--at the
reunion of what has become separated.
--Herbert Marcuse (1966)
The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one's whole
being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never by
accomplished by me; can never be accomplished without me. I require a
You to become; becoming I, I say You. All life is encounter ... In the
beginning is relation--a category of being, readiness, grasping form,
mold for the soul.
--Martin Buber (1970)
The word "avatar" has Vedantic origins meaning something
akin to the "descent" or "manifestation" of a
divinity in bodily form. It is the embodiment of the Holy Spirit (or in
a non-monotheistic culture, spirits). In light of the cyberpunk
generation, an avatar can now also be one's own digital
representation--whether a representative icon for one's tweets and
other social networking posts or an entire virtual person one can live
through in cyborg media environments like Second Life or Rock Band. Of
course, Avatar is also the blockbuster film released in late 2009, which
has gone on to be far and away the largest grossing movie domestically
and worldwide (as of the time of writing: $2,716,433,508). In its
blending of ambivalent meanings connoted by the concept of avatar, the
movie self-consciously attempts to pitch for a monstrous pedagogical
engagement of each with each in order to mediate and ultimately sublate
the tension between the organic and the machinic (or the Epimethean and
the Promethean6) traditions. In this it must be considered alongside
trilogies such as The Matrix and the first three released episodes of
Star Wars. By self-consciously taking up themes from these and other
motion pictures, as well as present day popular concerns about the
planetary ecological costs of modern industrial society, Avatar
ultimately poses the question whether it is a case of art imitating art,
art imitating life or, in the case of audiences moved to want to embody
some of its characters' seemingly zoophilic virtues, life imitating
In many respects, Avatar is the pre-eminent megaspectacular (7)
representation of revolutionary zoophilia to date, as it offers a bold
allegory of current threats to sustainability and peace now posed by the
military industrial complex along with a hopeful ending that the love of
zoe will always result in the preservation of renewal within a community
of integrity. The film, whether seen in 3-D or not, displays a richly
romantic vision of the alien nature of the Alpha Centauri moon Pandora,
which is populated by an indigenous race (the Na'vi (8)) that is
very much its wise and sustainable guardian. Avatar centers upon a
particular clan living in a giant "Hometree"--a veritable tree
of life. Two other trees serve as sacred axis mundis for the Na'vi,
a Tree of Voices, in whose shelter they can listen to their departed
ancestors, and the Tree of Souls, that amounts to something like the
primary hub coordinating and concentrating the biology of the
planetoid's supra-consciousness called "Eywa." (9)
The Na'vi themselves are a large humanoid race, though with
distinctive feline features that also suggest their monstrousity. If in
The Matrix members of the Nebuchadnezzar could "jack in" to
bring their consciousness to bear on the stream of digital data being
arranged by the machines to constitute a virtual world designed to
pacify human agency, in Avatar the Na'vi (like other native species
on Pandora) possess a tendril-like, braided organ that connects to their
brain. By connecting this up with those of other flora and fauna, they
achieve something akin to complete cognitive intimacy with their
lifeworld partners and so ritualistically establish the ethics of
sustained relationship that is constitutive of Pandoran life. Thus, life
on Pandora is presented as rooted in a relationship-based ontology and,
epistemologically, the Na'vi understand life as an unending series
of dialogue and common bonding of the past with the present or the self
with another. It is unsurprising, then, that the movie draws directly
from Buber's I and Thou (1970, 70) for the manner in which they
greet one another--"I see you," they say and thereby convey
that in the relationship they perceive the zoophilic unity of one with
Avatar's script turns on the problem, then, that when human
colonists colonize Pandora--in the form ofa technocapitalist
transgalactic corporation named Resources Development Administration
(RDA), which includes armed soldiers, bureaucratic administrators,
scientists and anthropologists, and other personnel--the Na'vi and
Eywa become caught in a contradiction. Should they refuse the colonists
outright as wrongful invaders? Considering that RDA is shown as desiring
to lay waste to Pandora, dominate the Na'vi, and subject the
mind-matter of Eywa under the Tree of Souls to primary accumulation in
order to profit from it as an energy commodity named
"unobtainium," a total resistance strategy could be justified.
However, to do so would violate the ontological basis of relationship
that constitutes the meaning of life on Pandora and the
Na'vi's own comprehension of what it means to be a people. In
other words, it would reproduce an ideology of Other-as-pathogen that is
the biopolitical hallmark of fascism and which comes close to RDA's
own relational position as regards the moon's zoe in the film. For
example, in explaining the corporation's intentions to the
Na'vi, the double agent protagonist of Avatar, Jake Sully,
declares, "This is how it's done. When people are sitting on
shit that you want, you make 'em your enemy. Then you justify
Yet, if the Na'vi were to simply accept RDA on its own terms
then they would voluntarily make themselves into a kind of homo sacer
(Agamben, 1998) and sacrifice their zoophilia through a Stoic's act
of suicide. Thus, they undertake a mediated political position of
liberal tolerance, with the important exception that they decide further
that Jake Sully's Na'vi avatar will itself be incorporated
into the tribe and taught its ways. The character of Sully therefore
becomes the location of a potential "engaged pedagogy" (hooks,
2010) within the larger ideological drama, and by refusing the Manichean
biopolitics and zero-sum game of RDA, the Na'vi attempt to retain
their integrity and plant a seed to enlarge the zoe community on more
As many commentators have noted, despite Avatar's supreme
fantasy, its emplotment of the narrative of colonization--especially of
indigenous peoples--could easily have been ripped straight from the
headlines. In a certain sense, RDA symbolizes Columbus and the
Na'vi are the peaceable Caribs (until Columbus started chopping
their hands off in search of gold). The synthetic personage of Jake
Sully, a Marine transformatively turned into a diplomatic representative
who might ethically speak for the Na'vi over the course of the
film, represents a kind of Bartholomew de Las Casas figure. Certainly,
though, de Las Casas never himself went Croatan, nor was he perceived as
a fated clan leader by the indigenous populations that he recognized
were the terrible objects of imperialist domination. Thus, in resolving
itself by having Jake Sully reborn under the grace of Eywa as his
Na'vi avatar in order to be a true avatar for universal peace, the
movie Avatar makes something of a hegemonic caricature of Hardt and
Negri's call for a new human race based in a science of love.
Avatar ultimately devolves in this way into a conservative white
dream of zoophilia on its own privileged terms--yes, it is the dominant
Empire that is wrong; but it is in the end the dominant Empire that will
make history right. Moreover, the movie suggests that Empire will be
welcomed by zoe's multitudes and even crowned for its pedagogical
achievements amongst them. For sure, there must be a type of ecopedagogy
of the oppressor just as there is necessarily one for the oppressed, but
Avatar likely overemphasizes the necessity of transforming the
consciousness of the average white male capitalist--or the ideological
position occupied by such--in order to achieve a meaningful revolution
for earth democracy and beyond. For the dominant society, such
revolution takes the form of what Tyson Lewis and I (2010) have
elsewhere called "UFOther," the conscious perception of a kind
of alien invasion phenomenon. What is beyond the margins of the
permissible will erupt into the center. It is less a matter of those at
the centers of power administratively managing to teach and learn
equally at the margins.
Perhaps the worst failure of Avatar as an artifact of public
pedagogy, though, is that while viscerally transcoding increasingly
global fears about modern society's tendencies towards genocide,
ecocide, and zoocide, as with The Matrix series and other similar movies
like District 9, it suggests to paying audiences that a spiritual world
of social justice and biodiversity can be theirs' if they will only
take the first step of purchasing a movie ticket (along with whatever
other necessary items from the concession stand), suspend their will to
disbelieve, and so engage in the repressive desublimation of an
enchanted cinematic fairy tale complete with Hollywood happy ending. As
noted by the social theorist and cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek (2010),
the truly awful irony about the type of awe inspired by films such as
Avatar is that similar indigenous struggles to that which it describes
still go on today in places such as central India (or throughout Latin
America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Oceania, and
yes--North America too!), but relatively few seem to notice or care,
much less get involved.
In other words, the movie appears enough for most--which results in
teaching the opposite of undertaking a monstrous relationship to
society. Instead, viewers are ultimately repacked as pacified consumers
and sent home to the sounds of the syrupy ballad, I See You--a snapshot
in words of Avatar's pedagogical misadventure. As with all aspects
of the film, here the lyrics too are decidedly ambiguous, potentially as
much about a pathological relationship of self-flagellating masochism
and internalized colonization as liberation:
The philosopher of education Maxine Greene (1995) has written,
"informed encounters with works of art often lead to a startling
defamiliarization of the ordinary" (4). As I have attempted to
illuminate through this critique, Avatar is not a true fairy tale (i.e.,
a faery narrative) until it re-presents itself as dialogical material
for a critical ecopedagogical encounter. When this is done, its
prophetic joy can be reclaimed in the form of an apophatic liberation
theology in which moviegoers (as proxies for the larger project for all
citizens) refuse to accept scripts as handed to them and so write
themselves back into the work of art as a necessary and proper response
to their being in the world--an educational twist on the standard genre
of the monster movie.
From a Culture of Silence to Silence in Common
[T]he time of prophecy lies behind us. The only chance now lies in
our taking this vocation as that of the friend. This is the way in which
hope for a new society can spread. And the practice of it is not really
through words but through little acts of foolish renunciation.
--Ivan Illich (2005)
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will
be used against you in a court of law ... Do you understand your rights
as they have been read to you?
--Miranda Warning (10)
If the Na'vi people of Avatar held the Tree of Voices to be
their oracular temple, let me suggest that the words in the Miranda
warning constitute something like the fundamental oracular maxims of our
society. In many ways, they are the present age's version of the
Temple of Apollo's "Know thyself"; "Nothing in
excess"; and "Make a pledge, mischief draws nigh" that
were the philosophical underpinnings of Ancient Greek society.
The truth of such oracular statements manifests in the interpretive
form of a fundamental ambivalence. Is it that the Delphinian sibyl
sought to teach a moral code counseling the need for individual
self-reflection ("Know thyself"), temperate behavior
("Nothing in excess"), and order over chaos ("Make a
pledge, mischief draws nigh")? Or did she suggest the impossibility
of ever knowing oneself (the self is the knower and not the known); that
this implies a void beyond existence (nothing by definition lacks both
qualification and quantification); and so our sworn vows in the
corporeal order of things will thus forever be undermined by the very
nature of their own impermanence (promises are built on hubris).
Oracular teaching implies both--it asks that one who would learn its
secret strive for an attitude akin to what the poet Keats termed
"negative capability," in which one bears life's
"uncertainties, Mysteries, and doubts," as he called them,
without either reaching an emotional condition comprised by irritability
or the need to resolve paradox.
In this respect, let me suggest that the oracle of Miranda, then,
may be the foolish wisdom that can illuminate the lived tension that
conditions us now as: On the one hand, worldly creatures whose common
integrity emerges from an authentic relationship to what the composer
John Cage termed the "roaring silence" of existence and, on
the other, our market fashioned identities as consumer-citizens of a
global police state, whose ministers seek to institute and preserve what
Paulo Freire called an authoritarian "culture of silence"
across the entirety of the democratic political realm. Both of these are
For decades, teachers have drawn upon a Freirian legacy of critical
pedagogy as a kind of "talking cure" against the caesuras of
political voice imposed by hegemonic power. Obviously, this body of work
has achieved a great deal. Still, even one of its leading theorists,
Peter McLaren (2009) has recently remarked how his work must in some
sense be considered a failure when put in the context of the growth of
global capital that has taken place during his career. For this reason,
my own work in ecopedagogy has increasingly sought to restore the wisdom
of an Illichian tradition of critical pedagogy that has arguably been
unfortunately silenced within teacher education circles for years (Kahn,
2009, 2010). His powerful essay, "Silence is a Commons"
(1983), is worthy for discussion here. Let me summarize some of its key
Illich begins by hailing a new field of "political
ecology," which he notes uses the trope of biological ecology to
characterize the study of how "a broad politically organized
general public analyzes and influences technical decisions." As a
member of this public himself, he wants in the essay to examine how the
rise of a global network society is a techno-managerial change of the
human environment that can only be thought convivial if it is democratic
in both means and ends. What results is his polemic against the
Techno-Moloch of a rising information-communication order that seems all
the more relevant with each passing day. In this respect, his words
uttered in 1983 are simply startling, as it must be remembered that his
essay hailed from a time which was still pre-World Wide Web by some ten
years and when Apple corporation announced a revolution in personal
computers with its Apple IIe--a clunky, boxy system whose 64kb of random
access memory is some 15000x less powerful than the average computer of
The basic point of Illich's essay is that "computers are
doing to communication what fences did to pastures and cars did to
streets." That is, they represent the ongoing enclosure and
destruction of the commons, moving society from a sufferable
subsistence-orientation predicated upon the bare necessities into a
commodity-orientation predicated upon people's need to provide wage
labor in order to acquire supposedly scarce resources because they have
learned to feel that they will otherwise suffer terribly without them.
Thus, the mass consumer society--to which the concept of commons is an
As Illich relates, this analysis corresponds with a modern history
of the primary accumulation of nature and the domination of place under
capitalism. But Illich additionally points out that the
transmogrification of commons into its perverse identification as an
exploitable resource was allowable only because an epochal shift had
taken place in the human spirit as well. To his mind, this topsy-turvy
revolution in the human heart inaugurated a "new ecological
order" in which people could no longer understand that a good
society had become transformed from a limited but dignified existence in
which people had a stake in determining their own lives into one in
which people's dehumanized lives were determined by the
unsustainable amount of steaks they had to consume on a regular basis in
order to be happy.
A global communications network is the latest and greatest outcome
of a move to naturalize the institution of horror and darkness upon the
land, Illich muses. For when people become utterly dependent upon
machines to communicate, they can by definition no longer properly
analyze technocapitalism--literally, they have become it. Moreover, they
also lose a vantage point from which a political voice could emerge
capable of influencing how technology is organized socially, ecology is
organized technologically, or society is organized ecologically.
Instead, politics devolves into mere commercial competition for ever
more powerful loudspeakers by which to silence others and so be heard.
This is therefore consonant with the enclosure of wisdom itself by a
class of experts--and it is worth noting that schools of all levels
(habitats for many loud speakers) cannot make you pay for a commons of
silence, only for the resource of people who might choose to teach about
Therefore Illich ends his piece with a pedagogical warning.
Perceiving the rise of a surveillance society and the mass production of
a monoculture of silence--the fascism of a totally administered
planet--he emphasizes that the only possible defense can be to renounce
working for a political ecology of sustainable resources in favor of one
based in and for the commons. Issuing a wide call for what Madhu Suri
Prakash and Gustavo Esteva (2008) have called "grassroots
postmodernism," Illich says that such "constitutes the crucial
public task for political action during the eighties"; which he
says is especially urgent because once commons become resources defended
by police, their recovery and reclamation is "increasingly
Again, this was 1983. Reaganomics was just getting started. The
"Sixth Extinction" (Leakey & Lewin, 1996) of life on earth
would not be named for over another 12 years. On the other side of the
timeline, the landmark event of the Chipko movement, in which Indian
peasant women successfully practiced satyagraha by hugging the trees of
their commons in the face of bulldozers and commercial axes in order to
prevent their deforestation and resourcification, this was not yet a
decade out. Now, Arundhati Roy (2010) tells us that the only sane option
for many of these same villagers is to pick up guns and ally with the
guerilla Maoists for one last stand.
I raise this because I think it points to an Illichian teaching
that is the shadow side of an autonomous grassroots commons-based
alternative as idealized in Avatar. It is not just a question of
defending the commons as place, especially in our time when the
environmental and cultural commons are increasingly as common themselves
as a passenger pigeon. The terrible truth is that we historically
progress deeper and deeper into cataclysm. Terror of this order of
magnitude, Illich thought, could only by met by silence on the part of
the wide awake individual--it is the last uncolonized refuge, a place
from which one might bear moral witness when there is finally no place
left to hide.
Such common silence should be pedagogically supplemented by a move
from Promethean prophecy to Epimethean elegy. As Illich declared in
1992, "I must accept powerlessness, mourn that which is gone,
renounce the irrecoverable." Carl Mitcham, who we read too
infrequently in education circles I fear, speaks movingly of the
importance of elegiacs as a learning opportunity in the book The
Challenges of Ivan Illich (2002). I would like to quote him at length in
The English "elegy" comes from the Greek elegos, a song
of mourning, a lament--originally without reference to metrical form.
The Greek word is derived from the phrase e e legein, meaning "to
cry, woe, woe," and is associated with aluros, indicating the
absence of accompaniment by the sweet lyre, therefore accompanied by the
mournful flute. Elegos likewise named the haunting songs of the
nightengale and the kingfisher.
To mourn has even more universal roots: the Middle English mournen
... from the Old English murnan, to care for, be anxious about, lament
over; the Old High German mornen, the Gothic maurnan, the Old Norse
morna, to pine away; the Indo-European (s)mer-, to care for, be anxious
about, think, consider, remember; the Latin memor, mindful, and memoria,
memory; the Avestic mimaria, mindful; the Greek mermeros, causing
anxiety, mischievous, baneful, and merimna, care, thought, and more.
The elegy mourns and remembers, but in mourning remembers in a
special way. It remembers not simply what has been but what has been
lost, that which is absent but might very well have been present--except
for some untoward happening. One does not mourn simple change or loss,
such as the disappearance of the sun at night or the cascading of water
down a stream. The great elegies are not for the deaths of old men or
women who have fulfilled their days, but for the deaths of the young and
unfulfilled, for the passing of orders and goods and beauties that need
not have passed away, for the disappearances in which we may well be
In the presence of mourning one is invited not just to remember but
to take care, to rethink what one does, to alter or moderate one's
actions, to act more cautiously, with a new sense of human limitations,
and to respect what has been. The elegy implicitly calls upon us to be
still and savor the tragedy--as well as the comedy--of the human
Recently, listening to a story by outdoor educator Nathan Hensley,
I was overcome with an elegiac memory of the spring peepers (Pseudacris
crucifer) of my New Hampshire youth--how I would commune with them every
summer and care for them in a sacred wooded grove where I perhaps did
not belong, but which by grace had been welcomed. Having returned to
this place in recent years with my 4-year old son, the tiny frogs which
once populated the area in numbers upwards of thousands are now gone.
Vanished, the lost peepers are thus symptomatic of the rapid
disappearance of amphibian kind generally. In this, they are an
indicator species that teaches us that our world is terribly out of
balance and requires another way of living within it--what the Hopi
people called "Koyaanisqatsi." So, I cannot share with my son
the joy and the wonder of earth communion that was so precious to me as
a child. Instead, all I have is the sweet pain of the memory, which I
can pass on.
Predominantly, the United States is biologically and culturally a
nation of pastures. Things are missing here too. Perhaps never to return
are the seemingly endless fields of native tall and mixed grass prairie,
the country's most precious ecological heritage, now 99%
eradicated. Also disappeared are the ever-cascading herds of wild bison,
the largest of all North American land animals, who roamed the prairies
by the tens of millions prior to the industrial age. Moreover, the
peoples whose cultures honored the power of these flora and fauna in a
cosmologically profound manner, they too now are largely absent in a
terrible way. Yet, even 150 years ago things were not in the state that
they are today. While the passage of centuries amounts to a long time,
it is not so long as to stop us from remembering--if we want to do so.
Questions: What do you mourn? How do you make yourself lovingly
responsible to a moral situation of grief? However we decide to think,
act, or feel, let us at least not forget the nightingale's song too
often quieted by our common work as professional educators. The immortal
lesson of her message: Memento mori (remember death). Such voice is the
evocation of a roaring silence of both laughter and tears, too great for
(1) Whether the monstrous figure of a new humanity such as this
essay takes up is best analyzed in terms of reconfigurations of race,
class, gender, species or other social analytics is perhaps our primary
educative problem posed to us by the present moment. Can planetary
community emerge within the category of class, or race, or gender, or
species? Or does it emerge through their reconstruction and abolishment?
Without dismissing single-issue political approaches in toto, the
dialogical and dialectical nature of ecopedagogy seeks to create
emancipatory relationships between single-issue groups or theorists. It
thereby craves a utopian alliance politics that aims for "total
liberation" (Best, 2006; Kahn & Humes, 2009). As an aside,
while he never used the language of total liberation, this form of
pedagogical approach appears to have typified a Freirian critical
pedagogy (Freire, 1998) as well.
(2) Here I am thinking of the musings on "the monster" by
... Monsters are living beings. The monster is also that which
appears for the first time and, consequently, is not yet recognized. A
monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not
mean that the species is abnormal, namely, the composition or
hybridisation of already known species. Simply, it shows itself [elle se
montre]--that is what the word monster means--it shows itself in
something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a
hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no
anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure....the future is
necessarily monstrous: the figure of the future, that is, that which can
only be surprising, that for which we are not prepared, you see, is
heralded by species of monsters. A future that would not be monstrous
would not be a future; it would already be a predictable, calculable,
and programmable tomorrow. All experience open to the future is prepared
or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant, to welcome it,
that is, to accord hospitality to that which is absolutely foreign or
strange, but also, one must add, to try to domesticate it, that is, to
make it part of the household and have it assume the habits, to make us
assume new habits. This is the movement of culture. (in Weber, 1995,
(3) While my claim is that zoophilia acts as an educative force,
this essay's social focus on the pedagogy of love moves beyond
teacher-student or school-focused discussions offered by theorists such
as Cho (2005), Garrison (1997), Darder (2002), and hooks (2010; 2004).
While my conception has not been consciously developed out of their
positions, the approach to educational love offered here shares
sympathies with the larger cultural and political treatment given by
Burch (2000) and hooks (2009), as well as Freire (1998).
(4) I anticipate that the reader may wonder if it is altogether
fair, much less scholarly sound, to associate the form of love denoted
by the concept "philia" (e.g., zoophilia) with mythic figures
such as Aphrodite or Ishtar. Suffice it here to say that while the Greek
"philos" is often translated to mean the love inherent in
friendship, this disguises the polysemic range of emotional meanings
actually identified by the term. In truth it characterized everything
from a mode of formal address to fellow citizens to the love of
one's family and that which one held most dear, as well as the
amorous feelings for a mistress or life mate (in current parlance,
one's "significant other" is definitely a philos). It is
also the distant root of the concept of "affiliation," and I
therefore seek to use the idea of zoophilia inclusively as a cognitive
space in which the multitude of qualities common to the act of love can
be affiliated with one another through theoretical reflection--if you
(5) The work of Slavoj Zizek (2008) on "divine violence"
deserves consideration in this regard.
(6) The name Pandora references the Greek myth of Epimetheus and
Prometheus. Notably, this myth is the concluding centerpiece of Ivan
Illich's famous work, Deschooling Society (1970), in which he
called for the return in a new age of Epimethean individuals whose
values would align with what we now imagine as sustainability. For
Illich, we needed a turn away from the dangers and toil wrought by
Promethean culture (akin to Marcuse), but Epimetheans distinguish
themselves all the same by practicing collaboration with their
Promethean counterparts even in their stark differences. While Pandora
is often considered one who looses great sin and plague on the earth by
foolishly opening her box containing them, Illich celebrates that from
an Epimethean standpoint her name means "All Giver," and that
her box was really a womb or sanctuary conserved to contain only
"hope." On these terms, the meaning of the myth is to teach
Promethean culture the true nature of hope, which is not in
Illich's opinion the production of unquenchable needs, but the
dignified joy found in a philosophical state of necessity (see Kahn,
(7) On the concept of megaspectacle, see Kellner (2003).
(8) Na'vi is a phoneticization of the Hebrew word for
(9) Avatar endows the Na'vi with an idealized form of, what in
indigenous educational circles is called, "Traditional Ecological
Knowledge" or TEK (see Berkes, 1993). Indeed, a study of the
cultural understandings and practices of the Na'vi in light of the
book Power and Place: Indian Education in America (2001) by Vine Deloria
and Daniel Wildcat would prove fruitful. Deloria and Wildcat suggest
therein that indigenous cultural systems almost universally predicate
themselves on a cosmological understanding of what they call
"power"--an all-pervasive spiritual force that in this book we
identify as "zoe." For Deloria and Wildcat, such power is
always in relation to a place, and when emplaced it takes the form of a
particular "personality"--a bios, or biography. Such
personalities exist collectively over time in the lived form of what
they further term, the "habitude" of a people. Yet, make no
mistake, I am not arguing here that Avatar is an appropriate
representation of TEK. As I suggest, the film clearly activates a social
critique based on the Rousseauian "noble savage" and so is
more akin to a white liberal colonial fantasy of TEK's zoophilia in
many respects than an accurate biographic portrayal of indigenous
spirituality. In this it links up with a variety of New Age
appropriations of indigenous education and culture, which can be called
"plastic shamanism" (on TEK in contemporary contexts, see
(10) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miranda_warning.
Agamben, G. (1998). Homo sacer: Sovereign power and bare life.
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Alaimo, S. (2008). Trans-corporeal feminisms and the ethical space
of nature. In S. Alaimo & S. Hekman (eds.), Material feminisms (pp.
237-264). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward an
understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs, 28(3), 801-831.
Bhabha, H. K. (2001). Unsatisfied: Notes on vernacular
cosmopolitanism. In G. Castle (ed.), Postcolonial discourses: An
anthology (pp. 38-52). London, UK: Blackwell.
Best, S. (2006). Rethinking revolution: Animal liberation, human
liberation, and the obsolescence of left humanism. The International
Journal of Inclusive Democracy, 2(3). Online at:
Berkes, F. (1993). Traditional ecological knowledge in perspective.
In J. T. Inglis (ed.), Traditional ecological knowledge: Concepts and
cases. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: International Development Research
Brown, N. O. (1966). Love's body. Berkeley, CA: University of
Buber, M. (1970). I and thou. New York: Scribner & Sons.
Burch, K. (2000). Eros as the educative principle of democracy. New
York: Peter Lang.
Burkert, W. (1991). Greek religion: Archaic and classical. London,
Cho, D. (2005). Lessons of love: Psychoanalysis and teacher-student
love. Educational Theory, 55(1), 79-96.
Darder, A. (2002). Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of love.
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Deloria, V, & Wildcat, D. (2001). Power and place: Indian
education in America. Goldon, CO: Fulcrum Resources.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of the heart. New York: Continuum.
Garrison, J. (1997). Dewey and eros. New York: Teachers College
Giroux. H. A. (2000). Public pedagogy as cultural politics: Stuart
Hall and the 'crisis' of culture. Cultural Studies, 14(2),
Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education,
the arts and social change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Guevara, C. (1965). Socialism and man in Cuba. Online at:
Haraway, D. (2003). The companion species manifesto: Dogs, people,
and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Haraway, D. (2008). Otherworldly conversations, terran topics,
local terms. In S. Alaim & S. Hekman, Material feminisms (pp.
157-187.) Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2004). Multitude: War and democracy in
the age of empire. New York: The Penguin Press.
Home Office. (2000). Setting the boundaries: Reforming the law on
sex offenses. London, UK: Home Office Communications Directorate.
hooks, b. (2004). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York:
hooks, b. (2009). Belonging: A culture of place. New York:
hooks, b. (2010). Teaching critical thinking. New York: Routledge.
Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling society. London, UK: Marion Boyers.
Illich, I. (1983). Silence is a commons. The CoEvolution Quarterly
(Winter). Online at:
Illich, I. (with Cayley, D.). (2005). The rivers north of the
future: The testament of Ivan Illich. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: House of
Kahn, C. H. (1981). The art and thought of Heraclitus: An edition
of the fragments with translation and commentary. Cambridge, UK:
University of Cambridge Press.
Kahn, R. (2008). Diasporic counter-education: The need to
fertile-eyes the field. Studies in Philosophy of Education, 27, 369-374.
Kahn, R. (2009). Critical pedagogy taking the Illich turn. The
International Journal of Illich Studies, 1(1), 37-49.
Kahn, R. (2010). Critical pedagogy, ecoliteracy, and planetary
crisis: The ecopedagogy movement. New York: Peter Lang.
Kahn, R., & Humes, B. (2009). Marching out from ultima thule:
Critical counterstories of emancipatory educators working at the
intersection of human rights, animal rights, and planetary
sustainability. The Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14(1).
Kellner, D. (2003). Media spectacle. London, UK: Routledge.
Leakey, R., & Lewin, R. (1996). The sixth extinction: Patterns
of life and the future of humankind. New York: Anchor Books.
Lewis, T., & Kahn, R. (2010). Education out of bounds: Cultural
studies for a post-human age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Marcuse, H. (1966). Eros and civilization. Boston: Beacon Press.
Mitcham, C. (2002). The challenges of this collection. In L.
Hoinacki & C. Mitcham (eds.), The challenges of Ivan Illich (pp.
9-19). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Nietzsche, F. (1976). The portable Nietzsche. Edited and Translated
by W. Kaufmann. New York: Penguin Books.
Noske, B. (1997). Beyond boundaries: Humans and animals. Montreal,
Quebec, Canada: Black Rose Books.
Novalis. (1997). Philosophical writings. Trans. M. Mohany Stoljar.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Pickering, A. (1995). The mangle of practice: Time, agency, and
science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Prakash, M. S., & Esteva, G. (2008). Escaping education: Living
and learning within grassroots culture. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.
Roy, A. (2010). Walking with the comrades. OutlookIndia.com (March
29). Online at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264738
Sachs, W. (1992). The development dictionary. New York: Zed Books.
Sandlin, J. A., Schultz, B. D., & Burdick, J. (2009). Handbook
of public pedagogy: Education and learning beyond schooling. New York:
Spivak, G. C. (2003). Death of a discipline. New York: Columbia
Tuana, N. (2008). Viscous porosity: Witnessing Katrina. In S.
Alaimo & S. Hekman (eds.), Material feminisms. Bloomington, IN:
University of Indiana Press.
Weber, E. (Ed.). (1995). Points--Interviews 1974-1994. Stanford,
CA: University of Stanford Press.
Zizek, S. (2008). Violence: Six sideways reflections. New York:
Zizek. S. (2010). Return of the natives. New Statesman (March 4).
Online at: http://www.newstatesman.com/film/2010/03/avatar-reality-love-couple-sex.
Richard Kahn is Core Faculty in Education at Antioch University Los
Angeles, Culver City, California.
Walking through a dream, I see you
My light and darkness breathing hope of new life
Now I live through you and you through me, enchanted
I pray in my heart that this dream never ends.
Now I give my hope to you, I surrender--
I pray in my heart that this world never ends.
I see me through your eyes
Breathing new life, flying high
Your love shines the way into paradise--
So I offer my life--
I offer my love for you.